Home vs. Alone

Rey at home Force Awakens Star Wars

When Mary and Joseph found the child Jesus in the Temple, He said to them, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand.

Mary and Joseph knew something, of course. They both had received visits from an angel twelve years earlier. But we can hardly fault them for not understanding completely. They did not have ‘the typical child’ to raise. They had God incarnate for a son. Human in everything, except sin. But also possessed of the infinite depth of the eternal Word.

To Whom does the only-begotten Son of God belong? To no one but the Father, of course. Who can “house” the Creator? Where is His “home?” The only true home the infinite Son can have is the infinite bosom of the infinite Father.

But: “He went down with them to Nazareth, and was obedient to them,” like any normal good son. He Who made the world to be our home lived in a humble family home of His own, in a small town.

Let’s imagine a Nazarene townie giving a newcomer a tour: “That house? That belongs to so-and-so the weaver. That one? Oh, that’s the carpenter Joseph’s house, where the Son of God grew up.”

elgreco_holy-familyI guess by now everyone has seen the new Star Wars movie. If not, don’t worry. I won’t give much away. It’s just that one thing really struck me, about how the heroine grew up.

In the original Star Wars, back in the 1970’s, the hero Luke Skywalker lived on remote desert planet. He was an orphan, apparently. But he lived in a cozy space-age farmhouse with uncle Owen and aunt Beru. In other words, Luke had a home–where he had grown up, with a man and wife raising him.

At the beginning of the new Star Wars, the new heroine, named Rey, also lives on a remote desert planet. But she lives alone, in an old broken-down imperial tank. No family at all.

Is this difference between the movie of the 1970’s and the movie of today a “sign of the times?” Forty years ago, we Americans took for granted: a child needs a home, with a family, a mom and dad. Now? We don’t know. We don’t know what a child needs. We have managed to get ourselves thoroughly confused.

Instead of bemoaning the collateral damage of the Age of Divorce, though, let’s do this:

1. Let’s communicate what the prophets of the Bible say. After all, Israel herself, the chosen tribe, had fallen into the same homeless state as the young Rey on the planet Jakku. Friendless and bereft, an apparent orphan, marking days in misery, struggling to survive alone. Israel had become an exile, far from the Holy Land, her very identity as a people threatened. We worry about African lions going extinct. But in the sixth century BC, The People of God almost went extinct. The heritage of Abraham and Moses almost forgotten.

Therefore, I don’t think it’s a stretcher for us to say this: The words the prophets addressed to the exiles of 2500 years ago are the very words God addresses now to the lonely children of this Age of Divorce and Single Parenthood.

Prophet Ezekiel's portrait in the Sistine Chapel
Prophet Ezekiel’s portrait in the Sistine Chapel

You have a father, child! You have a birthright, and a name. Israel is no orphan! God says: You are mine. My house is yours.

2. Our second task is to build real homes ourselves. To make the parish a true home for all. And to make our own particular dwellings as much like the home of the Holy Family as we can.

What does the world need in AD 2016? Not macho men–silly boys trying to masquerade as grownups. No, the world needs chaste and strong husbands and fathers like St. Joseph. The world does not need feminists–unhappy girls trying to act like men. No, the world needs chaste and strong mothers and wives, like our Lady. Our Lady and St. Joseph did not believe in divorce, so neither do we. And, for God’s sake, the world does not need “gay-rights” advocacy, in vitro fertilization and test-tube babies with absent anonymous fathers. The world needs champions who will defend the rights of children.

We were lost, homeless, orphaned before Christ came. It’s not as if family life according to the model of the Holy Family constricts us in some stale old convention. To the contrary: divorce and broken families have been around longer than the hills. There were plenty of divorces and broken families during the Babylonian captivity. In the Holy Family of Nazareth, God has given us the genuinely new thing. He has given us the kind of home where we can hope for a better future.

AD 2016 sits before us like a sheet of blank notebook paper. Let’s write JMJ at the top. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We don’t have to live as hermit orphans, like poor Rey in “The Force Awakens.” We have a home. In the bosom of the Father. With Mary and Joseph. With Christ.

Holy Family

Everyone knows that our readings for Sundays and holy days follow a three-year cycle? The second reading always comes from the ____ Testament. Most of the time, the second reading at Mass comes from a letter written by St. ______. He wrote letters to the Romans, the Corinthians, Galatians, Thessalonians, Philippians, Ephesians, etc.

Paul himself was none of these; he was, in fact, a descendant of Abraham, a ______. Jews were also known as H_________. Sometimes we read from St. Paul’s letter to his own people.

Twice during the three-year cycle we read from chapter 11 of Hebrews. Once during the summer, in Year C. And once every three years on Holy Family Sunday.

Now, obviously, the Bible contains many inspiring chapters. To claim that any particular chapter qualifies as The Most Inspiring Chapter of the Holy Bible! would involve a lot of hubris. But Hebrews 11 will give any chapter a run for the money. If you only intend to read one single chapter of the Bible between now and the end of 2014, and you decide to make it Hebrews 11, I congratulate you on a good choice.

illuminated-bibleWe hear in Sunday’s reading how the paragraphs of Hebrews 11 begin with the phrase “By faith, So-and-so did such-and-such.” By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to move to an unknown land. By faith, Abraham received the power to generate offspring, even though he had passed the normal age, and had a sterile wife. By faith, Abraham, when put to the test, offered up his son Isaac.

Now, Hebrews 11 recounts not just Abraham’s faith. The chapter chronicles the faith of the successive generations of Israelites who awaited the fulfillment of God’s promises. The chapter exhorts the Christian Church to unswerving faith.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, practically based his whole encyclical Lumen Fidei on Hebrews 11; he quotes the chapter thirteen times in the encyclical. Like when he writes:

If we remove faith in God from our cities, mutual trust would be weakened. We would remain united only by fear, and our stability would be threatened. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read that ‘God is not ashamed to be called their God…’ (Heb 11:16)… The intention is to say that God, by his concrete actions, makes a public avowal that he is present in our midst and that he desires to solidify every human relationship. Could it be the case, instead, that we are the ones who are ashamed to call God our God? That we are the ones who fail to confess him as such in our public life, who fail to propose the grandeur of the life in common which he makes possible? Faith possesses a creative light for each new moment of history, because it sets every event in relationship to the origin and destiny of all things, in the Father. (paragraph 55)

Anyway, one particular verse of Hebrews 11 struck me, and I will tell you why. In the section of the chapter after the part about Abraham and his sons, St. Paul considers the faith of Moses. We read:

Pope-Francis-Lumen-Fidei“By faith, Moses left Egypt, not fearing Pharaoh’s fury. For Moses persevered as if he could see the invisible God.”

Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, marching towards the sea, with chariots in hot pursuit. No earthly consideration could have made the situation hopeful. Didn’t look good at all. But Moses marched forward as if he could see the invisible God.

We see the baby Jesus, a baby, a boy. A human being, like us. But, by faith, we look at the infant in the manger as if we could see the invisible God. The Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, the shepherds: gazing at the baby, adoring Him, as if they could see the invisible God.

Nothing will evangelize like this. The world needs the Good News of Christ. And nothing will convince like the witness of people who speak and live as if we could see the invisible.

Let me quote Pope Paul VI:

The world shows innumerable signs of denying God. But, nevertheless, she searches for him in unexpected ways. She painfully experiences the need for Him. The world is calling for evangelizers to speak of a God whom they know and are familiar with, as if they could see the invisible. (Evangelii Nuntiandi, paragraph 76)

For us, this requires discipline. It requires constant engagement with Christ, through Scripture and the sacraments. It requires renouncing the “concupiscence of our eyes,” which grasp like desperate babies for stimulation.

Moses did not lead the Israelites to the Promised Land by pulling out his smartphone all the time and checking his e-mail or facebook. Moses could see the invisible because he had conquered the concupiscence of his eyes, by denying them the immediate satisfaction that they crave.

Let’s think of the long, slow nights which Mary and Joseph spent with the baby. Hours of quiet breathing, little baby noises, in the pitch-black night. Totally unexciting. Except that they could see the invisible God.

That’s how we can learn to see the invisible, too. By embracing quiet, and solitude—and not running away. By becoming people who are not afraid to pray, to pray with reckless abandon to the unseen God–Who, in Jesus Christ, we can see and know.

Best Streetmap


Perhaps it will not surprise you to learn that I had a “tortured hipster” phase approximately two decades ago.

You could have found me one night at 2 a.m., at the counter in a diner on York Avenue on the Upper East Side, drinking my sixth cup of coffee and writing a poem.

The poem narrated how a group of Manhattan Indians would have landed their canoes down the hill from where I sat, long before York Avenue, or FDR Drive, or 72nd Street were even thought of, when there were mountain lions in what became Central Park.

nyc-skylineThe idea of the poem was supposed to be: the streetmap we think we have for life does not in fact give us the true lay of the land.

Basically, my nineteen-year-old self was whining about not having been given a more comprehensive “blueprint” for life during my upbringing. I felt like I needed a better, a deeper, a more truly realistic existential map.

Then I crumpled up the paper in disgust. Because I realized: that was exactly the type of thing that my father would think.

Continue reading “Best Streetmap”

Holy Family & Gnomon Vaticano

The Lord delivers many graces on a Christmas Sunday.

But, alas, we do lose Holy Family Sunday in such years. If you yearn for a Holy Family sermon from the archive, you may click a link…

Fr. M.D.W. Holy Family homily 2008 and 2009.

…Speaking of talks from December ’08:

Did you know that the Vatican obelisk in St. Peter’s Square functions as the gnomon of an annual sundial?

At noon, the shadow of the obelisk falls on a granite meridian. Discs mark points along the stone line. The shadow falls on the disc farthest from the obelisk on the winter solstice; it falls on a disc near the base on the summer solstice. Discs in between mark the points at which the sun enters the various signs of the zodiac.

Three Points for Holy Family

Three little points about the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple.

The Law of Moses stipulated that the Jews of old were to go up to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple three times a year.

The trip on foot from Nazareth to Jerusalem was long. It took a few days. It was not a journey for anyone younger than twelve.

The pilgrimage of the twelve-year-old Christ to Jerusalem was the first time the Lord Jesus ascended to the Temple on His own two feet. It was His first religious pilgrimage.

Continue reading “Three Points for Holy Family”

Sheep’s Gate Neighborhood

Happy Feast of Stephen!

The home of Sts. Joachim and Ann–our Lady’s parents–was in the northeast corner of ancient Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is less than a day’s journey from Bethlehem. Perhaps the Holy Family rested today in the home where the Blessed Virgin grew up.

St. Stephen was martyred right outside the Sheep Gate of the ancient city. This gate is just steps from the home of Joachim and Ann.

Nobody knows exactly why St. Stephen’s Day is the day after Christmas. It has been his feast day since the early centuries.

Maybe the first Christians all knew that the first martyr died very near the place where the Lord spent his newborn days on earth.

Holy Family Sunday

san-francisco11) San Fran weather update

po011_pope_albania2) Environmentalist Pope Benedict says no to “gender ideology”:

The Creator helps Christians to understand our responsibility toward the earth. It is not simply our property to be exploited according to our interests and desires. Rather, it is a gift of the Creator.

However, concern for God’s creation cannot be limited to care for the natural environment– although that is certainly a part of it. Far more important is the Church’s mission to preserve the ecology of the human being, understood in the proper manner. The Church must teach clearly about the nature of the human person, to counteract the influence of secular ideologies that confuse and diminish human dignity. God created man and woman as complementary, and the Church demands that this order of creation be respected by promotion of marriage and family life.

3) Your servant’s Holy Family Sunday homily:

In the beginning, God created mankind. Then, in the fullness of time, He became man. In the beginning, He made man and woman to be a family. In the fullness of time, He became a member of a family.

Continue reading “Holy Family Sunday”