Saturday, December 26, 2009

Feast of the Holy Family

Here is the homily for this weekend. Merry Christmas everyone!!!
Back in June of 2005 my family and I were vacationing on the beautiful beaches of South Carolina when we were visited by every parent’s worst nightmare. The surf was a bit ruff so I made a point of keeping an eye on the kids as they played in the breaking waves. When all of the sudden our younger daughter Sarah, was gone. I remember Nancy and I frantically asking our kids and our friends if they have seen Sarah. Someone said that the last time they seen her was playing in the surf. Imagine my desperation when, been from the Caribbean, I know very well, how strong currents can pull down a child and how easily their little lungs will fill with sand and sea water when they are fighting against the waves.
For the longest ten minutes of my life I ran up and down the beach calling for her and praying for her return. Thankfully, Sarah had just wandered of the water and not been able to find us in the crowd had kept walking. The report of a missing child named Sarah spread like fire around the beach. A quarter of a mile away a lady noticed a little girl walking by herself so she asked her if her name was Sarah, and offered to walk her back to her parents. I don’t think there are enough words in the English language to express the sense of relief and gratitude my family fell when we saw our daughter being returned to us by a Good Samaritan.
I bet that if I were to take a poll today, more than one family will say they have lived a similar experience. I also find it very interesting that the Church chooses a similar story to celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. You see, we might think that, since in the family of Nazareth, Jesus was the Son of God, Mary was born without sin and Joseph was a saint, their existence was peaceful and almost heavenly. But the reality is this: they were not that much different from us. And in today’s gospel we can actually see how much like the members of our own families they were. And how much the reacted like we react in our own families. Look for example at Jesus answer to his parents; doesn’t he sound like your typical teen? “Didn’t you know you could find me at my father’s house????? Come one Mon get with the program…isn’t it obvious!!! Where I was going to be???? Look at Mary’s statement: “Son, why have you done this to us??? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” Mary sounds like the mother that knowing there is a lot of tension in the family tries to be the peace maker. But to me the most telling part of today’s Gospel is Joseph’s reaction. Knowing really well that he, Joseph, was the one person responsible for protecting and providing for the Son God, the messiah of Israel, and that He had lost Him 3 days ago, when he finally finds him… he says nothing! I know that when my own child was lost for 10 minutes I had some “Choice Words” for her when she was returned to me. And if I were to ask parents (and children) here today they will agree that this is the most likely reaction. I don’t think we will never know but, I would venture to say that the reason why Luke did not record anything Joseph said is because perhaps he had some "chosen words" of his own.
My brothers and sisters, it should be a great consolation to know that the holy family was not much different than our families, and that regardless of the fact these were people who lived in a unique communion with each other and with God The Father, their family was not immune to the same events that can fill our lives with stress and despair, and that their first reaction was very human, very similar to our own reactions.
The feast of the holy family, which we are celebrating today, is the only major feast celebrated within the 12 days of Christmas. I think, it is fitting that we remember the Holy Family, not in their moments of domestic bliss, but in their most vulnerable moments, especially during these times in which our own families gather together. Because the reality is, many of us are not having a “Hallmark” Christmas. Many families might be dealing with the stress of… well… been a family! Perhaps, they might be dealing with the absence or the loss of a child or a parent. Perhaps they are dealing with their own “choice words” spoken in haste but not meant at all or perhaps there are some families here asking “Son, Daughter, mother, father, brother, sister…Why are you doing this to us???”
In today’s gospel we get a very human picture of the Holy Family a picture which reflects our own humanity. Today Mary, Joseph and Jesus are not just statues standing in a church but they are the members of our own families. So if the story were to end there at that very awkward moment in the temple, then we will have to say that there is not hope for our own families, but the reality is that after this happened, the gospel says that the three of them returned back home and Jesus remained obedient to them, Mary kept quietly all these things in her hart and Joseph in his silence continued imparting to Jesus His human wisdom. In short they went back home and kept loving each other.
This is the message we should take with us today. When our own families are confronted with moments of crisis or tension, it is important to look beyond our human frailties and continue loving each other. We all deal with stress in different ways. The holidays could be a very stressful time for families. I’m sure that Jesus getting lost in the temple was not the first or last time in which Joseph and Mary could not understand why Jesus was doing what he was doing. But they never stop loving him or loving each other. So on this time in which we might be dealing with the problems of our own family, let’s follow their example and look beyond those things that might be causing us despair and remember that we ARE family and that as family we are called to love and care for each other, not only during the holidays but every day at every moment of our lives. May you have a most blessed Christmas Season.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

2nd Sunday of Advent

I don’t know if you have noticed this but this year it seems like the Christmas season started way before Advent. As a matter of fact back in October I was meeting with my Tuesday morning men’s group when one of the guys pointed out that we were drinking from a Christmas cup. I took a look at the message written in the side and have admit that it caused a big impression on me. Now… I do not think it is proper for me to mention the name of this fine establishment were we meet every Tuesday. But, what I can do is show you the cup I’m talking about.

Like I said before, the message in this cup surprised me, not because I found some deep theological insight on it, but because I saw it as the complete opposite of the Advent message.
Let me show you what I mean. Right here around the seal we see the images of three Christmas ornaments with the words “Love” “Hope” and “Wish”. Perhaps it is because I’m a deacon but I’m always noticing stuff like this. When I saw this, my mind went to another very similar list of words “Hope”, “Love” and “Faith”; Which if you remember your catechism happen to be what the Church calls the 3 theological virtues.
Before we can continue I need to say a few things about the word virtue because this is one of those words we do not hear every often in our everyday life. A virtue is a character trait which is valued as been good. The Church teaches that a virtuous person has a firm disposition to do good.
Now if you go back to your religious education days again, you will remember that there are two types of virtues, human virtues (like fairness, wisdom, endurance) which we learn from our environment, family and friends.
And then there is the other kind of virtue, a type so fundamental to whom we are that they cannot be learned. The only way we can acquire these is as the result of divine action. These virtues are a gift from God, given to us freely with the exclusive purpose of helping us fulfill our eternal destiny which is the salvation of our souls. There are only three virtues of this type, faith, hope and love. There is nothing we can do to earn or deserve these; however like any other virtue what we can do is ignore them when we find ourselves in a situation in which we are require to use these. At any moment in our lives we can exercise our free will and decide that we do not want to love, or to have hope or worst of all we can decide to ignore the dictates of our faith.
You might be asking, ok…so…what about the cup? Well, when we see that “Faith” is replaced by “Wish”, the message is clear, in our culture we do not need faith; Yes, we should keep hope alive and love each other, but in this time before Christmas we should concentrate in wishing and wanting for those things that we would like to have. So at the end of the day what we are asked to do is, not to exercise a virtue but to enjoy a vice, vise we call “greed”.
You might be thinking that perhaps I’m reading too much in just a cup of coffee. And maybe you are right but before you dismiss what I’m saying let me read to you what it says on the other side of the cup.

Well… I do not know you but to me what makes the holydays the holydays is my belief that our Lord Jesus will return again in glory, along with the hope that he will take all of us with Him to heaven, and specially the holydays are the holydays because of the love I give to others and not because of anything I can wish for myself. Our faith tells us that this is a season for, loving and “waiting in joyful hope for the coming of our savior Jesus Christ” and not the season to sit down and contemplate the world as “it could be”.
Advent is the season to become the “John the Baptizers” of our times. A time to go out and become the voice crying into the desert of our culture, prepare the way of the Lord, Jesus will come again, hope in his promises of salvation and have faith in His word and His Church.
Faith, hope and love; this is the time to exercise these gifts from God, this is what makes advent so special. Have a most blessed and happy advent!