Archive for December, 2014

Your Mission as a Christian Family

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

Feast of the Holy Family

Gen 15: 1-6; 21: 1-3; Col 3: 12-21; Luke 2: 22-40

Dc. Larry Brockman


Today is a really special day for our Parish because this is our Feast Day, the feast of Holy Family.  And our parish is named after the Holy Family for good reason, because the family is critical to the well-being of all of its members physically and spiritually; and the Holy family is God’s revelation to us of what family is all about.   

The first thing we should take notice of is that the Holy Family was not like the Norman Rockwell poster picture of the ideal American Family at all.  We know that Mary was a teen who had a child out of wedlock; that the child was born away from home in difficult circumstances and placed in a manger; and that the Holy Family fled for fear of the authorities after the birth, becoming refugees in a flight to Egypt, living in a tent in a foreign country for months.  We know that when Joseph brought his family back, he was a poor laborer, a simple carpenter, working in a remote area  of Israel; and that Jesus was lost in the temple at age 12, with his parents returning days later in panic to try to find him.  At some time in his life, Jesus became an orphan.  After that, He was responsible for his mother Mary as Jewish society dictated.  Yes, the Holy Family experienced a rocky road.   

In fact, what we have described would be described today as a blended, poor family with many hardships.  Why, then is the Holy Family so special?  Well, because of the values that the Holy Family lived while facing all those hardships. 

All of us are products of our environment to some extent. The Holy Family was no different.   Indeed, Jesus became a role model for all of us as he rose above all the difficulties in perfect harmony with His Father.   

How did this happen; how did Jesus manage to grow up in perfection despite the fact that the environment the Holy Family lived in was not the picture of a perfect family?  Basically, it happened because the Holy Family shows us how one can live a difficult life and still be loving and obedient and faithful to God’s will.   

We know that Mary was loving and obedient to God’s will.  Despite the very special role she knew she would play as the Mother of the Son of God, she was not haughty and self-absorbed.  Rather, Mary nurtured Jesus as mothers do, and was submissive to her husband Joseph.  We know little of Joseph from the Bible.  But we see that Joseph is a loving committed husband and parent, and that he was obedient to God’s will for him also.  Joseph put his family first; and at the same time, was the provider for his family.  And we know that Jesus loved and supported his parents; the bible tells us Jesus was obedient during his childhood “in all things”.   

You know, we were all made in the image and likeness of God.  But there’s more to it than that.  God has revealed to us that he is relationship.  Yes, the Trinity is a relationship between the three persons in one God.  God is not “all alone up there”; rather, He is a relationship- Father Son, and Spirit.   

So, not only were we made in his image and likeness as individuals; but we are made in his image and likeness in relationship too.  The primary relationship that mirrors God is called our family.  God the Father is the architect of all life.  He begot his only Son, who has been with him forever.  And the expression of the love; the energy and charisma of that relationship between the Father and Son, is the Holy Spirit.   

The family mirrors that special relationship of the Trinity- the Father is head of the family.  Fathers are joined together in a relationship of love with their spouses, and they “become one”.  The expression of the love between moms and dads is the children, who mirror the Holy Spirit.   

Now I mentioned love and obedience in the Holy Family.  Love implies a whole lot of things- self-sacrifice, mutual respect, forbearance, and presence for example.  Likewise, obedience implies a lot of things as well-  like belonging to a hierarchy, knowing one’s place, mutual cooperation, and respecting authority.  These are all values that we can learn from the experience of the Holy Family.  They are byproducts of the ultimate in relationship- the Trinity.  And this is God’s way of revealing His plan for the Kingdom of Heaven as well.   

I believe it is God’s intent that we build on the family by projecting the family structure and values forward.   First, the family relationship is perpetuated generation after generation through itself.  We dedicate our children in Baptism to live a life as Christians.   And they go off and do the same, spreading the faith and the Gospel along the way.  They do that by praying together and learning about role models in real life situations from their parents and family.  They learn from their parents about the prime of life; and they learn from their elders- especially grandparents- how fragile life is and that life in this world is not the end.  Finally, they learn from the saints, and from the Gospel, to love as Jesus loved.   

For all of this to happen, this basic cell of our society, the family needs support.  That is where the Church comes in.  Indeed, the Church is our “mother” collectively.  We are called to belong to that larger family, as well as the Diocese, and the whole Church.  And belonging means participating- as we worship weekly here at Mass, partaking of Communion with the mystical body of Christ, and participating in parish events and activities; just as we worship by prayer in our homes; and participate in family activities.   

Our families then become part of a very important mission.  In fact, it is that mission that gives meaning to our lives.  We are called to evangelize in word and deed by living the example of the Holy Family.  That example will speak loudly to all our brothers and sisters in the secular world.  This is how the whole Western World was converted to Christianity in the first millennia after Christ- through the example of the individual Christian families and the collective family, the Church.  Nowadays, our secular World is ready and ripe for another conversion because our society seems to be losing touch with the family values Jesus taught us.   

Today, each family here will receive a free book called “Mission of the Family” as you leave the Church.  I appeal to each of you to read this book; it is a quick read.  This book makes some of the same arguments I have just made, plus many more.   

At a time when the secular world is walking away from traditional family values, it is important that we Christians take a stand for God’s plan in the world.  The Holy Family taught us that family relationships mirror the Trinity, with primary values such as obedience, love, and Faith in God.  This is God’s plan for this world. 

Your mission, if you decide to accept it, is to spread that message by living as a Christian Family and supporting the Church’s effort to evangelize that model to the whole world.

God Is With Us- All the Time

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent
Blessed Anna Rosa Gattorno

Jer 23: 5-8; Mt 1: 18-25

Dc. Larry Brockman

“God is With Us”   That is what Immanuel means,   I think it is really important to understand what that really means.   You see, we were saved from our sins by Jesus, and the passion and resurrection that we observe each year during the Lent and Easter Season tells that story in a literal sense.   But the promise this morning is that “God is with us”.   And that means something different.   It means that God came among us and lived as we do- the Incarnation.   The realization of that promise forever made God present,  relevant, and personal in our lives.   He is not remote, distant, and separated from us.   He is with us, even now; he is still with us.   

Part of that presence is the Eucharist, to be sure because we can be certain that God is in us at any time by receiving Communion.   But the promise is even more basic than that.  It is that God is present to us always, at every waking moment.   Of course, we have to be open to God in order to recognize that presence and allow Him to be with us.   But if we are open, then we will be saved from our own sins.

Jeremiah kind of predicts a new order, one separate from the Old Testament promise to Moses.   You see, the Jews did not recognize God’s presence in their lives in Jeremiah’s day.   They thought they were in control despite the warnings of the prophets,   So, the rulers of Israel, along with the people, ignored the prophets and did things their way.   And as a result, God could not help them.   God cannot help those who don’t listen to Him.   

The consequences of the Israelis infidelity were the exile; they were scattered all over the ancient world.   This morning Jeremiah is predicting a new order.   An order in which God will send Jesus, the root of Jesse; and after that, God’s presence will bring all the people of God back together to live in their own land- the promised land. 

One of the reasons we read of this Old Testament cycle of disobedience and then conversion is because it is the pattern of history.   Things are no different in the modern world than they were in the ancient world.   Our society goes through cycles like that.   There are times when communities, groups of communities, and even nations listen to the word of God, obey his commands, and walk with   God as they go through life.   And there are times when society thinks that it is in control.   When people ignore God and his commands, and think they are in control rather than God.   Then the consequences are effectively the same as Jews experienced.   Things go badly; society is ravaged; and the people of God are effectively scattered among the non-believers.   

I don’t know about you, but I see all kinds of signs in today’s world that society is not listening to the word of God.   Let me give an example.   Instead of saying Merry Christmas, it is Happy Holidays for most  folks.   That really sums it up- because that is celebrating a secular holiday, not the coming of Christ.  That’s why we hear holiday music and not Christmas Carols this time of year.   Don’t think that this doesn’t have consequences.   Because if our focus is on a Holly, Jolly Christmas; Santa Baby,   and a Marshmallow World for the 4 weeks of Advent rather than on the coming of Christ heralded by Silent Night, O Come O Come Emmanuel, and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen;  then inside of ourselves, we are ignoring the real meaning of Christmas-  that “God is with us”.   

Starting right now Let’s all of us recognize that “God is With Us” in all we do, every hour of the day; that he is there to pick us up when we falter, when we are ill, and when we are down.   And that will bring “Joy to the World”. 

Advent is Like Being in Prison

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Advent Reflection Service

Dc. Larry Brockman

Expectation!  Advent is the 4 week long season of joyful expectation before Christmas.  So, the question is, what are we joyfully expecting?  What are you all charged up and waiting for in these four weeks?

Are you waiting for the arrival of a relative, perhaps Mom and Dad from Chicago or some other distant place, for a Christmas and New Year’s visit?  Perhaps you’re waiting on your son or daughter coming home from College?  Maybe it’s the latest doll or lego toy set or video game you’re expecting under the tree; or a new IPAD; or a new dress; or some designer Jeans?

But as nice as all of these things may be for us to expect, Advent and Christmas are not about waiting for any of those things.  Tonight we have carefully selected readings to guide you through the real meaning of what we are waiting for.  They tell the story of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  That means, they tell the story of how God sent His only son, Jesus, to become man, and take on our human nature.  And Jesus became intimate with us, living and experiencing life as we do.  He, though God, was not and is not, some distant, remote God who we cannot identify with.  No, He lived as one of us, suffered through life like all of us do; and died like all of us will.

Only he was resurrected, returned in glory, and promised all of us who believe the same glory.  That’s what is so special about Advent and Christmas- the realization that we will not just live this life; but, we will live forever with Jesus in glory if we believe and follow the Gospel message.

So, just what should our experience of this expectation for this four weeks of Advent really be then?

Some of you may be familiar with Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was a Lutheran minister imprisoned and executed by the Nazis because he spoke out, and acted on his convictions.  This is what Bonhoeffer once wrote about Advent while in prison:  “Life in a prison cell reminds me a great deal of Advent.  One waits and hopes and putters around; but in the end, what we do is of little consequence.  The door is shut and it can only be opened from the outside”.

Amazing, isn’t it, how clear things can be when we are forced to reflect on them.  Bonhoeffer had no choice- he was imprisoned.  He had the time, and he took it, to reflect.  Bonhoeffer recognized that while we live this life, it is like we are in prison.  We are imprisoned by our limitations- our body constrains us in many ways.  But our minds constrain us even more.  We are constrained from recognizing the magnitude, the complexity, and fullness of the love of God and what He has in store for those who love him. So, the question is, when, and if, the door opened to the Kingdom of God.  Will you be ready for it?

You and I are so fortunate that we have Advent every year to reflect on the meaning of Christmas and to get ready for the Coming of Christ.  The Christ child is one coming- the coming that brings us the hope of eternal life.  But the second coming of Christ is also heralded during Advent.  It is that coming that all of us simply must be prepared for.  And so, what really matters is whether or not you are ready when that door opens; and that coming will happen for each and every one of us.

We can hope for and kind of anticipate the joy of living in glory forever with Jesus.  We do that in joy every Christmas day with the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  That’s why we gather around with our families and celebrate at Christmas; and we share gifts with each other to show that we understand what God did for us- the fact that God shared such a very special gift with us, te gift of His son.  And so, we shower special gifts on others as God showered his gift on us.

But the cold, hard, fact is that we are imprisoned here until that door opens with the Second Coming.  And so Advent is really about reflecting on whether we are prepared for the Second coming of the Lord so we can benefit from the hope and the promise of everlasting life.

Just what is God asking us to do to get ready for that?  He is asking us to think about where we are going in our lives.  He wants us to find and root out the things that are hindering us from that goal; and then repent of anything that is holding us back before it is too late.  Repentance is what we are all called to do in this four weeks; repentance, a basic change in our lives.  So we can truly live to see the full glory promised us by the Lord.

And we need four weeks because we are always so busy- busy getting ready for the joy that only really comes if we repent.  Not only that, it is hard to face the reality of who we really are and change that.  The devil tries to mask, to shield, to hide us from facing that reality.  We need time to break through and think it through- all of us.

As you leave here tonight, take with you the great and unbounded joy that eternal life in the Kingdom is yours.  But also take comfort in the fact that God has given all of you time- time to repent and find your way to use this Advent season wisely; to get ready for the Lord’s coming.

Advent is All About Repentance

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Thursday of the 3rd Week of Advent

Is 41: 13-20; Mt 11: 11-15

Dc. Larry Brockman

So, the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist!  This is what Jerome said about this Gospel:  “Every saint who is already with the Lord is greater than he who yet stands in the battle; for it is one thing to have gained the crown of victory, another to be yet fighting in the field.”  That’s what all of us are still doing, you see; fighting in the field.  And that’s how John the Baptist, who was as great or greater than any person born of a woman, could still be less than the least in the Kingdom of God.

Yes, we all still have a way to go in our battle to enter the kingdom of God.  But we have help, the kind of help Isaiah talks about.  For the Lord says:  “Fear not, I will help you”.  And it is as if he is talking to each and every one of us.  All of us are all being told to “Fear not, I will help you”.

Some of us have a whole lifetime of years left in the battle for our souls- 70, 80 years or more.  Others of us have already gone through most of the battle- 70 or 80 years of it.  Yet none of us knows when the battle will end; for the battle could end just minutes from now as well as years from now no matter how young or old we are.

The question for all of us this morning is simply this?  Are you ready for the battle you are engaged in right now?  Are you fighting as a soldier of God against the forces of evil, striving to enter the narrow gate, to enter the Kingdom of God.  Because you have to be ready and prepared for that constantly, at all times; there is never a break.

The rest of Isaiah’s words seem mysterious.  The Lord offers his help, yet he calls the people, his own people, worms and maggots.  That’s because the people of Isaiah’s time were not listening.  They were not heeding the warnings of the prophets; and they were faltering in their battle with evil.  They were failing as individuals; and they were failing as a nation.  They were depressed and turning from their God.  Yet, even so, God tells them that he is with them; and that to take heart, because no matter what, they will prevail if they accept his help.

It’s the same way for us.  No matter how grim things may seem for us, we need to fight on because God is with us the whole way.

These are great words of consolation for me.  Because no matter how hard I try to avoid some occasions to sin, it just seems like I falter and fail in the same ways over and over again.  But God doesn’t make junk.  All of us are loved by God else he wouldn’t have made us.  God doesn’t give up on any of us easily.  And so, yes, he is there always to help us in battle.  He doesn’t abandon us when we fall.  Rather, he is there beside us trying to get us to get up and fight on.  And if we keep doing that, resolving to get up, sin no more, and fight on, then things will be as he describes later in Isaiah.  Eventually we will break through; the way will we opened for us.

What I have just described is called “Repentance”:  Recognizing what we need to change in our lives, resolving to change them for the better, and moving out accordingly.  Advent is all about repentance.  It was John the Baptist’s message.  And the Kingdom of God belongs to those who repent.