Family Tree

Feast of the Holy Family – Cycle B

Sir 3:2-6, 12-14 Psalm Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 Col 3:12-21 or 3:12-17 Lk 2:22-40

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, and I wanted to share with you this idea that the family is a tree that starts out as a seed, and when watered by the love of God grows into the a beautiful and peaceful community of love.

I married my Sister..?
This past summer I went to California and married my Sister


Ok, that sounds very wrong. Let me be a little more precise. This past summer I had the great joy of officiating the wedding vows when my brother-in-law John married my Sister in California.

Marriage – the Seed of Love
Weddings are a time of incredible joy – because it is the birth of a new family. Part of the reason why we celebrate Marriage with weddings is because married love calls us to commitment, to faithfulness to one another for the rest of our lives. This is the principle difference between marriage and co-habitation, in marriage we go before God, the Church, and the whole world to publicly and freely declare are total commitment to love one another for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. The consequence is that family is born out of that commitment to love. There is intensity in that love, it is like a flare, that burns hot, bright and nothing can quench – not even the sea. Another way of describing this love is that it is like a seed – it is packed with all of the blessings, and struggles that lie ahead for that couple, all that is necessary for a good and holy life. Marriage is a seed that is packed into an intense little bundle, just waiting to get out.

Riding a Bike
Entering into the sacrament of marriage is like learning to ride a bike. We can watch movies about it, we can read books about it, we can watch other people live it out, but until we say I do, we have no clue what marriage is really like. I remember the day when I married my wife Tina, I remember standing at the altar, and watching her come up the aisle towards me. I had no clue what I was getting into, but it did not matter, because I knew that this was a vocation that God had called us to, and that He would be the one to back us up.

Relationship is the focus of the readings
The focus of our readings today is on relationship. The birth of Christ reveals to us that God is all about relationship. It is the relationship of love between the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit that we are invited by Christ to share in. In the first reading from Sirach, we learn of how husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters are to relate to one another. God is helping us to understand a right relationship with our families in order to prepare us to be in relationship with Him for all eternity.

Ribs Sunday
One of my brother Deacons refers to this Sunday as “Ribs Sunday” – because when we get to the part of St. Paul’s letter where he says “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.” Some husbands will often nudge their wives in the ribs and give a “knowing” look. This is followed a few moments later by a responding dig in when the next verse is read – “Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them.” How do these attitudes towards relationship help us to grow in love for one another?

Wives be subordinate to your husbands
Let’s start with the wives part, When St. Paul says “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.” He is expressing an idea of mutual love that is more clearly stated in his letter to Ephesians, where he says that “husbands and wives are to submit to one another as unto the Lord”. This is a difficult scripture for us to hear today, so I think that we need to struggle with it in an honest way. All too often this scripture has been used to justify some truly destructive behavior and situations. St. Paul is not trying to relegate women to a second-class status, or to justify remaining in abusive situations, but rather it is an expression of trust in our relationship of love that is backed up by Christ. When we freely submit ourselves to Christ’s love we can be confident that He will care for us because He has our best interests at heart.

Husband’s love your wives…
Now let’s move on to the husband’s role. St. Paul says to us “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ Loved the Church” – How did Christ show his love for the Church?


He died for her!


Brothers – let us love our wives!
Brothers – let us remember our commitment to be good husbands to our wives – to give up our lives for our families. This is not an easy challenge because it calls us to conversion, to change our ways. Take a moment to think about the actions or habits that we have that are sucking the love out of our marriages. What habits of sin do we allow to rob our marriages and families of life?


We have been entrusted with the sacred duty to guarding our families from the evil that kills them. We are called to sacrifice, as Christ sacrificed, to bring about abundant life for our families.

Husband and Wife Homework
I want to invite all of the husbands and wives here today to reflect on these passages from Colossians as an examination of conscience for our marriages. Honestly share with one another where our relationships are filled with “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body.” Let us give thanks to God for the areas where we do these things, and work towards changing those areas of our marriages where we fail.

The Love of Christ is Water and Light…
The Sacrament of Marriage puts into right-relationship the love of husband and wife. When we enter into the Sacrament of Marriage, we root ourselves in the love of Christ, we ask Him to be the guarantor of our vows. In marriage, we invite Christ into our relationship of love, so that we can learn from Him who is the creator of all love. When Christ walks with us He strengthens and purifies our love for one another. The love of Christ is like water and light to the seed, it causes the seed to germinate and grow.

Children are a Blessing from God
Another one of those “riding your bike” moments found in family life is the blessing of children. The Jews always considered children to be a blessing from God. We see this in Sirach when he says “Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children”. Again, in the Gospel a few weeks back we heard of how God blessed St. Elizabeth in her old age when she conceived John the Baptist, and again, God blessed Abraham and Sarah with children when they conceived Isaac. If we go all the way back to Adam and Eve, we see the original intention of marriage, that “the two should become one flesh”, and that God “blessed them and said – be fertile and multiply”.

From Seed to Sapling - Children
Children bless our marriage, because they transform our lives from being this focused seed of intense love into a sapling. Watered and fed by the light of Christ marriage blossoms and grows. In this way married love reflects the creative love of God. Our love overflows and must be shared with children. Children bless us because they call us to a new level of love, to sacrificial love. Think back to those first moments that you shared with your children, as your mind wrestled with the idea that God has entrusted this soul into your care.

Contraception destroys the love of marriage
As a culture, we find it more and more difficult to identify with this idea that children are a blessing from God. One of the reasons why is the prevalence of contraception in our society. Our culture teaches that if we don’t practice contraception then we are irresponsible and foolish. Our Church teaches that when we do practice contraception we are sinning against the 6th commandment because we are rejecting God’s blessing by intentionally destroying His gift of fertility.


Children become a burden
When we loose sight of the fact that children are a blessing from God they become a burden, an inconvenience, a trophy of accomplishment, or a commodity that we can buy and sell at the fertility clinic when we want.


From Sapling to Tree to a Forest
As our family tree grows up, it matures from a sapling into a tree. That creative love that began as a little seed of love between husband and wife grows to be open to children and to life. When our children become adults they fall in love and our family grows yet again, as we welcome into our marriage in-laws and then best of all grandchildren. Eventually, if we allow God to work in our lives the tiny seed of love that we began with all those many years ago will grow into an entire forest of trees, each with its own special gifts and hidden treasures. The question is – are we willing to let God order our family relationships so that our families can become Holy Families?


Christ’s Herald


Is 52:7-10 Psalm Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6 Heb 1:1-6 Jn 1:1-18 or 1:1-5, 9-14

Story Telling
Whenever our family gathers together to celebrate birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, baptisms, weddings and funerals we always arrive at a point where we begin to share the stories of our lives together. All families have stories that are told in which we remember our history, in which we recall what has happened to make us the kind of family that we are. At the same time, when we recall these stories we remember that God has been good to us, has blessed us, and has been with us. Today is no different because today as a Church we gather together and remember the stories about the birth of Jesus.

Now that’s a Birthday Party!
The Church celebrates with a lot of color, grandeur and festivity. At Christmas, we gather as a family – the sons and daughters of God to remember the birthday of our brother Jesus. We retell the stories about Jesus’ birth and try to come to a deeper understanding of the meaning of this event for the members of our family. For this reason the Church celebrates the birth of Christ through four different masses, one at sundown on Christmas Eve, keeping with the Jewish roots of our family where the new day begins at sundown. Then, at midnight we celebrate the coming of Christ in vigil, waiting up through the night for the advent of this great day. We gathered again at dawn to announce the coming of Christ to the world at first light, and then finally, now in the light of day.

Genealogy – Christ came to heal what was broken
At each mass we retell the story of Christ’s birth, and we are invited to reflect on the events of this miraculous day. The first mass of Christmas is the mass on Christmas Eve, right after sundown. The readings of this mass celebrate the birth of Christ from Matthew’s Gospel – Reading the genealogy of Christ that emphasizes the point that Christ really became man – He really chose to enter into the flesh of our human existence. We read also of St. Joseph’s response to the angel to take Mary as his wife. In this we see that Christ entered into this genealogy to heal what was broken, to set right what had been corrupted, to make our family whole again.

Angels announce, Shepherds respond
Then we celebrated the mass at midnight where we entered into the most beautiful part of the Christmas mystery. In our celebration we heard from the Gospel of Luke, where the angels came to the shepherds who were watching their flocks at night announcing the birth of Christ – the Messiah. We followed this early in the morning when we celebrated the mass at dawn, hearing how the shepherds responded to the angels tidings; how they went to Bethlehem (which means the house of bread) and found Christ lying in a manger where they bowed down and did him homage. Their reaction to this first encounter with Christ was to make “known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds…Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

John’s Testimony
The fourth part of our celebration this day is to hear from the beginning of John’s Gospel, where we see how John responded to this event as he wrote down the story at the end of his life. John talks about giving testimony, of announcing that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.


Christ is inviting us to be His heralds
The readings for our liturgy invite us to become heralds to the truth. We are invited today to announce to those we live with that Jesus has come to heal and bring us to the peace of God the Father.

What is a herald?
A herald is one who tells the story. As Christians, we tell the story by living the story, and so we enter more deeply into our own relationship with God, and through our own personal relationship we proclaim the good news that is announced to us this day. Isaiah the prophet describes heralds when he says “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, “Your God is King!” Hark! Your sentinels raise a cry, together they shout for joy, for they see directly, before their eyes, the LORD restoring Zion.


Are we living so that we can really be heralds? Do we see what God is doing in our lives and in our world? Do we allow God to establish His Kingdom in our lives by living according to His laws so that he is able to swiftly and silently come to visit our souls?


Today is a new day
In a way it does not matter how we answer these questions. That is the joy of our celebration today, because today is a new day. Today we are invited to a new encounter with God. It does not matter what I did yesterday, it does not matter what has occurred in my life up until this point, because today we have heard – perhaps for the first time that God has a profound interest in our lives. Jesus came to earth this Christmas to get to know you and I. He comes to heal what is hurt in our hearts and souls. He took on human flesh so that we could enter into eternal life with God the Father. Today we celebrate that Christ is God with Us – He is Emmanuel.

Share the Story that God is with us – Be Christ’s Herald!
This is why today is a new day. Today we receive the invitation to come to know Christ more fully so that we can enter into a true relationship with God. It is in our relationship with God that all of our desires can be satisfied. This is what today is about – that God became man to bring us into right relationship with Him. When we find ourselves in right relationship with God then we are able to experience the love that He has for us in the depths of our hearts.
  • Today is a new day for us because today, Christ invites us to enter into the story, just as he invited the shepherds on the day of his birth 2000 years ago.
  • Today, we encounter Christ in the Word, as we share the scriptures, the stories of our family.
  • Today we encounter Christ in the flesh as we share in his Body that was broken for us to unite us with God the Father.
  • Today, we are invited to become Heralds of the Good News – that Christ is born to us; that He is the Way to the Father, so that we can be embraced by His loving arms and be filled with His peace.


To Russia, with Love!

Gaudate Sunday – Cycle B

Is 61:1-2a, 10-11 Psalm Lk 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54. 1 Thes 5:16-24 Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

A week of rejoicing
I often marvel at the brilliance of God’s plans for us. This past week has been one huge Marian celebration for our parish. On Friday we celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Our fiesta began on Thursday night with Mass at 11PM that lasted until at least 1AM in the morning. Then, Friday night we again had a Mass with the Knights of Columbus, the Adoracion Nocturna, Matachinas and Mariachis, what a joyful celebration. I think that it is fitting that we end such a joy-filled week with Gaudate Sunday. Why? Gaudate is the Latin word for “Rejoice!” – And to show our joy we wear pink (excuse me Rose) vestments because we are overjoyed at the fact that our celebration of Christmas is only a week away!

Immaculate Conception – Father Walter Ciszek
Not only did we celebrate the Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe this past week, but on Monday we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Which is the day when we honor the conception of Our Blessed Mother Mary in the womb of her mom, St. Anne. Monday is also the 24th Anniversary of the death of Servant of God Father Walter Cizsek.

Gangbanger to Priest
Walter Ciszek was born the son of Polish parents in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. He grew up a bully, and stubborn like his father. He was known to be “a tough” – if we met him today on the streets we would call him a gang-banger.

When Walter was in 8th grade he decided to become a priest. His father was shocked. Priests were meant to be holy men, and Walter was as far from being holy as he could imagine. However, Walters mom prevailed over his father and soon Walter went away to a Junior Seminary in Michigan.

To Russia – the heart of Christian Suffering
While he was in the seminary, he read the biography of St. Stanislaus Kostka who walked from Warsaw to Rome. St. Stanislaus inspired Walter to join the Jesuits and prepare to go to Russia, where the Communists had recently taken over and killed over 150,000 priests.

Walter studied in Rome, and when he was ordained he was sent to Poland, when in September of 1939 Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded and destroyed the school he was running. Father Walter snuck into Soviet Russia under the assumed the name of Wladimir Lypinski and went to work as a lumberjack in the forests of the Ural Mountains. This was the last that the world knew about him, as he disappeared into the forests of Russia to work as a lumberjack during the day and to hear confession, celebrate the Mass and talk with people about God at night.

To the Gulag
In 1940 he was arrested by the secret police and spent 5 years in solitary confinement, being tortured by the secret police before being sentenced to 15 years in the Gulag – at a slave labor camp in Siberia north of the Arctic Circle, where he loaded coal onto freighters.

Proclaim Liberty to the Captives
Why did Father Walter go to Russia, to such a dangerous place at such a dangerous time? Father Walter was convinced that God had called him to all of the suffering that was going on there at the time. In his own way, he recognized that God was calling him “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God.

Father Walter lived out the life that God had called him to by bringing the presence of Christ into the most desperate situations that existed on earth at the time. He lived and worked with the poorest of the poor, and in doing so, he was able to imitate the love of Christ by his solidarity with those who. Father Ciszek responded to the scriptures that we heard today because he chose to live out his life responding to the Gospel message.

We too have an obligation to live out the Gospel, to bring glad tidings to the poor by reminding them that God loves them. We do this when we share what little we have with those around us without expecting return. The readings that we use for this Gaudate Sunday lead us to joy through a life of selfless love.

Rejoice Always!
The second reading thought by Scripture Scholars to be one of the earliest writings of the New Testament. St. Paul writes to us with great enthusiasm. He says “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” So that no matter where our life has led us, we are always to rejoice, giving thanks for the many great blessings that God has given us.

Discovering joy in the will of God
In his biography, Father Walter came to discover through the sufferings inflicted upon him by the Soviet prison system, “that across the threshold I had been afraid to cross, things suddenly seemed so very simple. There was but a single vision, God, who was all in all; there was but one will that directed all things, God's will. I had only to see it, to discern it in every circumstance in which I found myself, and let myself be ruled by it. God is in all things, sustains all things, directs all things. To discern this in every situation and circumstance, to see His will in all things, was to accept each circumstance and situation and let oneself be borne along in perfect confidence and trust. Nothing could separate me from Him, because He was in all things. No danger could threaten me, no fear could shake me, except the fear of losing sight of Him. The future, hidden as it was, was hidden in His will and therefore acceptable to me no matter what it might bring. The past, with all its failures, was not forgotten; it remained to remind me of the weakness of human nature and the folly of putting any faith in self. But it no longer depressed me. I looked no longer to self to guide me, relied on it no longer in any way, so it could not again fail me. By renouncing, finally and completely, all control of my life and future destiny, I was relieved as a consequence of all responsibility. I was freed thereby from anxiety and worry, from every tension, and could float serenely upon the tide of God's sustaining providence in perfect peace of soul

This is the reason why we should “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”


The voice crying out in the Desert
John the Baptist was sent to be a “the voice of one crying out in the desert” – In one way the desert that John was sent to cry out in was the desert of sin, where our souls are thirsting to know the love of God.

What is your Testimony this week?
Father Walter was like John the Baptist, he responded to God’s call to go into the desert and witness to the love of God by the testimony of his life. The witness of St. John the Baptist, and the witness of Servant of God Walter Ciszek is to testify to the truth of Jesus Christ at work in their lives. The question that the scriptures call us to answer this week is “What is my testimony?” “What is your testimony?” When people encounter us this week will they see our testimony? Will they know that it is our experience of the love of Christ that leads us?

If they do not, does it mean that we too need to hear the words of the Gospel and “make straight the way of the Lord” by repenting and changing our ways so that Christ can come directly into our hearts and through our hearts into the world?



Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Rv 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab

(I was asked to bless one of the local supermarkets in our parish as they celebrated the Fieste de Nuestra Senora Guadalupe)

Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, because on this day in 1531 Juan Diego listened to her and picked roses from the top of the hill of Tepeyac. Out of obedience to Our Lady he wrapped the roses in his tilma and carried them to the Bishop of Mexico. When he opened his tilma in the presence of the Bishop, the roses spilled out revealing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on his tilma.

There are two key elements to the image of Our Lady that I would like to reflect on today; the sovereignty of God and the need to live a life of prayer.

Our Lady appears in front of the Sun and standing on the Moon, which were symbols for prominent Aztec Gods. In this way she demonstrates that we are to worship only the true God in heaven and not false Gods, be they ancient Aztec Gods, or modern Gods such as money or things.

The second element of the image on the tilma is that Our Lady appears as a pregnant Aztec princess with her head bowed in prayer. The reason for this is because Mary is teaching us that the way to salvation is through coming to know her Son, Jesus. The Lady of Guadalupe teaches us that the way to know her Son is by listening to Him in prayer, and imitating him with our own love for the poor, the weak and the oppressed.

Why did Jesus send his Mother to appear to Blessed Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac all those years ago? I think the reason why is because of God’s love for us. He wants us to share the same faith that Juan Diego has, so Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in order to bring us into the Church – to know and love and serve God.