Message: Like Joseph we need to know our place in the Big Story, but in the end the only way to overcome bitterness is by submission to God in an act of faith.
You have probably noticed that I have been quoting a lot from Pope Francis. He is an extraordinary gift to the world and especially to us Catholics. Not that John Paul II and Benedict XVI were not great popes. Many of us feel deeply blessed to have served the Church under such a man as Blessed John Paul – and Pope Benedict who many consider to be the most brilliant theologian to hold the Chair of Peter.
Still, Francis – the first pope from the New World – has brought something radiant: a humility and joy that shine from him. On this Holy Family Sunday I would like talk about how he teaches us what St. Paul says: Avoid bitterness.
Bitterness poisons the human heart. It destroys relationships – especially in the family – and it condemns a person to a self-made hell. When the devil plants the flag of bitterness in the human heart, he says, “This soul belongs to me.” For that reason, St. Paul says, “Avoid bitterness.”
Before giving the prescription for bitterness, I would like to point out the example of Pope Francis: Bitterness often results when we fight battles. A person may be totally in the right and come away bitter. Pope Francis, however, shows that it is possible to fight great battles and not grow bitter. Let me briefly mention three.
The first battle was as superior of the Jesuits in Argentina. Many of the priests were so distressed at the misery caused by poverty that they wanted to that fight to become the full purpose of the order – to concentrate on eradicating unjust social structures and to put salvation of souls in the background. That was the first battle.
The second battle was with the Argentine government – a government that became so concerned with preserving order and combating violence that it allowed torture and other abuses.
The third battle was with the culture – a world-wide culture so concerned with an image of tolerance that it was willing to change the meaning of marriage.
As superior of the Jesuits and Cardinal of Buenos Aires, the future pope fought these battles with great energy. But he kept communication and respect for the other side – and by prayer, sometimes hours of prayer, he overcame the temptation to bitterness. The world sees that peace and respect in the pope’s soul and has acclaimed him Person of the Year.
Avoid bitterness. Pope Francis gives us a shining example and today’s readings provide a prescription for overcoming bitterness. It has two parts.
First in the Gospel: We can go a long way to overcoming bitterness if we know how our lives fit into the big story. If I am wrapped up in my own life, my own aches and pains, all the unfairness I see around me, I can easily become bitter. That could have happened to a family like one in the Gospel – driven out of their home and into exile in Egypt.
But Joseph and Mary knew the big story – how their ancestors wound up in Egypt and how God freed them.* They knew they were part of a bigger picture – a drama much greater than themselves. That’s why Matthew quotes the Hebrew Scriptures: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
So knowing the Big Story (the Bible) and how our lives relate to that story is a huge step in overcoming bitterness. There is something even more radical. Paul presents it in today’s second reading. It’s a word we don’t like to hear today – submission. St. Paul tells us to submit to one another and to God in Christ. Submission is a hard word, but an essential one. For Muslims it is the heart of their religion. Islam means submission, surrender to God. It is also a Christian word: Christ completely submitted his will to the Father – and through that act we come into union with Father.
Like Joseph we need to know our place in the Big Story, but in the end the only way to overcome bitterness is by submission to God in an act of faith.
It’s not easy. On New Year’s Day we will be talking about how Mary did it. And I will share a beautiful image of Mary – Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. More next Tuesday evening and Wednesday.
For now I would like to conclude with St. Paul’s words: “Put on…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one… another as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And above all these, put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. Amen.
Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
December 29, 2013
Pope Francis’ Christmas Messages
VATICAN CITY — In his first Christmas urbi et orbi message, Pope Francis has issued impassioned pleas for peace in the Middle East and war-torn countries in Africa while also remembering children who are victims of war, the elderly, battered women, the sick, trafficked persons and refugees.
Addressing a large crowd of pilgrims from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pope said that true peace is not a “balance of opposing forces,” nor a “lovely façade which conceals conflicts and divisions.” Rather, he said, peace calls for “daily commitment starting from God’s gift, from the grace which he has given us in Jesus Christ.”
The Deeper Meaning of Christmas
In the days of Caesar Augustus, an era of peace was established in the Mediterranean world after centuries of strife. But this peace was forged by the proud ambition of emperors and the edge of their armies’ swords.
Upon this stage appears a baby acclaimed as king by eastern dignitaries. Neither Caesar nor Herod will brook any rivals. So brutal hordes are sent to slay Him at birth, though He himself comes without armies. The thugs are thwarted, but only for a season. For the royal child is laid in a manger, and the wood of that manger foreshadows the wood of the cross.
Holy Family, Sunday in the Octave of Christmas
Matthew 2:13–15, 19-23
The gospel continues the story of the wise men from the east, who under divine guidance came to Bethlehem to pay homage to the child Jesus. After their departure, again under divine guidance, Joseph is warned to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt because Herod plans to kill the child. The family will remain in this land of refuge until the Lord calls his son out of Egypt just as the people of Israel were once called out.
The Feast of the Holy Family: Protecting the Presence of the Lord in Our Families
I pray that you all are having a wonderful celebration of Christmas. The Sunday after Christmas is usually the Feast of the Holy Family, the exception being when Christmas comes on a Sunday.
Let’s start today with a little story you might be familiar with. It is called the Luck of Roaring Camp, and was written in 1868 by Bret Harte. The story takes place in Roaring Camp, a camp of gruff, hard drinking, fierce, gold diggers. The men would kill someone sooner than they would ask a person his name. One day a pregnant and sick Indian lady stumbled into the camp. When she went into labor, two of the men were decent enough to try to help her. She died during the birth, but miraculously, the child, a boy, survived.
Fear of the Lord Confirms the Virtue of Hope
As we have seen in our previous discussions, the paradox of the gift of the fear of the Lord is that it is a fear that does not call us to cringe like slaves, but to rejoice in reverence of our Father as his children.
When St. Francis Built the First Nativity
When Francis of Assisi orchestrated the first crèche in Greccio on Christmas Eve in 1223 with its scene of infant child surrounded by living animals, the intention was to humanize the birth of the messiah and so remind medieval Christians how near this God was. As Francis states, “I wish to remember the child who was born in Bethlehem and to remember with my own eyes the hardships of his needy childhood, how he rested in the crib, and how, between a cow and a donkey, he was laid in the hay.”
Fear Not: Angels We Have Heard On High
Christmas is a reflective time for me for quite personal reasons. When I hear the carol, “Angels We Have Heard On High”, I am reminded that we never travel alone in this journey called life. I have proof.
Visions of the Child Jesus in the lives of the Mystic-Saints
Many of us have seen the holy cards or statues of Saints such as St Anthony and the young St Stanislaus Kostka for example, tenderly cradling the baby Jesus in their arms—but are we familiar with the beautiful true stories behind these depictions?
The Hills Are Still Alive
Along a scenic stretch of Mountain Road in Stowe, Vt., amid the neatly-kept shops and homes, a painted wood sign stands out, showing a large white Host suspended over a gold chalice.
It’s an uncommon sight in Vermont, which holds the dubious distinction as the least-religious state in the union, but this is the town of Stowe, where the influence of the staunchly Catholic Maria von Trapp and her large family of The Sound of Music fame still echoes through the hills.
Confession and Embarrassment
When people ask me, or indeed anybody else, “Why did you join the Church of Rome?” the first essential answer, if it is partly an elliptical answer, is, “To get rid of my sins” (G.K. Chesterton).
Cecilia was working on something for school. “Papa,” she asked, “what was your most embarrassing moment?”
What, I have to choose just one?
Ecumenism — A Catholic Blind Spot
When Pope Francis stretches out his hand to minister to the sick, does he first ask, “Are you Catholic?”
Probably not, because to live the gospel is to extend Christ’s love universally and without qualification. His Holiness practices daily ecumenism because his focus is on people’s gifts and needs, not categories of acceptability.
A Christmas Carol For Our Time
What was Dickens really doing when he wrote A Christmas Carol? Answer: He was weighing in on one of the central economic debates of his time, the one that raged between Thomas Malthus and one of the disciples of Adam Smith.
Hell? Don’t Yell.
In my recent post admiring and recommending Ralph Martin’s book The Urgency of the New Evangelization: Answering the Call I mentioned that universalism was a cancer eating away at the church and reminding readers that the Scriptures are clear that hell is a reality and it is likely to be highly populated.
The Memoirs of the Apostles: The Epistles of Saints James, Peter, John and Jude
The seven Catholic Epistles written by Saints James, Peter, John, and Jude form a small but integral portion of the New Testament. These letters have always interested me, ever since I learned about the epistolary genre of Scripture when I was a boy at Catholic school. I wonder how much attention these writings receive, written as they were by the friends and family members of Jesus. As a preacher it has always been my purpose to proclaim the Word of God through these letters so that the Catholic souls in my care may know more about Divine Revelation as rendered by these memoirs of the Apostles.
Five Ways Catholics Can Make a Real Difference
Do we sometimes feel overwhelmed in the face of the relentless assault on the Church, our beliefs, and our families by the media and modern culture? Is it difficult to stand up for what we believe? Do we ever feel like we can’t make a difference? Many Catholics I encounter are struggling through daily battles to live out their faith and protect their loved ones…all in the midst of a very difficult economic climate. It would be easy to throw in the towel and give up or remain silent, but that is not an option for us. We are called to do more. We are called to be holy: “Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification’” (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 39).
Six More Reasons Why Everyone Should Have kids
Last August, I wrote about why everyone should have kids. At several points in the combox, I was called out for being selfish. According to both troll and pleasant soul, the reasons I provided in said post were all about me. It got me thinking, perhaps I am guilty of such crimes?
And so, here’s a remix of version one, a 180 degree response with the least amount of me as possible.
I Hope You Dance
It was a homily I almost missed as the words droned and my mind wandered this past Sunday, but something caught my ears and pulled me back in. Father reminded us that Christmas comes at the darkest time of year as a light to us in the darkness. It got me to thinking about how we each respond to that light because although the theological truths manifest in Christmas are magnificent, how we put skin onto that reality and live hope in our own lives can seem limited or feeble at times. Each person and family has unique stories, and mine isn’t any better than anyone else’s but please allow me to share it this blessed Christmas Day.
Over the past 50 years or so, a profound change, other than that effected by Vatican II, has taken place in the Catholic Church. It might be described as the phenomenon of “vanishing Catholics.” The Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, has identified four major challenges facing the Church today. First on his list is the exodus of young adults from the Church. According to recent demographic surveys, it seems there are presently 30 million people in the U.S. who identify themselves as “former Catholics.” That figure is both surprising, and, for Catholics, disheartening. It represents a little less than 10 percent of the total population of this country. It also means that had those persons remained Catholic, approximately one in three Americans would be identified as Catholic. Only two religious groups represent a larger percentage of the U.S. population: Protestants (cumulatively) and current Catholics.
Avoiding the Climax of Intellectual Stupidity
Until relatively recently, atheism just seemed to me like a phase for confused college students—usually nothing to be taken seriously, only something to be outgrown. However, atheism has become more pernicious in recent years.
Finding that forgotten one at Christmas; that someone who needs love
Christmas is a beautiful time of the year for most of us, most of the time. But it is also true that Christmas can be a very painful time of year for some, especially those who have experienced recent loss or who, for various reasons, have fewer family options at Christmas. Yes, Christmas can be the best of times, and the loneliest of times, the most wonderful time of the year, or the most painful.
Young Adults Gather Before Christ
When Angela Neumann, 26, enters the adoration chapel at the Church of St. Joseph in West St. Paul, Minn., for her daily Holy Hour, she feels at ease with Christ, her Bridegroom.
There, she is “absolutely 100% focused on the Lord.”
Neumann is among a growing number of young adults meeting the Lord in adoration as a close friend with whom they share an intimate conversation
Coming to Our Senses: The Moral Sense of Scripture
Discussing the moral sense of Scripture should seem easy. After all, we’re talking “The Good Book” here. Even when many Americans abandoned Christianity as supernatural revelation from God, they for the past couple generations still tended to treat the Bible as a solid moral code with some lingering respectability. Martin Luther King, Jr. could still appeal to it and not get hooted off the stage as recently as 40 years ago.