Obedience and Freedom



Fr. Phil Bloom
December 30, 2012
Holy Family


Bottom line: We ask the holy family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, to know the right balance between freedom and obedience.
I love the Feast of the Holy Family, but I have to admit that this year’s Gospel is difficult for me. It tells about Joseph and Mary’s frantic search for their lost child. I have been with parents terrified by the disappearance of a child. Did he run away? Was he kidnapped? Is he dead in an unknown place? In some cases those questions go unanswered for years.
In today’s Gospel Jesus seems to knowingly subject his parents to that agony. And when, after three days, they find him, he gives what sounds like a curt answer: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
I have often meditated on this Gospel. It comprises one of the mysteries of the rosary – the Finding of the Boy Jesus in the Temple. For all that, I still must say that I do not understand Jesus’ behavior. I did receive some help recently from Pope Benedict’s little book on the Infancy Narratives. He doesn’t resolve the mystery, but he makes some provocative observations.
First, he notes that in the holy family “freedom and obedience were combined in a healthy manner.” As the pope observes, “The twelve-year-old was free to spend time with friends and children of his own age, and to remain in their company during the journey.” Joseph, together with his wife Mary, had to determine the appropriate degree of freedom for their adolescent son. Every family faces this issue. Dads, and moms, could well ask the intercession of St. Joseph in deciding what degree of freedom to give their growing children.
The holy family illustrates a healthy balance between obedience and freedom, but pain comes when that freedom seems abused. Pope Benedict describes the “days spent suffering the absence of Jesus, days of darkness, whose heaviness can be sensed in the mother’s words, ‘Child why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.'”
The pope does not give a facile answer to Mary’s question. Rather, he refers to the “sword of sorrow” that Simeon profecied. (Lk 2:35) The Holy Father notes, “The closer one comes to Jesus, the more he is drawn into the mystery of his passion.”
After analyzing the significance of Jesus’ reponse to his mother, Pope Benedict makes this conclusion, “What might seem like disobedience or inappropriate freedom vis-a-vis his parents is in reality the actual expression of his filial obedience.”*
Now, you and I are not Jesus. If we find ourselves in opposition to legitimate authority, we cannot assume an intuitive knowledge of the God’s will. We always ask the Father to “lead us” and to “deliver us from evil.” The evil one can trick a person into thinking, “I am following God,” or “I am following my conscience,” when he is actually following Satan. We need prayer and discernment of spirits. Am I directed by the Holy Spirit or by the evil spirit? St. Ignatius of Loyola gives some rules for answering that question, but I will save that for another homily.
In the coming year we may find ourselves in disobedience to our government regarding certain mandates of the health care program. It would not be the first time. In the nineteenth century, for example, Christians opposed our government by smuggling run-away slaves to freedom in Canada. It was called the underground railroad. Christians did not take this action to weaken our nation and its laws, but to strengthen them by getting them aligned with God’s law.

Whether you or I face a test like the underground railroad remains to be seen. We must do everything possible to avoid breaking the laws of our country. For now, we ask the holy family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, to know the right balance between freedom and obedience. Our desire is not to oppose authority, but to follow the example of Jesus, “He went with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them.” As Pope Benedict writes, “After the episode highlighting Jesus higher obedience, he returns to his normal family situation – to the lowliness of simple life and obedience to his earthly parents.” So may it be in our families. Amen.


Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
December 30, 2012

Jesus’ formula for a holy family
A young boy greeted his father as he returned from work one day with a question: “Dad, how much do you make an hour?” The father was surprised and said: “Son, not even your mother knows that. Please don’t bother me now.” “But Dad, just tell me please! How much do you make an hour?” the boy insisted. The father finally gave in and replied: “Twenty dollars.” “Okay, Dad,” the boy continued, “Could you loan me ten dollars?” The father a bit irritated now with the said, “Why on earth do you need ten dollars?” The boy replied, “Well, I already have $10. If you loan me another $10, I’ll have enough to buy an hour of your time.”

The Feast of the Holy Family: The Heart of the Church
On the Sunday after the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas, we consider the family. Now when we hear the title of the celebration, the Feast of the Holy Family, we are inclined to just dismiss the possibility that our families can be like the Holy Family. We forget that Jesus’ family was holy because they lived united to God.

Feast of the Holy Family
At the end of Luke’s Infancy Narrative, we find a story that does not really pertain to his infancy, since he is already twelve years old when he visits the temple with his parents on the occasion of the Passover feast. He is there because he has now reached the age of “maturity” and must therefore join the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the major feasts.
We must be careful not to be distracted by paintings of this scene of Jesus with the doctors of the law. In such cases, he is often pictured standing in the center of a circle of old men, with a halo on his head, and in a pose of one who is teaching. In the text, however, we read that he was “sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” This would be the normal situation of a bright and curious young person. There does seem to be some form of dialogue also, for the old men are “astounded at his understanding and his answers.”

Christmas not over yet
The wonderful thing about being Catholic at Christmas is that the Feast isn’t over in just a day – we have the Octave of Christmas, followed by the Epiphany and its Octave, ending with the Feast of Our Lord’s Baptism. We therefore have time to reflect on the awesome mystery of the Incarnation and its implications for us.

A Mysterious Incident from Jesus’ Childhood
This Sunday we celebrate the mystery of the Holy Family.
What was it like for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to live together?
Each is a very remarkable person! Put all three together and . . . wow.
Today we have reality shows about interesting and extraordinary families, but they didn’t have reality shows back then.
Fortunately, we are given a glimpse into the domestic life of the Holy Family.
And it’s a glimpse provided by the Virgin Mary herself . . .

Why was Jesus born in Bethlehem?
Men are not able to chose the time and place of their birth, just as no man may choose his mother or father. However, the case of the Christ Child is diverse – for he did indeed choose his holy Mother, having consecrated her from the first moment of her conception; and he chose St. Joseph as his guardian.
In his divinity, through his all-encompassing providence, Jesus willed not only to be born of Mary and to be under the protection of Joseph, but he further willed to be born in the city of David called Bethlehem.

What we know of Jesus’ life from St. John alone, and what we would not know if we only had the Fourth Gospel
The Gospel of St. John, which many of the great Catholic Scholars hold to be the last book of the Bible to be written, is unique among the books of Scripture as being that which is most enlightened and enlightening to all men.

There are many details and events from our Savior’s life which we know only from St. John. And, yet we may be surprised to notice one very significant point concerning which he have no word at all from the Beloved.

12 Things I Wish I Knew at 25: Spiritual Learnings on My 50th Birthday
For a lark yesterday, on my 50th birthday, I Tweeted 12 things that I wish I had known at 25. Or more accurately, 12 things that, had I put them into action, would have made my life a lot easier. Some are bits of advice that wisdom figures have told me and took years to sink in. Others are the result of some hard knocks. A few are insights from the great spiritual masters that I’ve adapted for my own life. Maybe a few will help someone you know who’s 25. Maybe one or two will help you.

The Silent Wonder of Mary and Joseph
We have beheld the shepherds coming in from their fields glorifying God and bringing all who heard them to glorify him too. Yet here is something still more marvelous and edifying: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” And furthermore, “his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.” (Luke 2:19, 33) Would it not be better to unite ourselves to Mary’s silence rather than to attempt to explain her merits with words? For what is more wonderful, after the annunciation and the birth, than to hear the whole world talking but nevertheless to remain silent? She had carried in her womb the Son of the Most High. She had seen him come forth like a ray of the sun from a cloud, pure and luminous. What must she have felt by his presence?

Did the slaughter of the innocents really happen?
On December 28, the Church commemorates the slaughter of the holy innocents.
These are the baby boys in Bethlehem that Herod the Great had slaughtered in an attempt to kill the Baby Jesus.
But many people today challenge the idea that this ever took place.
“We have no record of it!” they say.
Actually, we do . . .

Pope Addresses Our Truly Confused Age
We live in a time of technological wonders and ”let’s pretend” denial of basic facts of the human condition. Pope Benedict looked at one pernicious aspect of this “let’s pretend” mindset in an address on December 21:

The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question.

Heresy Cannot Appreciate Beauty
Heresy cannot appreciate beauty – in its many Hydra-headed forms, it has always sought to destroy the beauty found in the truth of Christ.

In the earliest centuries, the Gnostic sects sought to destroy the truth of the beauty of God’s creation by declaring all material things to be evil. Arius sought to destroy the beauty of the Incarnation by declaring that Jesus was not God, but a created being.

Is Anybody There?…In Hell That Is.
Someone once asked the famous mystic Padre Pio, what he thought of modern people who didn’t believe in hell. His terse reply was, “They will believe in hell when they get there.”

Is it possible to believe in hell? Surely, when faced with Auschwitz, Hiroshima, the Gulag and the killing fields, the question should be, “Is it possible not to believe in hell?” I don’t simply refer to the fact that concentration camps were a kind of hell on earth. Instead I wonder how one can deny the existence of a place of severe punishment when faced with Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and African soldiers who chop off little girls hands for fun. When faced with such monsters can we really cry with a good conscience, “God would not send anyone to burn forever in the fires of everlasting torment!”

The Gift of Celibacy – Its Meaning Today
If you mention the word “celibacy” on your local street corner today, you will probably not get a favorable response. It will more than likely spark a conversation about recent tabloid news involving sex scandals, homosexuality, or other negative publicity. Or, it may conjure up images of monasteries, cobblestone streets, and oil filled lamps. And if you mention the word “virginity” in today’s sex-crazed society, you can multiply that negative image ten-fold. Why? Because our society has an eroded sense of biblical sexual values as evidenced by the high rates of illicit sex, abortion, and divorce.

Make the Most of the Time God Gives You
As the calendar turns from 2012 to 2013, many will surely be wondering where the year went. How have you used the 365 days? How will you use the next year?
When he was a child, Father Marcos Gonzalez, pastor St. John Chrysostom Church in Inglewood, Calif., remembers seeing a large grandfather clock with the inscription Tempus fugit on top.
“When I asked my mother what that meant,” he recalls, “she said, ‘Time flies.’ I was puzzled by this and asked what it meant. She told me: ‘Life is short. Use each day well.’ Ever since then, I’ve tried to keep that in mind.”

At Christmas, atheists say Celebrate Reason? We do!
Almost as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey has been digested, an event that’s becoming an annual tradition begins. The so-called “war on Christmas.” Lawsuits are waged yearly over whether singing a Christmas carol mentioning the very name of Jesus Christ or having a display that represents his birth in public arenas violates the separation of Church and state (by the way, it doesn’t… but that’s a discussion for another day). Interesting that some of those same people don’t seemed threatened over songs about a four-hooved, antlered being from the North Pole with a radioactive-red-lighted nosed (quite possibly contracted from a nuclear power plant or toxic nightmare) flying overhead. The message from these battles each year, though, has been pretty clear in terms of the celebration of Christmas (or the “Holiday Season”) – Rudolph and his friends are OK; Jesus, not so much.

Is It Not Unjust to Punish Us for the Sins of Adam and Eve? – 25 Questions on Our First Parents
Listers, the following lesson is taken from the Baltimore Catechism. The Baltimore Catechism was the standard catechism of teaching the faith and catechizing children from 1885 to Vatican II. Its basic question-and-answer approach is the most natural learning style for the human mind and simplifies even the most complex theological questions. All the lists taken from the Baltimore Catechism may be found here. The following is part II of how SPL has broken down the Baltimore Catechism’s lesson on our first parents. The first part can be found at Could the Soul “Evolve” from Inferior Animals? – 16 Questions on Adam and Eve.

Christmas Engagement? 10 Wedding Tips to Get You Started
Any of you readers get shiny new engagement rings for Christmas?
This may seem like an odd time for a post on the subject of weddings, but seeing as tomorrow is my 5th wedding anniversary and you newly engaged folks will probably be tying the knot only 6-12 months from now, I thought it might be the perfect opportunity to post about preparing for your Catholic wedding. My advice isn’t just whimsy, it’s gleaned from my own experience planning a wedding, my wife’s experience working for the Church, locating sacramental records, and coordinating several weddings, as well as our shared experience giving talks on several occasions for pre-cana retreats.

Navigating the New Year
Lay people often overlook a source of deep spirituality and safety. One of the spiritual secrets of those in the religious life is a kind of spiritual guardrail system that helps them to know the path of peace on a moment to moment basis. This wisdom-born approach has aided thousands of ordinary people to become saints and to experience the heights of union with the Lord in this life. One part of this system is called a “rule of life.”

Best Books of 2012
Top books I read in 2012 with descriptions in 10 words or less. In no particular order.

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
A great book. Too bad she didn’t stop at that one.

2. Gospel of Mark (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) by Mary Healey. Very accessible while still being scholarly.


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