God, faith, tradition: keep the family grounded

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family 2014

A boy went to a priest and asked: ‘Father, what is a devil?’ The priest replied: ‘The devil is an evil spirit and comes from hell.’ The boy gasped: ‘Oh, so I must be from hell then?’ Surprised, the priests asked: ‘Why did you say that?’ ‘Well’, the boy explained, ‘my mum always calls meyou little devil.’

It is a sad fact, but true that though God has ordained a human family from which we all are born into, as good and thus for the good of all members, yet some of us would make ‘hell out of it.’ It is unfortunate that there are some of us who just can’t live out the ideals of family life as God has designed it to be from the beginning.

I  believe one reason why God has chosen not only to become ‘flesh’, human like us, but also he chose to be born in a human family is to help us see the importance, the value, the beauty, the real meaning of a human family. As God as he is, he could just have come out of the blue. As God as he is, he could have just appeared anywhere and wherever he wants, in whatever way and whatever form he likes to be. But, no, he chose rather to be born as human, and to be born into a human family, to be cared for, nurtured and raised by a human  father and mother, just like any of us.

Such is the dignity of the human family. Such is the significance of our families. So to remind us this, today the Church celebrates the feast  of the Holy Family in Nazareth. We are now broadening our perspective from just looking at the baby in the manger, we now are to look at the whole nativity scene- the image of a family.

We are to reflect on the Holy Family and as we have it in our opening prayer, we are to ‘imitate them, in practicing the virtues of family life. We can imitate the Holy Family not because they are the perfect family, but because they are the ideal family. I dare to say that the holy family is not the perfect family in terms of our human standards of perfection: i.e. they are poor (Joseph’s job was a carpenter); they could only afford a poor family’s offering for the sacrifice in the temple- a pair of turtledoves (Lk 2:22-40); Mary’s pregnancy is ‘unnatural’; they almost lost Jesus when they left him in the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52); they had their ups and downs too as any human family would have.

Indeed, there is no perfect family in this world, but there could be an ideal family. As Pope Francis would say to the engaged couples at St Peter’s Square during the Valentines day this year: “We all know that the perfect family does not exist, nor a perfect husband or wife…(then he paused a moment) we won’t even speak about a perfect mother-in-law.”

The Holy family though is an ideal family for at least three good reasons and in these they are worth imitating.

First, they were grounded in God. They opened their hearts to God and allowed God to be part of their life, of their day to day works and decisions. The last line of our gospel today can assure us this when Jesus “grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.” (Lk 22:40). If God wasn’t real and true, and not welcome in the family of Mary and Joseph, theirs wouldn’t have love in there too, because as St John would say: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” If love is absent, a family is impossible, that’s where ‘hell is made.

Second, they were grounded in faith. Such is their faith in God and in one another that even if things are not really that clear for Mary and Joseph, even scary and tedious, if you like, they remained firm, they remained grounded. If Mary’s faith is that shallow, she would have trembled in fear and would have done something to prevent what Simeon, the prophet in the temple has said about Jesus as: ‘destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce [her] own soul too.’ I can only imagine Mary’s reaction as I am reminded of  that news months ago about a baby with down syndrome, born in Thailand by a surrogate mother, not taken by the foster parents. If Mary had no faith of what God has done and would do still for her, she would have opted to do away  with Jesus if only later on He would only give her such pain, shame or disgrace so to speak. But no Mary, remained faithful to what God has willed for her. So with Joseph, they did their best to raise their child no matter what it takes, no matter what it costs them and no matter how much pain Mary had to bear later on.

Third, they remained grounded in their tradition. As we have heard in the gospel Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem with the child to undergo the purification ritual to offer a sacrifice for the Lord. This is their tradition-

It was a tradition and belief of the Jewish people of old that God is the source of life, and He would channel that life to human beings through blood. So, if a person came in contact with blood, he/she would be deemed to be coming in contact with God’s creative power, and that set this person apart from the ordinary world. This person then would have to undergo a certain ritual bath to go back to his/her ordinary and everyday life. Mary, of course upon giving birth, came in contact with blood and so before she could offer sacrifices to God she would have to go purification first.

This is just a glimpse of how the Holy family observed their traditions. We can see this again, when Jesus reached 12 years old and he was presented in the temple.

There are many challenges that families faced. One challenge for the family today is to uphold the traditional and ancient way of understanding marriage, i.e. between man and woman. Another one is the rise of domestic violence that divides families that leaves a traumatic and sometimes deep psychological wounds for the children. Surely enough there are families today that have fallen short of the ideals of family life.

Let us pray for them, as we pray for our families: that we may all go back to the Holy Family of Nazareth and learn from them how they keep their family grounded in God, grounded in faith and grounded in  tradition. God, faith and tradition are the grounds that would prevent more families from collapsing, and effectively keeping our human society together.

As we pray for our families, I leave you with a recipe for a perfect family. I found this on a website called Tastebook. The ingredients are: 1 loving Father, 1 loving Mother, 4 wonderful children, 2 cute puppies preferably one much larger than the other one, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins. Directions: 1 Mix together:  (God, faith and tradition- my addition) 2 understanding  3 Patience  4 Laughter   5 Tears  6 Compassion 7 A dash of Humor   8 and a whole ’lotta love! 9 Blend well and serve generous portions, evenly to each and everyday

Source:Barbara: http://www.tastebook.com/recipes/839570-Recipe-for-a-Perfect-Family

 

Christmas: Humility of God and a call to hospitality for us

Homily for Christmas Mass 2014

Exactly, a month ago, there was a news on the daily telegraph, that really made me cringe. According to the daily telegraph: ‘The malnourished baby boy was found abandoned at the bottom of a 2.4m drain, covered by a concrete slab, after a cyclist and his daughter heard the baby’s screams early Sunday morning.”  “A newborn baby”, the news goes on, “may have been trapped in a storm water drain on the side of a Sydney motorway for up to five days before he was found by passing cyclists…With temperatures tipped to peak above 40C in Western Sydney today there were concerns the child would have died if he had been found later in the day.”  (source: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/)

Things like this really made me sick in the stomach.  It made me question how could a mother abandon such an innocent, vulnerable, helpless, defenceless, voiceless human being? How could someone do such a thing?

Friends, I know it is Christmas, a time of joy and a time of peace, a time of giving, a time of sharing, a time of caring, and you might say, I should have chosen a better story than the one I mentioned above. However, I can’t help it, because the story of that little child is a modern Christmas story.

The boy was left to die in the drain. He was abandoned, left to the elements. Somebody heard his cry and came to his rescue. And now I hope he is assured to live with a beautiful story of redemption to tell later on.

That is the story of Christmas. This is our story too. In a way, we are like that little child, helpless, vulnerable, and defenceless against the evil one, groping in the dark gutter of sin and death, thrown in the drain of damnation, Yet, God hears our cry for help. He came down not only to help us out from the gutter of sin and death and leave us on our own once again, but to assure us of a brighter and better future ahead of us. He has come to show us the life reserved for us for all eternity. He came to be the great light for us who walked in the darkness and in the shadow of death.

Christmas means that God has come to be with us-Emmanuel. He is here as one truly like us, in all  things except sin. He listens to our pleas for healing. He listens to our problems. He is sensitive to our needs. He cares for us. As St Paul would say in the Second Reading tonight: ‘He sacrificed himself for us order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people’ and called us to be his own.’

This is one, if not the main reason of all of our Christmas celebrations and Christmas Do’s.

Christ, has come to light our lives. Let us welcome him to be our light, to be at the centre of our lives.

To welcome him this Christmas and more importantly in our lives, is to visit him in the manger/ on the crib. We are to spend time in prayer and reflection before the nativity scene. We begin reflecting on Mary and how she would have felt having given birth not only in the foreign land, but also not in her house, or in the hospital, not even in a proper bed. She gave birth, with Joseph and no other, not even with close friends. She gave birth in the manger- the place to keep the animals at night.  Let us also reflect on Joseph, who stood by Mary, no matter how incomprehensible his situation is, no matter how much would it take him to be the human Father of Jesus.

Let us also reflect on the shepherds, humble, and simple people, loyal workers, no particular voice in the society, no privileged position in their community, just like many of us here tonight, yet readily went to pay a visit to the new-born child once they heard the good news of his birth.

Let us reflect on the lowliness, the poverty, the ordinariness, the simplicity of the manger, that hosted the most important, the most influential, the most powerful person not only in the whole world, but in all of creation, the richest person, the best of all philanthropists- God himself, who was made flesh for us.

To welcome Christ this Christmas also means we give him a place in our dining tables, in our Christmas parties, and celebrations. Even to say grace in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the  Holy Spirit, to acknowledge the presence of God in our homes, to give thanks to God for the blessings he gave us for the past year, would be pleasing to God and a way to give a birthday treat for the birthday boy- the child Jesus.

The question is: Do we even say grace still before or after meals/ Do we still make the sign of the Cross, or say the Trinitarian formula in the name of the Father, and of the Son when we sit down for meals? No matter how short or how simple a prayer of thanks would that be, it matters a lot, because it is a prayer of gratitude. I found some of this simple prayers and feel free to use this.  

Our Heavenly Father, we thank you for this food, and humbly request that you perform a miracle and remove the calories from dessert.

Lord, please bless this sumptuous feast, and bless the pizza guy who delivered these.

 Our heavenly Father, we thank you for this food we are about to receive…well, everything except the liver and maybe the cauliflower.

 Lord bless my family and may they be nice when they realize I dropped the food on the floor twice.

To welcome Christ this Christmas is to recognize him and welcome him when we meet him on the streets or in our workplaces, or even in our homes. He may be the homeless man looking for an accommodation or some change to get through  the night. He may be the old man in the nursing home with no family and friends to spend Christmas with. He may be the young woman who was looked down by her male colleagues at work. He may be a boy or a girl at home who are surrounded by beautiful toys and the like but never listened to, or seldom appreciated. He may be the person with disability next door living on his or her own, and often abused verbally, physically. He may be the old widow in the neighbourhood who had no one to talk to, or had nobody cared for him.

Christ has come for all of us and for each of these. The challenge for us is to recognise him and make him feel welcome.

Let us make Christ alive in our hearts…this is what Christmas is all about.

With peace and blessings from the Most High, I wish you all a Happy Christmas and Blessed New Year…

God bless!

Dedication of St John Lateran Basilica

Homily for the feast of the Dedication of St John Lateran Basilica

One thing that makes me love the Catholic Church more and more is the fact that our faith and our Catholic tradition have withstood the test of time, have braved through the centuries of persecutions, heresies, dark ages, and modernization. It is just an amazing thing to see that for two millennia  now, the Catholic Church is still standing on the Apostolic pillars laid down by  Jesus Christ himself. Yes, the ‘journey’ wasn’t really that smooth. There have been ups and downs, joys and sorrows, trials and challenges. Yet the Church thrives on.  Thanks be to the Holy Spirit who inaugurated this Church at Pentecost and continually guides, sustains, and enlivens us all throughout. And thanks be to the Holy Spirit, the Church has produced  countless saints.

Not intending to sound too triumphalistic or un-ecumenical here, I just share my thoughts and my feelings on this because what and where we are now as a Church is a great testimony that our Lord indeed is true to his words when he ordained Peter as the rock upon which he would build his Church and which even ‘the gates of hell’ shall not prevail (Mt 16:18).

The St John Lateran Basilica in Rome, dedicated on this day and which we celebrate is one great witness to the fulfilment of our Lord’s promise to Peter and to us as his Church. I say it is a great witness because this is the first public building constructed by Emperor Constantine after his conversion to Christianity in the early 4th century. It is a notable thing because this was the first public place of worship for the Christians after 300 years of worshipping in homes, catacombs or in hiding due to terrible persecutions by the emperors in those times.

In the Roman Catholic tradition we honour this day of dedication because this basilica is the Cathedral of Rome and the seat of the Bishop of Rome (currently Pope Francis), the point or centre of unity in the Catholic Church. And because of this particular distinction we call this Church as ‘Mother and Head of all Churches of the City and the World’ and that it is the ‘first Christian basilica’ to borrow the words of Fr Francis J. Moloney, SDB.

We might ask: Why does the whole Catholic Church celebrate the dedication of St John Lateran Basilica?

Four reasons:

First, because the Church is the house of God and thus a holy ground, a place worthy of respect and honour. It is ‘my Father’s house’ Jesus would dare to say to the people in the temple as we heard in the gospel today. (Jn 2:13-22) It is also the place where we can experience and see for ourselves with the eyes of our faith, the meeting between the human and divine, the nourishing of the relationship between us and God. For us Catholics, it is the place, where we can a glimpse of the eternal banquet in heaven by sharing in the Eucharistic meal.

Second, because St John Lateran Basilica reminds us of the integrity and continuity of our Christian Catholic faith proclaimed by and handed on to us by the Apostles, through St Peter, the rock upon which Jesus Christ built his Church. How can a mere building preserve the integrity of faith, we may ask. Well, with this concrete point of reference we are able to trace our true heritage, i.e. our faith in Christ, that it is the same faith proclaimed by the Apostles, that faith which led many Christians to martyrdom, and that same faith proclaimed and handed on to us the early Church Fathers and to all who passed on the Christian faith faithfully through all generations.

Third, this feast also leads us to an appreciation of our own personal faith in Jesus Christ. Today, we are invited to re-examine, re-visit, re-affirm, and re-ignite our Catholic faith. And we can be aided by the knowledge, realization  and conviction that St John Lateran basilica has become a symbol of  the joys of our faith after terrible persecutions, as well as it is a symbol for us to see how the Catholic Church survived through and continued on with her mission in the world over the centuries of tempest, blows, trials, persecutions, modernizations, and even indifference. I call for an examination of our faith because as a Church we are not just a people gathered under a building we call Church. St Paul would say to us in the second reading (1 Cor 3:9-11, 16-17) that we are God’s building, God’s temple ourselves and that the Spirit of God is living among us.

Fourth, St John Lateran basilica is a symbol for us that indeed our faith is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. To understand these marks let us take heed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church  as it explains to us what these marks mean:

The Church is one: she acknowledges one Lord, confesses one faith, is born of one Baptism, forms only one Body, is given life by the one Spirit, for the sake of one hope (cf. Eph 4:3-5), at whose fulfillment all divisions will be overcome. (CCC 866)

The Church is holy: the Most Holy God is her author; Christ, her bridegroom, gave himself up to make her holy; the Spirit of holiness gives her life. Since she still includes sinners, she is “the sinless one made up of sinners.” Her holiness shines in the saints; in Mary she is already all-holy. (CCC 867)

The Church is catholic: she proclaims the fullness of the faith. She bears in herself and administers the totality of the means of salvation. She is sent out to all peoples. She speaks to all men. She encompasses all times. She is “missionary of her very nature” (AG 2) (CCC 868)

The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14). She is indestructible (cf. Mt 16:18). She is upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.( CCC 869)

So today as we celebrate the dedication of St John Lateran basilica let us thank God for the gift of our faith. Let us also thank God for the sacrifices of our fathers and mothers in the faith who passed on to us the same Christian  faith they had with such integrity, value and meaning. Let us also thank God for the Sacred place he founded and laid down for us wherein we can worship him more freely, more personally and more meaningfully. Finally, let us thank God for gathering us as a Church, as his worshipping assembly and for giving us the opportunity everyday to prepare ourselves for the eternal celebration and for the banquet he has prepared for us in his kingdom. Amen.