Families Need an Environment Informed of Religious Values

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Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Feast of the Holy Family,

Year C, Luke 2:41-52, 2012, December 30, 2012

By Msgr. Lope C. Robredillo, SThD

WITH THE ADVENT of international trade and globalization, nations are no longer far removed from one another.  National barriers are falling apart, and the global village, which decades ago was only a dream, seems no longer a remote possibility. But for all their advantages—new ways of communication, for example, have made the world smaller—globalization and international trade have brought values that are foreign to Christian faith, however.  One of their known attendant values, because too widespread, is consumerism.  Created has been a mentality and lifestyle that prefer having to being.  That is why we live in a secular environment in which people think that it is important to have enough of the world’s goods, and spend one’s life in enjoying these goods.  Because of this environment, many people crave for items and services that are not needed.  Such values enter into the family, and it is not surprising that many families have succumbed to it.  They think that the more material things the family possesses and enjoys, the better it is.  If one visits a family even in the poorer parts of the metropolis, there he will see appliances and gadgets displayed for all to see, even though one senses that they were acquired at great cost to the family itself.  The consumerist mentality can be seen in the attitude of children who put prime value on these devices.

Today is the feast of the Holy Family, and the Sunday gospel provides us with pattern on how our own families ought to live if they are to be called Christian at all.  In Luke’s portrayal of the Holy Family, it is difficult to sever it from his description of the events that lead to the nativity of Jesus.  It may be recalled that for Luke, Mary is a hearer of God’s word.  In his plan to reveal himself and save humanity, God finally spoke his word to Mary who, despite its seeming impossibility, accepted it in faith: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:39).  Luke does not have much to say of Joseph, but if we look at Matthew’s portrait of him, it will be noticed that he, too, is described as a hearer of the word: a devout observer of the Mosaic law (Matt 1:19), and at the same time, obedient to God’s communication through an angel who told him not to be afraid to take Mary, who was with child, into his home:  “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took his wife into his home” (Matt 1:25).  What about Jesus?  Of course, he is God’s communication himself, and even though such an understanding of Jesus is Johannine (John 1:1) and quite foreign to Luke, yet it is not inconsistent with Luke’s theology to say that the life of Jesus as a child has the concern of God for its center.

This brings us to the heart of the Sunday Gospel (Luke 2:41-52).  This story is traditionally known—one who prays the rosary will easily recall–as the finding of Jesus in the Temple.  It may be doubted, however, that this is intended to satisfy curiosity about the boyhood of Jesus.  It is most likely that the story is remembered on the principle that what happens to a person in his adulthood is prefigured in the events of his childhood.  That is to say, one should not be surprised that Jesus performed mighty deeds and spoke powerful words during his public ministry, for even in his childhood, he was already known to be endowed with much wisdom and power.  Thus Luke: “On the third day they came upon him in the temple sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  All who heard him were amazed at his intelligence and his answers” (Luke 2:46-47).   However, since today is the feast of the Holy Family, what is of relevance to us in this story is a minor theme of Luke: Jesus’ claim that in his life and mission, the claim of God his Father has priority over anything: “Why did you search for me?  Did you not know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49b).  His relationship with his Father transcends his relationship with his human family.  The latter has meaning which derives from his intimacy with the Father.

Clearly, the Holy Family, as Luke portrays it, lived in an environment which is informed by divine values and concerns.  Consequently, Luke teaches us that to be Christian, our families ought to live in an environment in which God’s plan has priority and informs the very life which each member lives.  Our Christian families, in other words, makes God the center of our life.  The values of the Gospel form even the air we breathe, our vision in life, and our motive for action.  Since God fills up each member of our families, and our relationship with those outside, we will be able to lead holy lives, clothing ourselves “with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience.”   We can bear with one another, and forgive grievances. Our families would then be bound love, each member experiencing peace (Col 3:12-15, First Reading).  That is to say, in an atmosphere which is informed by Gospel values, it would be easy to live in harmony with one another, to live as one family like the Holy Family.  And precisely because of that environment, it would not be difficult for each member of the family to resist the bombardment of secular values, like consumerism, since a different way of valuing things has already been ingrained in the outlook of each one.  The environment of holiness itself is the protection of our families from the onslaught of values foreign to Christian outlook and understanding.

 

Homily on the Feast of Epiphany of Year C

Encountering God in Powerlessness, Helplessness and Wretchedness

Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, Year C, Matthew 2:1-12, January 6, 2012

 

I NO LONGER REMEMBER its exact details, but the story I read in high school goes something like this: in a German prison camp during the Second World War, some prisoners escaped.   Since no one could tell where they were and how they were able to make their way outside, the German guards retaliated by picking up men at random to be hanged—unless the escapees returned.  Since not a single one returned, these men were hanged.  Among them was a boy.  As he hanged from the gallows, someone asked: “Where is God?”  There was silence among the onlookers.  Much later, a voice was again heard:  “Where is God?”  Then a voice came:  “There he is, hanging from the gallows.”    That someone could recognize God in the boy who was hanging from the gallows brings to mind a theological observation that one notes from the story of the Magi.

In today’s Gospel (Matt 2:1-12), we are told of civil and religious authorities—Herod and the experts of scriptures—who were caught unawares about the coming of the Messiah.  On the one hand, Bethlehem was a village under Herod who should have known the place and its people.  On the other, the religious authorities had the Scriptures which tells of the birth of the Messiah: “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the princes of Judah, since from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd me people Israel” (Matt 2:8).  Indeed, it was the priests and scribes who furnished King Herod the information about the future ruler.  And when Herod eventually knew about him, he rejected him, thinking the child would be a threat to his kingship.  In sharp contrast, we are also told of Magi, astrologers who studied the stars, so much aware of the coming of the new King.  To know him, the Magi did not have the Scriptures; they had only a miraculous star to tell them.  And by means of the star, they were led to the house of Joseph.  In this pericope, Matthew thus makes a contrast between astrologers from the east who accepted Jesus and the King and religious leaders of Israel who rejected him.

The Magi story is a part of the introduction to Matthew’s gospel, and functions as an overture to the whole Matthean account of Jesus’ life, ministry and death, in more or less the same way that the Prologue of John introduces the reader to the theology found in his gospel.  In particular, the Magi story serves to prefigure what happened in the life and ministry of Jesus and the early Church.  Looking back, we know that both the civil and religious authorities, whom Herod and the interpreters of the Scriptures represent, refused to recognize Jesus as the One sent by God.  God chose them as his people, and gave them his Word—the Scriptures—so they could walk in his ways; but when the time came, they failed to recognize the Messiah.  They were scandalously slow in coming to faith in the Messiahship of Jesus.  In sharp contrast, the Gentiles, whom the Magi represent in today’s gospel, knew nothing about God except through what was available to them through the natural phenomena, like the star, and yet, when confronted with the Message, they believed in Jesus the Messiah.  In other words, the story was recalled by the Matthean community to explain a phenomenon in the early Church:  the early Christians saw the contrasting reactions of the Jews and Gentiles to the ministry of Jesus and the apostles: while the Israelites rejected him, the Gentiles accepted him.  In the understanding of the Matthean community, this sheds light on why the majority of the members of the Church came from pagans, not from Israelites, even though Jesus was a Jew.

How explain the contrast?  For Matthew, Herod and the religious authorities, even though they had the sacred tradition, failed to recognize the Messiah because of their unbelief; they closed their eyes to the revelation of God in the child.  The Magi, on the other hand, had faith.  They believed that God spoke to them through the miraculous star.  They believed that in the ordinariness of the child born in Bethlehem, God was there.  Hence, the feast of the Epiphany is really about God’s revelation, and our acceptance or rejection of that revelation.  It is possible that people who are supposedly religious may fail to recognize the coming of God in their lives.  It happens when they presume to know the working of God, and limit his action to what they have already learned in their theologies.  They put limits to their faith.  But God is a God of surprises!  He reveals himself in ways that are unknown and ordinary, and that people do not expect.  He can reveal himself in a helpless child at Christmas, a child no different in appearance from the children of a small, poor village like Bethlehem. And we can detect his presence even in the negative experiences of our lives, in powerlessness, helplessness and wretchedness, in much the same way that a Jewish prisoner of war in a German camp came to recognize him in the boy hanging on the gallows.  What is important for us, of course, is to detect his presence, to recognize his revelation.  And we can do it only with the eyes of faith.

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