Sunday, December 20, 2015

Holy Family - December 27, 2015

First Reading Commentary (Sirach)
The Book of Sirach was formerly known as the Book of Ecclesiasticus; and before that in the early Greek and Syriac versions, it was known as the Wisdom-Book of Ben Sirach.  The Old Latin version came from North Africa in the third century which was left virtually untouched by Saint Jerome when he did the pious work of writing the Latin Vulgate. 
Although the Latin and the English versions of this book both came from Greek sources, there are some noteworthy translational differences.  In this Reading, for example, the verse: "Whoever honors his father atones for sins" in the Latin Vulgate translates as: "He that loves God shall obtain pardon for his sins."  It's an interesting difference when examining this prophetically because Jesus came to do the will of His heavenly Father but grew up in society as the Son of Joseph.  In the year 1979, however, the Nova Vulgata (New Vulgate) was promulgated and published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana; and this new edition of the Latin Vulgate is more in line with the biological father rendering. 
These contradictions are not anything to be concerned about when understanding that "father" in every sense of Christian usage is ordained by God, our heavenly Father.  It is God Who forgives sins and it is also God Who gave us the Commandment: "Honor your father".  It is a spiritual Father and/or priest, who, acting in Persona Christi, is able to absolve sins.  The father we honor today, Saint Joseph, was not God the Father, a Catholic priest, or Christ's biological father.  Imagine how humble this saintly man must have been to be given the heavenly assignment of living under the same roof with a sinless wife and her sinless Son. 
This Reading is perhaps a more detailed explanation of the Commandment: "Honor your father and your mother".  It offers wise instructions to children on how to esteem their parents.  It also lists the rewards for obedience to these instructions.  If you have an appreciation for sacred music this Reading is God's composition for family life.  When followed according to His plan, it produces a beautiful harmony.

First Reading Commentary (1 Samuel)
Samuel is offered to God as a perpetual nazirite.  A nazirite was a Jew bound by a vow to leave their hair uncut, abstain from wine and strong drink, and to practice extraordinary purity of life and devotion.  Sometimes the vow was for a period of time or as in the case of Samuel the vow can be perpetual.  Other examples of nazirites in the bible are Samson in the Old Testament and John the Baptist in the New Testament.  The vow is to offer oneself or to be offered by another as belonging solely to the Lord. 
We get a sense of the Sacrament of Baptism in this.  Through baptism we become children of God.  Baptism says yes to God.  Yes I want to be Your child.  Yes I entrust my life to Your care.  Yes I will live my life for Your glory.  For most of us, our parents made that decision for us; and thank God they did.  Our parents, however, could not guarantee extraordinary sanctity from us.  That decision, with the help of God’s grace, is ours alone; but we have the best example we could ever want in the God-man Jesus Christ. 
In this Reading Hannah, Samuel’s mother vows, “As long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the Lord.”  In acceptance of the incredible gift of being children of God, or every time we renew our baptismal promises, Hannah’s vow also becomes our vow to the Lord.  Yes Lord, we dedicate ourselves to You!
Second Reading Commentary (Colossians)
Saint John Chrysostom takes notice that in Saint Paul's wisdom he writes that love is the bond of perfection.  Commenting on this he adds: "The apostle says not 'love is the crown', but something greater, 'the bond of perfection', the latter being more necessary than the former; for a crown is a heightening of perfection, but a bond is a holding together of the components of perfection."  And certainly all those qualities listed by Paul in the preceding verses are landmarks on the road to perfection. 
The Peace of Christ is the final Authority of our hearts.  If His Peace truly reigns in our hearts, then all that is deemed unsuitable of our calling as Christians will be quickly evicted from our hearts. 
The word of Christ is His teachings; and if those teachings richly dwell in us, then the richness or abundance of them will flow into teaching and admonishing one another as our worship and love of the Almighty will rise up in our hearts. 
Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs can be translated to mean "liturgy", in both the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. 
The advice to do everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus could greatly help our personal examination of conscience, for to do anything in His Name requires first discernment to determine if the task or deed would be pleasing to Him. 
The remainder of this Reading is optional and therefore may or may not be proclaimed at the Mass you attend; and sometimes it can raise a few eyebrows.  But it really doesn't have the dictatorial tone that some may give it.  After reading through the duties of wives, husbands and children, sadly what has been excluded here is the end result which is: "Knowing that you shall receive of the Lord the reward of inheritance" (Colossians 3:24).  In order to understand this more fully, it's best to go to Ephesians where Saint Paul writes similar words.  He writes: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it" (Ephesians 5:25).  Men, this is a tall order.  In the Sacrament of Matrimony a husband must understand that he has been called to love, care, honor, sacrifice and, if necessary, even die for his wife.  In other words, since marriage is a sacrament a husband is called to do the things that Christ willingly did and continues to do for His Bride, the Church. 
Saint John Chrysostom appeals to husbands when he says: "You have seen the measure of obedience; hear also the measure of love.  Would you have your wife obedient to you, as the Church is to Christ?  Take then yourself the same provident care for her, as Christ takes for the Church." 
In Genesis we read: "Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).  This was reiterated by Saint Paul in Ephesians 5:31.  This verse indicates equality and should soften the imperious tone that one is tempted to see in this passage.  And certainly the Sacrament of Baptism confers equality. 
Children are to obey their parents as this is pleasing to the Lord.  And finally, Christian parents should raise their children in a Christocentric environment because our children will surely face challenges that could easily discourage them; and they will need to know and experience the Peace that only Jesus can give.  Of course, our model for married life and family life is the Holy Family, the honorees of this coming weekend's liturgy.
Second Reading Commentary (1 John)
This Reading allows us to look beyond our usual limited view of the Holy Family consisting only of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Saint John reveals to us that we are all children of God because our heavenly Father’s love has been charitably bestowed upon us, making us all one Holy Family of God.  Saint John certainly understood this as indicated by the way he addresses us as “Beloved”.  He continues by saying that we are God’s children now, what we shall be has not yet been revealed. 
Perhaps our purgative existence will give us the opportunity to see how connected we really are in our humanity and how we are truly one in the Body of Christ.  Beyond that journey of the soul, whatever is the most perfect existence our imaginations can concoct, it will severely pale in comparison to the reality of eternal life in heaven.  Saint John tells us that we shall be like God for we shall see Him as He is.  This is heaven, to behold the Face of God for all eternity.  Since this reality is beyond our total comprehension, it should give us at least some appreciation of Christ’s humility and love.  He willingly came to a fallen world, a broken people, so that He could become like us.  And not only assume our existence, but willingly take upon Himself all that is damaging to us.  Reflecting upon that and really letting it sink in, demands that we abide by Saint John’s plea to love one another, keep God’s commandments and do what pleases Him.  And we’re not alone in this tall order; this Reading assures us that God remains in us.
Gospel Commentary
In the opening verse the Holy Family teaches us the importance of holding fast to the teachings and traditions of our faith. 
Setting aside the obvious anxiety that Mary and Joseph must have felt from not knowing the whereabouts of their Son, and those of us who are parents would certainly be horrified if we were in that same predicament, instead let’s approach this on a spiritual level. 
With all the turmoil and sufferings that occur in today’s world, how often the question is asked, “Where is God?”  Certainly that question was asked often after the tragedy of September 11, 2001.  It’s a question we ask ourselves when life just doesn’t seem to make sense.  Certainly the fairly recent horror which occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School will plague our hearts and minds for years to come. 
As we all know, Christ dwells within us, the interior house of the Father; but at times when we are tortured by tension, worries and stress, it becomes extremely difficult to find Him within us because our troubles seem larger than life. 
In this Gospel, Jesus, even in His childhood, gives us the solution: “Why were you looking for Me?  Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?”  As Catholics, we have the faith to know that Jesus waits for us in the Tabernacles and/or the Monstrance of Catholic parishes throughout the world.  Like Mary and Joseph, we too can find Jesus at His Father’s house.  The relief that must have been felt by Mary and Joseph when they found Him can also be felt by us when we pour out our hearts to His Eucharistic Presence. 
A few other items worth mentioning: First, our faith encourages us to seek Mary’s intercession.  This Gospel implicitly teaches us about the treasures that are stored in her heart. 
Secondly, we can learn from Saint Joseph about the necessity of trusting in God.  Not in this Gospel, and for that matter, nowhere else in Scripture will you find a single word that came from the mouth of Saint Joseph.   Other Gospel stories give us an inkling of the stress that surely existed in Joseph’s life.  His silence, however, should speak volumes to us about the faith and trust he had in God. 
Finally, the last verse in this Gospel tells us that Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.  This verse in ancient history led to some heretical views as some thought this verse showed that Jesus was not God because God cannot advance in wisdom.  The true meaning, as Saint Gregory explains, is not that He was wiser at any future period of His life than He was at the moment of conception, but this is said because He chose to manifest increasing signs of wisdom as He increased in years.
This time of advancement in the life of Jesus is virtually unknown to us. Very little of the childhood, teenage, and early adult years of Jesus has been recorded.  In the spiritual life we might call this: the hidden life.  For us, the hidden life can be when we physically go into a room, shut the door, and pray.  It can also be when we are physically visible, but are having an inner conversation with our Lord, and everyone else present has no idea that you are engaged in prayer.  As with all prayer, however, adoration is a key ingredient.  We know little of the hidden life of the Holy Family but we do know this: Jesus, at every moment was in communion with the Father; and Mary and Joseph were living a life of adoration.  How could they not?  They raised and watched a Baby grow, knowing that at every stage of His life, in a great mystery, He was the Creator of all.