Thursday, January 03, 2008

The pope on the family

The Pope's Holy Family Angelus address is great. You can find it here and my favorite quote is...

"For this, parents have the right and fundamental obligation to educate their children, in the faith and in the values that dignify human existence. It is worth it to work for the family and marriage because it is worth it to work for the human being, the most valuable being created by God.

I direct myself in a special way to the children, so that they love and pray for their parents and brothers and sisters; to the young people, so that stimulated by the love of their parents, they follow with generosity their own vocation to marriage, the priesthood or religious life; to the elderly and the sick, so that they find the help and understanding they need. And to you, beloved spouses, count on the grace of God always, so that your love will be always more and more fruitful and faithful."

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Nativity Story

I decided that, since today is the end of the Octave of Christmas, I would watch the movie with the above title and I have to admit it's not bad. I had a few problems with it but nothing huge. The filmakers had to fill in some of the details of Mary and Joseph's pre-scripture life and they did so the best they could. I even feel like they left open the possibility for Mary's perpetual virginity. I especially loved how they wove traditional Christmas carols into the score. Most of the time people probably didn't even know they were there. It's tough to blend Matthew and Luke's infancy narrative because there does appear to be contradictions. But, they did a good job of trying to present an understandable story with some drama.

The astrologer/wise men were really good. The growth in the relationship between Mary and Joseph was strong, although I would have preferred an older Joseph. And I still think that Joseph had children by a previous marriage but I will only know that for sure when we meet in heaven. I just think it's really interesting to see how Protestants view Mary because the movie is basically all about her and Joseph. What a perfect way to finish off the octave and celebrate the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

Mary, Mother of God and mother of the church

I love preaching about Mary mother of the church on this day that we devote to Mary's oldest title: theotokos in Greek, Mater Dei in Latin, Mother of God in English. I know it's still being worked out theologically but I always like to think that Mary's yes is our yes, her willingness to give birth to the Son of God is the first of us to say yes to God. She may not have given birth to all of us but she gave birth to our faith to the extent that she gave birth to Christ. And, even though she is just like a good Jewish mother who always wants to put her son before herself, this does not diminish her important contribution.

Monday, December 31, 2007

...and a happy new year

What a wild week the octave of Christmas is. We just get done with Christmas and quickly move on to the Sunday between and then we conclude with Mary, Mother of God/New Years. I get a few days off after all that gets done and before my students come back. I don't know why it surprises me each year but I'm already ready for the students to come back. It's just too quiet. I even spent time rearranging the student lounge because I was bored. I have work to do it's just hard to get motivated when no one's around. I NEED to get it done, however, so that I can spend time with the students when they get back or at least not be too behind the eight ball.

Here's wishing you all a happy New Year. Make a resolution but not too many, one accomplishable goal. I'm going to try to volunteer at an animal shelter.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

How the family makes us holy

When we think of family in today’s society, what are some images that come to mind? If you are of a certain generation, you might think of Archie, Edith, Gloria, and Meathead from the television show “All in the Family”. Archie is the typical 1950’s urban racist with his diminutive wife, Edith, and daughter, Gloria, who dared to marry the open-minded, anti-authoritarian Michael, nicknamed “meathead” by his father-in-law, Archie because of his left-wing political stances. This image seems to permeate the meaning of 1950’s America and is used, by some, to show the weakness of the nuclear family in a time in which the nuclear family was supposed to be at it’s strongest. Today, if you look at the media’s portrayal of family life, you can see that this portrayal perdures. Many television shows portray an overbearing father who pushes his wife around making ridiculous decisions for his entire family that seem to only benefit himself.

On this Sunday the church invites us to reflect on the nature of the family through the lens of the Holy Family. This Sunday is situated in the midst of the octave of Christmas, an eight-day celebration that begins at Christmas and ends with the celebration of Mary, the Mother of God on January first. This octave is partially a reminder that Christmas can’t be a one-shot deal. Christmas is too important to last one day. I’m always thankful that we do this after, not before December 25th. It’s as though our church is saying that while the commercial version of Christmas begins after Thanksgiving and ends on Christmas day, we wait until the fervor of consumerism has died away in order to spend eight days reflecting on the spiritual meaning of Christmas. The octave also allows us to reflect on different aspects of that fateful night when God became one-with-us in order to save us. Today, we discover that Christ came as part of a family in order to give us an example of a Holy Family. I found it fascinating that the first two readings focus on the entire family but the gospel shifts to offer some time to reflect on the one person that can get short shrift during the Christmas season, Joseph. But there is something that connects all three readings and it is, I believe, the reason the church has us reflect on these three passages in particular. Each, in its own unique way, portrays an essential obligation of marriage.

The first reading from Sirach clearly paints for us the image of a family that is open to life. Parents are to be honored by children and a parent is to live honorably. It is through these familial relations, according to that first reading, that one atones for sins, has prayers heard, is blessed with children, and has a long life. Despite attempts to redefine the idea of family in our modern world, we must safeguard this image both because it mirrors the image of the Holy Family and because it is the best environment to raise children.

The second reading is another one of Paul’s attempts to help us understand love. The laundry list of proper dispositions, including “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another…” only makes sense when cloaked with love. Otherwise, any of them could result in abuse, discouragement, or a one-sided relationship. Certainly, Paul’s closing statement, “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord” has been abused in the past and deserves the constant paring of “Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them.” Humility, love, and subordination are all related in this statement. Paul is also telling husbands to be subordinate to their wives by telling them to love their wives.

Love and openness to children are the first two pieces to this puzzle but it concludes in the gospel with the commitment that is necessary for a family to succeed. Joseph has no reason to stay with Mary and Jesus when the angel appears. This isn’t his son biologically. This very well could be the second or third wife that Joseph has had in his life. Yet, Joseph doesn’t run away when life becomes difficult. He steps up and does what God wants him to do in order to keep his family together. This is the truly radical notion of family that we have to put forth. Far too many men believe that, when family seems to take away their masculinity or rob them of their ability to be in charge, then they can either react with force toward their wives or find a way to escape. The Christian message through Joseph is that the image of Archie Bunker, Homer Simpson, and Peter Griffin is insufficient to the type of holy family each of us should strive to have. We must build our families on commitment, on love, and on a willingness to share in the divine creativity that first brought us into this world and then brought about our salvation through Christ.