The Family as the First School in Faith – My Homily for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

When I was growing up on the ranch in Wyoming, my family would take summer vacations out to Wisconsin. My dad’s family grew up there on a dairy farm and every summer we have a huge family reunion because my Dad has 8 brothers and sisters, all of whom get along great. That meant that, as a kid, vacations meant 3 days of travel one way with 2 nights at motels with swimming pools and the Olive Garden for supper. Needless to say I loved vacations as a kid. During those days of travel, though, my parents, rather than let me and my brothers get absorbed in our Gameboys, they tried to engage our minds and hearts by teaching us the Baltimore Catechism, which some of you may remember. My brother and I would groan when, inevitably, Mom would pull out the Baltimore Catechism and force us to think and learn about our Catholic Faith. One trip in particular, we spent upwards of an hour discussing whether it was better to be burned at the stake or commit a mortal sin. My brother, Greg, and I asserted that you could just go to confession if you committed a mortal sin and therefore it was better than being burnt at the stake; Dad and Mom, however, kept trying to impart on us the reality and seriousness of mortal sin and that it would be better not to sin and to actually be burnt at the stake. Ultimately they succeeded in this because all these years later I still remember that day on the road with the Baltimore Catechism and took to heart the seriousness of sin and now would agree that it would be better to be burnt at the stake rather than commit a mortal sin. My parents took their vocation as parents seriously and didn’t just let us kids play our Gameboys on our road trips, but taught us the fundamentals of the faith that we strived to live as a family.

This is important because each and every one of us is called to follow Jesus, but not only to follow Jesus, but to invite and teach others how to follow Him as well, and in a particular way within our own families, especially parents. In today’s Gospel we heard of one of the many times when Jesus teaches his disciples about the true nature of faith. Jesus predicts his Passion and death on the cross, which is the second of three times he does this, and his disciples, once again, cannot understand what Jesus is saying. They couldn’t understand it because the messiah they thought was coming would never be killed by men, like Jesus predicted, but the messiah would be like a military leader and conquer the Romans and bring a new kingdom to the earth. So, rather than try to understand Jesus, the disciples, rather like children, began to bicker amongst themselves on who was the greatest and Jesus, like a patient parent, sits down to teach them. He teaches them by placing a child in their midst. A child in the time of Jesus was, legally, considered a nobody; they had no legal status. Jesus was teaching his disciples that to receive a child meant that one must lovingly accept and care for the nobodies of society: the lowly and those who cannot repay them, much like children. Jesus identifies with the lowly, the poor and the disadvantaged. The one who receives the poor receives Jesus Himself, and not only Jesus, but God the Father as well. Jesus is found in a special way in the poor and it is our call as Christians to not seek the esteem of others, but to care for those who cannot esteem us at all. That is the Christian life! Caring for our fellow brothers and sisters, no matter who they are, all along the road to eternal life in heaven with Jesus. Notice, Jesus didn’t teach his disciples about how his death, which they didn’t understand, Jesus rather taught them how to act, which would lead the disciples to grow in humility and would help them fully accept their mission as apostles after Jesus’ death and resurrection. All of the apostles go on to teach the faith to the nations after Jesus’ death and resurrection because of their great faith and humble obedience to their Lord, Jesus Christ.

The task of the apostles is the same for all of us: to grow in humility and to be apostles to our world, to teach the world about Jesus, beginning within our own families. The family is the primary school in which saints are formed. Jesus, himself, was part of a family with Joseph and Mary and shows us the importance of the family in our world. Jesus was obedient to his parents and grew in wisdom in his humanity (Luke 2:51-52). God created families to be a reflection of the communion of life and love that exists in the Holy Trinity, between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The union between husband and wife allows them to participate in God’s creative act and from their love comes forth children. The family that is formed is more than just simply having more children, St. John Paul II reminds us that families are “enlarged and enriched by all those fruits of moral, spiritual and supernatural life which the father and mother are called to hand on to their children, and through the children to the Church and the world” (Familiaris Consortio, 28). Parents, by revealing and showing their children how to live a life a faith, will impact the whole world through their children as they go out into the world to do the same. This affirms the supreme importance of the family unit in our world today, a unit that has been attacked and degraded by divorce and so-called “gay marriage” in our secular world. The family unit, with a father and a mother, is to be the “domestic church” (Lumen Gentium, 11) where the children meet Christ, grow in virtue, and are prepared for the vocation God calls them to. Parents, then, are the primary teachers of the faith to their children, even if the children attend a Catholic school like our very own St. Vincent de Paul School; parents are still the primary teachers of the faith. In the family, children learn about the love of God, his generosity, goodness and mercy in and through the examples of their own parents. This also means that it is the parents’ responsibility to teach their children about the sacraments as they prepare for them. Again, just because a child goes to Catholic school does not mean that his or her parents are “off the hook” so to speak, but parents must be active in the education of their children along with the Catholic school education. This also means that we, as the adults in the parish, must know our faith well. We must know who God is and encounter Him daily through prayer and the sacraments to be able to teach others, especially the children, how to know and love God. For how can we expect the children to understand God when we don’t? How can we expect the children to live the Catholic faith after they leave home for college if we, as the adults, don’t practice and live our faith? Our homes must be the domestic church where God is not just in the spare room, hidden away, but where He is active in every part of our lives where everyone, parents and children both, continue to learn and deepen their faith. That is our challenge in this increasingly secular world: to be the witness to the immense power of the love of God in and through our families. As you may recall from the homily last week, the Archdiocese of Denver is re-ordering the Sacraments of Initiation to their original order. This means that all children will receive baptism, then confirmation, then first Holy Communion, in that order, just like it was for most of the history of the Catholic Church until recently in the early 20th century. With this new system in the Archdiocese, Confirmation and first Holy Communion will be given in the third grade. The Archdiocese of Denver will take five years to make this transition, using a step-down process that will result in all children receiving Confirmation and First Eucharist in the third grade by the year 2020. The big question that many will have in this move is whether third graders are old enough to receive confirmation and the answer is “Yes! Of course!” Confirmation was never meant to be a sacrament given only if you knew “enough” but is a sacrament given freely by God to give us the gifts of the Holy Spirit to live our lives more easily in union with Him. Age is not actually a factor like many think it is. Additionally, a child in the third grade would be adequately prepared to receive Confirmation because his or her parents, as primary teachers of the faith, would help prepare their children for the reception of the sacrament. Receiving Confirmation earlier will give the grace of the Sacrament to these children earlier, helping them to live more faithfully, especially in the tough years of junior high and high school.

So whether you pull out the Baltimore Catechism like my parents did or not, I strongly encourage you to step up and be the first teachers of your children about God. Teach your children about the love of God by talking with them and teaching them, but also by your own example of prayer and self-sacrifice. Also teach them about the sacraments that they are preparing to receive so that they receive them with an open heart. And lastly, don’t forget to pray with and for them. I ask that you join the Archbishop and the entire Archdiocese of Denver to pray daily for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s gifts of knowledge, wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and “fear of the Lord” upon all of us.

The Rest of the Story – My Homily for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

“I shall not see happiness again.” Did you catch the desperation in Job’s voice as he said these words? These are the words of someone who has seemingly lost all hope in his suffering. Can you imagine Job saying this? Or can you imagine yourself or a loved one uttering these same words? Unfortunately I think many of us can relate all too well to the words of Job because of the suffering in our own lives. Job’s story is in a sense, our story too. We all experience suffering due to natural disasters, terrorism and war, or personal or family crises, or even because of our own sinfulness. We may be tempted to stop amidst this suffering and indeed lose hope. But, today, I am here to tell you, that wasn’t the end of Job’s story, and it definitely isn’t the end of your story or my story. And today I’m going to share with you THE story: the story of the Christian life. As Paul Harvey used to say, I’m here to tell you “the rest of the story.”

First we begin with Job. What we heard today was only a small part of Job’s whole story, a story that unfortunately you won’t hear in its entirety at Sunday Mass. And it’s important for us to understand Job’s hopelessness in light of his whole story, so for those of you who haven’t read Job, sorry but I’m going to spoil it for you. However, I encourage you to read Job on your own sometime, it’s a fascinating book. [pause] Scripture tells us that Job was a man “who was blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1). Job was an upright man and yet, when we read the story, we see that God allowed Satan to afflict Job with suffering to try to get him to blaspheme God, which Job does not ever do. Satan afflicts Job by destroying all of his property, his servants, and killing his sons and daughters. Satan additionally afflicts Job physically with sores that covered his whole body and through all of this “Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:22, 2:10). The story unfolds as a series of speeches given by Job and his friends as they try to understand why God is seemingly punishing Job. This is where we find Job today, despairing and about to lose hope. But as we see the story unfold, God himself enters the dialogue with Job and reminds him that it is not Job’s place to understand God’s ways. God created the universe, not Job and Job is not meant to fully understand it. Job’s suffering, even though he was an upright man, fall into this realm of mystery; it is God’s way, not his way. Job finally realizes this and humbly bows in reverence before God (Job 42:6). The concluding narrative reveals that Job’s life is reversed, God rewards Job by removing his suffering completely. Job receives twice the amount of fortunes he had before and God blesses him with 7 sons and 3 daughters.

So how, you might ask, does Job’s story relate to us? Well, his story IS our story too. That is where the psalm and the Gospel weave Job into our bigger story. Job himself suffered greatly, but at the end of the day God rewarded his humility, faith, and prayer by removing his suffering and blessing him. Jesus wants to do the same thing for us today, amidst our own sufferings, whatever they might be. The Lord is the one who heals the brokenhearted, the wounded, those who suffer as we prayed so beautifully in the psalm. Jesus wants to heal us! Job’s story ends with his healing and blessing by God, but the Gospel reveals that there is more to the story than that for us.

In the Gospel there are four different movements that show this to us.

  1. Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law.
  2. Simon’s mother-in-law responds in service.
  3. The disciples bring the whole town to Jesus to be healed.
  4. Jesus goes throughout all of Galilee preaching and driving out demons.

Firstly, we see that Jesus himself is moved by the suffering he sees around him and immediately when he learns that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever he grasps her hand and heals her. He desires to heal her, as he also desires to heal us. This leads directly into the second movement: Simon’s mother-in-law responds to Jesus’ healing by serving them; in other words she responds in discipleship, which is the Christian response to Jesus’ healing in our lives. What I find incredibly interesting is in the original language that the bible was written in, Greek, the word used to describe her response to Jesus’ healing is “διακονέι”, which comes from the Greek verb “διακονέω”, which literally means “to serve.” This is the same Greek word that the English word “deacon” comes from, which is incredibly personal for me because this is the same radical discipleship I now live out through my ordination to the diaconate, which many of you were present for. And I, like Simon’s mother-in-law have experienced Jesus’ healing in my own life; I have experienced God’s healing through prayer and the sacraments, especially through the sacrament of reconciliation, and I am responding to God by laying down my life in discipleship, as a deacon and as a future priest. This is the same response of service that Simon’s mother-in-law had. And so we move on, then, to the third movement in the Gospel. The whole town was brought to Jesus to be healed and Mark tells us that Jesus “cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons.” (Mk 1:34). Jesus didn’t just want to heal Simon’s mother-in-law but he wants to heal all those in the town who were also sick. Jesus’ healing is not limited; he healed the whole town in addition to Simon’s mother-in-law. This outward attitude of Jesus flows into the fourth movement in the Gospel, Jesus wants to go out to all of Galilee to preach, heal, and drive out demons, which he does; Jesus wants to heal the whole world. And Jesus ultimately does this because in his death on the cross he brings all of us, not just all of Galilee, but all of humanity, fully back into relationship with God, our heavenly Father. This is the ultimate healing of sinful humanity, administered by Jesus; He takes on sin itself for us in order to heal us and to redeem us. He suffers the punishment of sin, which is Death, for us. This is a punishment we all deserve because of our sinfulness but Jesus takes on this punishment for us so that we do not have to. This is at the core of why Jesus became man. His life and death accomplishes our salvation. Through Jesus each and every one of our souls is restored to a personal relationship with God. And very often we take this crucial truth for granted and think it’s this just a nice thing that Jesus does but doesn’t affect us personally. But if we really take to heart that Jesus heals us spiritually, it should draw out of us a response of supreme gratitude and love, the same response that Simon’s mother-in-law had, discipleship. And this can mean being a deacon or a priest, like myself or Fr. Cliff, or also being a religious sister, like Sr. Carol. But it can also mean being a good and loving father or mother to a beautiful family. It could also mean being a missionary proclaiming the Gospel to a third world country, OR even being a missionary proclaiming the Gospel in the day to day jobs here in the Powder River Basin, at the coal mines or in a job here in Gillette. Discipleship means following God first in you life, no matter where you are and no matter what job you have. And we can’t help but respond to God in this way because He heals and loves us first (cf. 1 John 4).

And so my friends, I want to encourage you: If you find yourself in Job’s position of thinking you’ll never see happiness again because of your suffering, remember it isn’t the end of your story! Remember that Jesus wants to heal you and He does heal you through His sacrifice on the cross. Know that Jesus is always with you amidst suffering and will always heal your soul when you reach out to him. And the healing that Jesus gives us is accessible to all through His sacraments and in a special way through the Eucharist and the Sacraments of Confession and Anointing of the Sick. Which, in turn, prompt from us a response of gratitude and love, in discipleship. And so, my friends, as we approach the Eucharist today I encourage you to ask Jesus to heal you in whatever area of your life you need it most. And, in gratitude and love, respond to God’s generosity by serving Him in all that you do in every aspect of your life.