Saturday, February 8, 2014

only one Church need exist

Homily
5th Sunday of Ordinary Time C
Christ the King Topeka
9 February 2014
Daily Readings


Catholicism is dead in the water.  Christ the King, our parish, is dead in the water.  Don't get me wrong.   We're a nice Church . . it's just that nice doesn't cut it.  It never has.  It never will.   It's not that I'm discouraged or pessimistic.  I have nothing but hope and enthusiasm for where our parish is headed.  I love our Catholic tradition and the opportunity to bring Christ who I know to be the way, the truth and the life more tangibly and fruitfully into our world.  I know there are thousands of points of light in our parish and in our Church.  Pope Francis has been an amazing boost, for one.  Pope Francis shows us how to get bloody and dirty in the pursuit of holiness, so that the Church is known first and above all for her charity! I know I'm speaking in generalities, not in particulars.  But in general, the Church, and our parish, is treading water.  We're not declining, but we're not setting the world on fire either.

Jesus reminds his disciples in the sermon on the mount, however, that treading water is unacceptable.  Christians are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Salt was used in Jesus' time to preserve what is good and to kill what was bad.  Salt has a great potency.  Light highlights what is good and exposes what is evil.  Light can be the most powerful of forces.  That is what Christians are supposed to be  - not weak, but potent.  Christians are to be salt and light.  They are to be nothing less.  Not relatively good compared to other people.  Not a nice part of the world.  No, Christians exist for one reason, and for one reason only - to serve and to save the world by being its salt and its light. If Christians are not showing the full flavor and beauty of what it means to be human, and are not co-redeeming the world by participating in divine life and love, then we should fold up our tents.

Our Church is supposed to be so much more than a nice gathering of nice people saying nice things and doing nice things for each other and for their community.  Nice is nice.  But being nice doesn't meet the standard of being salt and light.  Nice doesn't convert anyone.  You don't have to be a Christian to be a nice person . . there are plenty of good people who don't care to go to Church.  No, there is only one reason, and there can be only one reason to be a Christian . . and that is to become a saint.  The only reason to be a religious person is to make possible something new . .being a Christian must be entering into a great adventure of trying to become more, and do more, than was thought possible before.  If being Christian isn't about reaching new heights and exploding old categories of what it means to be a human person, than it's nothing more than anesthesia for the scared.

The Church then exists only to produce saints. It cannot be a holding pen for those who are superstitious or too afraid to live.  If that is what agnostics see in the Church, then why would they ever become Catholic? Agnostics don't care about the truth or the global or personal impact of religion, and if they have never met a saint, why should they?  Personally, I would rather see agnosticism grow than lukewarm Catholicism, because agnosticism holds out the challenge that unless you can show me that Jesus Christ has enlightened your mind and heart in incredible ways, and made the impossible possible, then I don't care.  Agnosticism challenges the Church to produce saints or to fold up her tents.  The growth of agnosticism could eventually be the foil for the renewal of the Church.

Just like athletes try to set new world records, and scientists never stop asking questions about the universe, and just as telling an engineer than he can't do something makes no impact on his desire to do it anyway, so also saints strive to do something in God, with God and for God, that has never been done before.  St. Paul says that saints take their cue from the cross of Jesus Christ.  Whenever the challenge comes that you don't have to be religious to be a good person, whenever you think that human reason can provide a better rationale for morality than religion, Christians look to the cross.

On the cross we see that even though God didn't need to create or love the world, and the world did not add one iota to his glory, that God created and loved anyway, loving to the point of forsaking Himself.  The cross shows that even though the redemption of one sinner added nothing to God's glory, still He redeemed us anyway.  The cross always speaks then to true freedom born from a transcendent and spiritual source, and to a goodness and love not imposed on us from below because of our nature, but a goodness and love from above toward which we strive and which makes new things possible.  Saints are holy not because they conform to the goodness that lies below us, but because they go far beyond a love that is reasonable, and lose themselves totally by striving in spiritual freedom for the goodness that lies beyond us. Saints conform their lives to the mystery of the cross, where the source of truth and goodness and love is perfectly revealed.

There is only one Church that deserves to exist.  That Church is an evangelizing Church - one that shows the world the new things that are possible through the transcendent and spiritual freedom and power and goodness and love of God working in us, and with us and through us.  We shouldn't expect to stay open, if we fail to become this Church here at Christ the King.  The only Church that should continue on is one that produces saints - those who aren't afraid to take Jesus at his word, to become the salt of the earth, and the light of the world.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Welcome CTK visitors!

Welcome CTK visitors!

Thanks for visiting our website - this is my blog where I post homilies and other news about the parish!  I sincerely pray that you will find the information you need on our website, and that you will feel welcome to be a part of our faith community if you are not already a member!  A special welcome to those of you who are interested in becoming Catholic!   I am excited about the opportunities for knowing Christ and for serving Him in our Topeka community.  Please contact me personally at frmitchel@gmail.com or at (913) 220-8809 if I can make your CTK experience better!  I'm happy to respond to your questions and feedback!

Welcome to all!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

core identity

Homily
Feast of the Presentation
1/2 February 2014
Christ the King Topeka
Daily Readings



So, who are you?  It's a simple question . . . but sometimes not simple to answer. In life sometimes the hardest thing is to keep simple things simple.  So who are you?  Do you have an identity statement?  If someone asked you to describe yourself, as simply and exactly as possible, what would you say?

In asking this question, I'm asking about your core identity.  I'm not asking about the peripherals - where you grew up, what you do for a living, what your hobbies are - etc. etc. etc.  These things are vitally important, but no, I'm not asking about those things.  I'm asking about your very core . . if you could describe who you are in one sentence, or even if a few words, what would you say?  Have you ever tried this?  My favorite identity statement of all time is the motto of the late and great John Paul II.  Talk about a guy who knew how to keep things simple . . who knew who he was at his core.  John Paul described himself in just three words.  Totus Tuus Mariae.  Totally yours Mary.  That was who John Paul was, plain and simple.  That was his life and his spirituality and his identity . . in all of his complexity as a person, he found a way to keep a simple question simple.  He could tell you who he was . .  distilled into three words.

I've tried to do this myself . .  though not as successfully as John Paul II.  It's been a good exercise.  My own identity statement has actually stayed pretty consistent over the last few years.  When people ask me who I am - who is Fr. Mitchel - I don't immediately go to my birthplace or family or education or profession or hobbies . .  although those are all significant parts of my life.  All of them are important.   But in simplicity, I just say this - I am a child of God loved by Christ where I could never love or change myself.  I could give a witness talk about how I came to this identity statement, and how hard it was to settle upon it.  Yet it's one I've stuck with for awhile, for many reasons.  That is who I am . . as simply as I can put it . .I am a child of God loved by Christ where I cannot love or change myself.  That's who I am before I'm a priest or a KU fan or a long homilist, or anything like that.

This identity that is still the core of who I am is an identity that I received 40 years ago in baptism.  My core identity was received on the day I was dedicated in the temple.  I've just now at 40 years old begun to understand what happened to me that day, and I am still growing in knowledge and in gratitude for the identity I received that day.  This year the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time is replaced by the Presentation of the Lord . . a nice surprise and privilege.  There are two traditional ends to the Christmas season - in the western Roman Catholic Church we end Christmas with the Baptism of the Lord, but in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches  Christmas lasts even longer, up until today's Feast of the Presentation.  In our tradition, we are baptized and presented to the Lord at the same time . . our baptism occurs not outside in a river like Jesus', but in the temple, where we are also dedicated.  On this occasion, we receive our deepest and most perfect identity as human persons.  We become children of God - we become those who as part of God's family in the Church are visited and known and loved by God.  The day of our baptism and presentation if it is anything is the most important day of our lives. It's either the most important or it's nothing . . baptism and presentation can't be something in between.  For on this day we make visible that we belong to God - we are consecrated to him, and most of all we proclaim that God delights in us his children.  He gets a kick out of us and the adventure of our lives, and takes an intense interest in the dignity and destiny of all his children.  So much did he love us that he sent his only begotten Son to share in everything that it means to be a human person, except sin.

The identity we received on the day of baptism and presentation is an identity that we more deeply understand as our resumes get longer and our human experiences multiply.  No matter where we go in life, and what choices we make, or what experiences come our way . . it all can be incorporated into this identity that we received in baptism.  There is room in this simple identity for every human experience . . it is the thing that as we say, is an indelible mark on the soul . . something given by God and received by us that cannot change.  We can either enter into the adventure of more deeply claiming and knowing this identity, or we can go away from it and try to become something else, but the identity itself never changes, and nothing can replace it or become more central to us.  There can never be anything more perfect or deep than belonging to God completely, and his invitation through his Son to belong to his eternal family.  That is why John Paul II's identity statement is so perfect . .Totus Tuus Mariae . . .it is about devotion and relationship and belonging . . to Christ through the intercession of his mother Mary.

Again, the identity we received in baptism is an identity that we are meant to more deeply understand and grow into, not something we move away from the further we are away from baptism.  Being baptized into Christ's death, and receiving a destiny to live with God in heaven where alone all of our desires might be fulfilled, frees us from resume building in this world, of having to earn being loved and noticed,  No, instead, we are able to focus instead on choosing death fearlessly before death chooses us, and to grow younger as we give our lives in this world away, entering into the transformation of death that leads to eternal life.  This dignity we claim in baptism thus leads into our mission in life.  Knowing who we are, and getting that right and keeping it right, shows us precisely what we are supposed to do with our lives.

Today we celebrate the Lord's entry into the temple.  This day is much more important than groundhog day or Super Bowl Sunday . . the Presentation of the Lord and his entry into his temple reminds us that it is in our churches, filled with the presence of the Lord, that we are to reclaim our true identity through an encounter with the living God.  Today we bless the candles that will be used throughout the year to remind us when we come into Church that this is a living temple - our Church houses the presence of the Lord, especially and most perfectly in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and it is in our churches where the Lord promised to be most consistently and perfectly present until he comes again in glory!  When asked our favorite places to visit in the whole world, our temple, our parish church, should always be at the top of the list.  We should be visiting our churches as often as possible, dropping by here and in our adoration chapel throughout the week, to reclaim as much as possible the dignity that we first received here at our baptism and presentation.  It is especially here that we come to meditate upon the central question we must all answer - who am I?  It is here that we first received, and will continue to receive, our core identity.  Amen.




Saturday, January 25, 2014

wisdom of the cross

Homily
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time A
Christ the King Catholic Church Topeka
25/26 January 2014
Beginning of Catholic Schools Week
Daily Readings


As we enter into Catholic schools week, I want to begin this very brief homily by expressing my deep admiration and appreciation for our Catholic school.  Although I didn't have a chance to go to Catholic school myself, and I have an equally deep appreciation for those who work in religious education, I've always dreamed of being a pastor with a Catholic school.  And here at CTK I hit the jackpot.  This parish supports this school so generously and sacrificially, and I so enjoy being part of the formation and life of the school.  I get to teach in the classrooms, celebrate Mass, hit recess, and observe how hard the administration and faculty and staff work to bring the Catholic faith to our kids and to make our school excellent in every way.  Catholic schools in many ways try to do the impossible . . with limited resources to be excellent in every way.  And they pull it off!  It's the story of our Catholic faith . . start with a little, and with faith in God is grows into something beautiful and tremendous.  My deepest gratitude for each of you who make our Catholic school so great, as the primary ministry our parish provides to our families and our community!  Thanks to all of you as we enter into Catholic schools week together!

Tonight's scriptures give us a couple of quick examples of things we are able to teach our kids in a Catholic school environment.  First of all we are able to teach that Christ is the source of all knowledge, and that knowledge reaches its highest point in the sign of the cross.  St. Paul says that the cross of Christ should never be emptied of its meaning.  The crucifixes that hang in our classrooms are better educational aids, then, than the ipads we just got for our kids, and impart greater knowledge than the smartphones we all use.  The cross teaches us that no matter how smart we think we are, and yes, I was at the geography bee a couple weeks ago and our kids are super smart - still, the cross teaches us that the most important lesson to learn in life is how to give ourselves away in love.  The cross teaches us that pain and suffering, failure and rejection, vulnerability and persecution are not things we have to avoid in order to be happy. No, they are human experiences that can be transcended and conquered by love.  A Christian then learns how to give his life away in love completely before death and darkness ever can conquer us.  This is the wisdom that lies at the heart of our Catholic faith, and is on display in our Catholic school.

Then there is the calling of Peter and Andrew, James and John.  Specifically, we are able to teach in a Catholic school that each one of us is known and loved and called by God.  This is the dignity and destiny of every person God created, and we are able to celebrate that without apology.  Like Zebedee, our parents entrust the calling of their kids to a holy vocation, and a beautiful way of making Jesus's truth and love present in the world, to the Church and the school.  We set the stage where our kids can know the voice of Jesus from the inside out, and he might call each of them to a life that may not be successful on the world's terms, but to a life that is so much bigger, and happier and more fruitful than any life they would choose for themselves.  Our kids are able every day to enter into that adventure of discovering God's will in their lives, and again, we are able to do that without equivocation or apology, but with greater fervor and joy!

Today's video will give you a peak into our Catholic school - again, my thanks to Mrs. Reynoso and the incredible faculty and staff here, and to the parents and parishioners of CTK, for their support of the school!  A blessed Catholic schools week to all!


Saturday, January 4, 2014

wise men seek Him

Homily
Solemnity of the Epiphany
5 January 2013
Christ the King Church Topeka
Daily Readings


The Catholic Church embraces science.  Maybe you've heard differently, but it's not true.  Today's feast of the Epiphany tells the story of wise men whose fascination with science, and their study of the heavens, led them to the ultimate source of wisdom and truth, to Jesus Christ our Lord.  In our Catholic tradition the relationship and interplay between faith and science is welcomed and celebrated, and is critical in the search for truth.  This search for a unified truth is  perhaps never more beautifully on display than in the story of the magi.  The Catholic Church was the founder of the modern western University.  The word university implies that there is a community of learners working toward the truth not in a fragmented way, but in a unified way  It makes little sense for any university, be it KU, K-State, Benedictine or Notre Dame, to house a religion and a physics department, without getting the relationship and conversation right between the two.  The magi show us exactly how to get it right.

Despite what many atheists might want you to believe, the Church has never been against science, and has never advocated a divorce between faith and reason.  Of course the Church is at her best not doing science, but in understanding the revelation of God, so occasionally the Church and science have a hard time getting on the same page.  But never listen to anyone who says that since the Church excommunicated Galileo, it proves that the Church is trying to keep science down.  Such difficulties are the exception, not the rule.  Name me a Catholic university or school that does not have a robust science department.  Of course, they all do.  There is no divorce.  What is the rule, actually, is that Catholic thinkers have made some of the greatest advances in science.  The founder of modern genetics, which paved the way for Darwinist thinking, was a Catholic priest  The original proponent of the Big Bang theory, was a devout Catholic priest.  Our last two popes, John Paul and Benedict, have written the most beautiful and fruitful reflections that are out there on the interplay between faith and reason.  Anyone who thinks the Catholic Church is the enemy of science has their head in the sand.

On Epiphany we celebrate that the magi who came to the manger were the smartest men of their time.  They understood something that modern atheists and materialist scientists do not get; namely, that the science of our universe derives its efficacy from a theological worldview.  Specifically, it only makes sense to do science if two things are true - if the world is not divine and if it is intelligible.  Science needs these truth to operate, but cannot prove them itself.  Theology, a reflection of God's revelation of himself, and hence the ultimate science, delivers these truths that are necessary for science to operate.  Without a theological foundation, science is a circular and futile exercise of matter and energy randomly encountering matter and energy, for no purpose.  It is only because of science's grounding in theology and metaphysics that science can and does discover truth, and make real and important distinctions between what is real and necessary, and what is not.  The magi were smart because they were so open to this theological worldview.

The magi were smart for another reason.  They realized that the most important knowledge one can obtain is knowledge that enhances what it means to be a person.  Knowledge of stars is great, but knowledge of the ones trying to understand the stars, knowledge of human persons themselves, is the best kind of knowledge.  The mere possibility that the one controlling the heavens could have a human face made the magi run in haste.  That the most powerful force in the universe was also powerful enough to allow himself to enter into the vulnerabilities contingencies of time, space and the human condition, was a revelation worthy of their finest gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  The magi represent the very best of mankind, those open to the light of any truth, scientific and theological, physical and metaphysical, that enhances an understanding of human personhood, human dignity and our ultimate destiny.

Science and theology both have a lot more work to do.  We need great minds in both.  There is still more about God and his universe that we don't understand, and there is no reason for faith and reason to fight, only room for us to stand in humble awe together at the mysteries of our God and his universe. The Church will continue to welcome the advances of science, and the search for truth, while at the same time doing what she alone does best - producing saints. Saints are those stars of humanity, who even without scientifically certain knowledge of who they are and where they came from and what they should do, still are able to emanate the personal transcendant love revealed in the face of the Christ child, which is the ground of all reality.  Long before faith and science finish their work, we all have to choose whether or not we will be saints, and whether we will fulfill our destiny revealed by Christ, to love one another as he has first loved us.  The Church is the place where we come to be made into saints.

Saints shine Christ's light powerfully into the world!  Epiphany is to Christmas what Pentecost is to Easter.  Namely, today's feast at the end of our Christmas celebration challenges us to shine the light of Christ revealed at Christmas into our world.  Specifically at Christmas, the appearance of the Christ child purifies the reason of the world, and challenges her to see and understand herself through the eyes of her most important resource, her children.  Where science has tilted the focus toward the ability of adults to control their own lives, the appearance of the Christ child challenges us never to run away from what makes us most human - authentic, natural, vulnerable, sacrificial and fruitful love.  The light of faith discourages our ever becoming like Herod - fearful, controlling and selfish - and challenges us all to remember where we came from, and to never stop being children.  This is the light of faith that is meant to go out from the Church at Christmas to every dark corner of our world, a light that teaches the world through Christ all it means to be a human person.

Anyone who thinks this poor, dark world needs the light of Christ any less today that she did 2000 years ago, is a fool indeed.  On Epiphany, we celebrate that anyone who seeks ultimate truth, may find it like the magi in the face of Christ.  Their example teaches us not simply to hold onto the past, but to welcome with joy and hope the scientific and theological wisdom of the future.  They give voice to the Church's proclamation each epiphany - that wise men still seek Him!  Amen.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas with mom

Homily
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
31 December 2013
Christ the King Parish Topeka
Daily Readings


Here we are at Mass again.  Well, at least some of us.  Holy Days are more messed up than ever, and too many Catholics have given up on figuring it out or attending.  I'll hear some confessions about missing the Holy Day, but not too many.  Most Catholics don't realize that to have a good Christmas, which means to really worship the mystery of the Incarnation, and to fully contemplate the beauty of God's love taking on an irresistible form in the baby Jesus, that we are obliged to attend Mass 4 times in the 12 days of Christmas - Christmas, Holy Family, Mary the Mother of God, and Epiphany. We actually go to Mass more - much more - during Christmas than we do during Easter, though Easter outranks Christmas liturgically.

When we talk about our obligation to attend Mass, especially on Holy Days, we are saying that this faith that we possess, especially in the miracle of Christmas, is way too precious to take lightly, or to celebrate individually. We have to keep coming together as a team, as a family, to encounter this mystery together, and to extend and deepen our Christmas celebration, so that the season doesn't collapse and end too quickly.  So we are here again, at least some of us, to stick through Christmas together, and we'll be back again Sunday to celebrate Epiphany. Today on the 8th day of Christmas we contemplate Christmas with our Lady - with our dear Mother, the one through whom God decided to begin his 8th day of creation.

There is nothing wrong with our entering tonight as well into the optimism that accompanies the dawning of a new secular year.  Our new year began as Catholics in Advent, when we started to look East for the light of Christ to be born in the darkness.  Yet the secular New Year is also a day of hope, and of course we should intensely ask God to bless us all with a prosperous new year.  It is a great tradition for Catholics to read the Holy Father's World Day of Prayer for Peace message, issued every January 1st, as we pray for an end to the violence and injustice that rips through our world and destroys the hope of so many.  We pray through Christ, the Prince of Peace, for a flowering of peace in our world in the new year.   There's nothing wrong with raising a glass, in fact I'm quite sure I will do so myself, and to toast the new year.  That is part of the reason we are here too.

Yet it's not as important as our gathering to continue to say Merry Christmas!  We don't merely ask God to bless the passage of time tonight, but we stand in awe of the mystery of the eternal God entering into time.  The Christmas mystery is much more exciting than the dropping of a ball in Times Square.  So we give it due attention, and more attention, on this 8th day of the octave of Christmas, as we celebrate the 8th and best day of creation begun with the yes of Mary, the mother of God.

One thing we can say for sure is that none of us is going to have a better Christmas than Mary.  Her Christmas is always the best Christmas.  Hers is always the perfect Christmas.  So we draw as close to Mary as we possibly can, especially today.  None of us will have a more intimate experience of receiving Jesus into our hearts, nor contemplating what his birth means and what changes in us when we behold his face, than Mary, our Mother.  So she has a special day on the octave of Christmas.  She has her own day, when we remember that there is no Christmas without the yes of Mary.  We celebrate her as our exemplar, knowing that we are closer to her by nature than we are to Christ  For us, then, her children, to have the best Christmas means precisely to draw as close to Mary as we can, because it's impossible to have the best Christmas without sharing in her Christmas.  So we turn to her and ask her to intercede for us as we continue to drink in the richness of the Christmas mystery, and especially we seek her motherly intercession and to have her immaculate heart as we receive Jesus in the Eucharist at Christ's Mass!.

Today we celebrate her specifically under the title of Mary, mother of God.  Mind you, this is even more than saying Mary is the mother of Jesus.  For she is mother not only of Christ's human nature, but mother of his whole person. God himself, and all of God, not just a part of God, entrusts himself to the yes of a human person, to the yes of this beautiful woman.  We say something mind-boggling then - that Mary, a human person like us, is mother of a God who is a Father but who has no Father.  God, and all of God, could not honor motherhood any more than that, nor make it more sacred.  So today's is Catholic mother's day, and a mother's day like no other.  We contemplate Christmas with Mary, the mother of God!  Good God!  It blows me away.

But our Catholic mother's day doesn't end there.  No, from the cross, Mary receives the additional vocation of being our mother, the mother of the Church, and the mother of all of adopted into the family of Jesus.  Just as none of us entered life in this world except through a mother, so even moreso God chose in the order of redemption that we would all be completely dependent upon the intercession of Mary if we are to receive the greater gift of eternal life.  In precise imitation of God we are willing to be completely dependent upon Mary, and to be totally devoted to her, never moreso than at Christmas.  So we celebrate Mary as the mother of God, but with no less joy on this real Catholic Mother's Day that Mary is our mother too, and that we will receive the greatest Christmas grace by entrusting ourselves totally to her today.   Amen.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

family over everything

Homily
Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
29 December 2013
Christ the King Parish Topeka
Daily Readings


Families are changing. They're changing fast.  Divorce and remarriage.  Reproductive technologies.  50% of children born out of wedlock.  Smaller families.  Same-sex marriage.  The delaying and foregoing of marriage.  Fewer young people going to Church and preparing hearts, minds and bodies for the sacrament of marriage.  I don't list these factors to rant or to judge.  Only to mark how quickly the family is changing.  Most likely, several of these factors have already changed your family.  There are new and emerging definitions of family life, and there is no going back.  There was a time when every family was expected to conform to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph that we celebrate today.  For many, that day is long past. Family is being defined as much today by innovation rather than tradition.

Yet we need family more than ever.  That never changes.  There is a lack of love in our world, and specifically the intense and unique and life-giving love that is at its best within families.  We can't live without families. We know that.  Our attempts to redefine what family means shows that no one is willing to give up on family.  Blood is thicker than water, and the shedding of Jesus' blood is the sign that he loves families, and wants his body the Church, to be a family, real brothers and sisters to each other.  So this homily is not at all about disparaging the emerging definition of the family, nor judging any family or any person whatsoever.  Jesus is mercy, and woe to us if we are not merciful in imitation of him, loving each other beginning at our weakest points. The Church is not in the business of judging families.  But woe to us as well if we shy away from holding up the example of the holy family as a family that can inspire and change every family for the better, no matter what their situation.  In promoting the holy family as a model, we are not trying to go backward, but to bring the beauty and depth of the Catholic experience, teaching and tradition, to bear on the modern family.

Again, there is no room in this homily, nor in any of our hearts, to disparage or judge any person or family whatsoever.  Jesus, of course, was not afraid to enter into the reality of the human condition, including our messy families.  He loves us and visits us exactly where we are.  He himself was conceived in potential scandal, and born out in a barn, and was in danger and on the move.  Jesus was not born in a palace in conservative security.  His birth didn't follow an ideal script.  In this beautiful Christmas season when families come together as closely as possible, and give to each other, we must allow Christ, the reason for Christmas, and the one who entered into family life himself, to visit our families.  What an gorgeous and important Feast this is for us to contemplate and celebrate in this magnificent Christmas season, the Feast of the Holy Family.

In celebrating and promoting the holy family in such an intense and beautiful way today, we do not judge or compare families, but say something true that to fail to learn from the holy family is to give up on our own families.  For the concept of a family has to begin somewhere.  We can't make up the concept of family or pull it out of the air, and if the word family can mean anything, then eventually it will mean nothing. That is a risk we can never afford to take, that the word family would mean nothing. For the sake of our own well being, and that of our families, and for the Church and the world, we need our families to be stronger and stronger, and we need to draw inspiration from the holy family.  We cannot live without family, and human persons will not flourish without strong family life.  As goes the family, the basic building block of society, so goes the dignity of the human person, the fate of the Church, and the destiny of the world's peoples. The example of the holy family is something we fail to celebrate, then, at our own peril.

Starting with Joseph, then, we must celebrate that unlike Herod, who was a baby killer, killing even his own sons out of fear and suspicion, Joseph was a family defender.  Our culture is in desperate need of more men like St. Joseph.  In imitation of Christ, who shed his blood out of his love for his bride, the Church, and her children, so also the best that exists in every man is his ability to make others holy by the way he sacrifices for them.  Most men today are unprepared and lack the desire for such a mission.  As women have become more accomplished in society, men have not risen to to the challenge, but have shirked from it, and we have let our boys do this.  Trust me, I recruited seminarians for six years looking for men like St. Joseph, and they were hard to find, and when I did find one, the ladies who wanted to marry the same guy were not happy.  We need more men who in obedience to a mission greater than themselves, desire to be holy husbands and fathers.  This is not sexist.  Even on the most liberal of college campuses, where women are outperforming men and its not even close, still almost 100% of women desire think it is a guy's role to propose marriage, and to take initiative and leadership in the family.  I submit that we have a culture that allows the killing of its own babies, because we have too many men who like Herod are afraid of babies and family, and who fail to defend, and who shirk from their true vocation.

In the interest of time, the ladies will get a pass today. But that's ok, because the ladies will get a full homily all to themselves this week as we gather on the Holy Day of Obligation to celebrate the motherhood of Mary. Suffice it to say that you women as a hundred times more important than the guys.  God saved his best creation for last, and it was his plan to remake our world beginning with the yes of a woman, our blessed Mother.  Short sermon for you today, ladies . . but stay tuned.  See you this week.

Finally to children, who we hear in the scriptures are not to be spoiled brats, but are to be obedient to their parents.  We live in a culture that is way too afraid of children, where children are seen too much as an intrusion into the freedom of adults and a drain on finances, when in reality every healthy culture focuses not on adults, but on children, and every healthy economy sees children as its greatest resource!  Societies that have stopped having children, and there are many from China to Europe and beyond, are doomed economically and socially.

Although the holy family only had one child because of the perpetual virginity of Mary, still they are an example of sacrifice and generosity in having children.  Joseph and Mary were less focused on what fit into their plans, but were open to God telling them that there is a child he knows and loves and desires that is wanting to be born.  So perhaps especially if children come in a way that we cannot control, like Jesus coming into the holy family, and having children entails the risk of submitting ourselves to a plan much different and bigger than we would choose for ourselves, like the holy family, perhaps especially then we are not to be afraid of having more children. Mind you, I'm not promoting irresponsibility here, only generosity and sacrifice in imitation of the holy family.  There are prudent reasons for having children and not having children.  Yet oftentimes the families with the most resources financially and emotionally and spiritually are having the fewest children, and we as a culture are too afraid of children.  We do ask too much how children affect us, rather than asking whether there is a child that God desires to bring into the world through us.  The question faced by the holy family is always the most important one.  With all sympathy to those working through the terrible pain and disappointment of not being able to have their own children, and with deep respect and appreciation for those parents making heroic sacrifices to raise the children they already have, sacrifices that as a priest I will never personally make, still I want to say that the example of the holy family should inspire us all to be more generous and sacrificial in welcoming children into our world.  It is a fact that very few people regret having more children.  I promise never to complain about a noisy church filled with children - I'm smart enough to know that's good for business!   Christmas especially is a time to focus on children, and woe to us and to our families if we focus on ourselves instead.

A final time, lest anyone get me wrong, this homily is not about judging any person or any family. Woe to me if I would do that.  There is way too much judgement in the world, and not enough love. Yet in holding up the example of the holy family, we are doing just that, trying to bring more love into the world, and especially the special and unique love that can only be experienced in our families.  If we fail to celebrate and defend and promote the values of the holy family, we are literally killing ourselves and our children.  There is no way around it.

I'm not saying that we have to go backwards to the way families used to be, or that family life will ever be the same. I'm not even saying it should be.  I'm saying that every human family, and especially the real ones to which you and I belong, the imperfect and messy ones, can strive to be a holy family, by seeking the will of God, by being capable of sacrifice, and by being unafraid to give themselves to a mission beyond their control or imagination.  The example of the Holy Family is less a measuring stick, and more of an inspiration.  In this holy season of Christmas, we must allow Jesus who loves our families, and wants to be at the center of our families, to visit our families in a powerful way.  Amen.