We gather this weekend with many thoughts and concerns on our minds. First of all, this weekend we think about our families as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. It is all too easy for us to overly idealize the Holy Family by forgetting that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were truly human in every respect. In their humanity they had to appreciate the gifts and talents of each while also respecting the differences from each one’s personality. I suspect that they got on each other’s nerves from time to time. Don’t you think Mary perhaps got a bit stressed at Joseph when he failed to leave his carpenter shop on time in order to arrive at the dinner table while Mary had the meal hot? Maybe Mary was once in a while a little late for when they had decided to leave for the Temple or the synagogue. And we know that Jesus encountered a distressed Mary and Joseph when he stayed behind at the Temple when he was twelve in order to listen to and to engage the teachers of the Law. But they no doubt worked these things through and did not let them simmer and become extremely problematic in their household.
The same is true for our families today. We need to grow in respect for each other, to learn how each person has a part to play in making family life not only tolerable but actually lovable and wholesome. Husbands and wives need to deepen their love for each other on a daily basis and grow intimately in relationship year after year. Fathers and mothers must take their responsibility seriously as parents, which means that they look to the physical, emotional, psychological, social and spiritual wellbeing of their children. Sometimes this will require correcting them and offering them the example of their very lives. It means providing for their secular as well as their religious education, helping to form their consciences and assuring their upbringing in faith and morals. It means at times being referees between siblings and offering sage advice. Good families are the backbone of a great society always, but in many ways more necessary now than ever before.
Secondly, Tuesday we celebrate New Year’s Day—another year beginning that will play such an important role for each of us individually and for all of us as a nation and internationally. It’s a time for us to take stock, to reflect on what all has transpired in the past year, to set directions for 2019, to focus on our goals and dreams, and to decide what our priorities will be. Some people might put down the making of resolutions in this regard since we probably know we have made them and broken them before, but unless we try to be specific and practical, we will most likely just labor along as we have done previously and find life burdensome and hectic. I really encourage you to set aside some time to start this New Year on the right note so that you will accomplish some truly exciting things in the next twelve months.
Also this New Year brings together many hopes and dreams but also perhaps memories of past hurts, losses of friendships, and crosses borne. While these are real and must be owned, still we do not want them to dominate our lives. We also enter a new year for our nation in the midst of toil and turmoil. This will be a year when hopefully we all work together in order to preserve our democracy, to shore up our central values that have made us a great nation, that we once again be willing to take our place as a leader of nations while bolstering at home our concern for the poor, our welcoming of our immigrant brothers and sisters, our outreach to the mentally ill and to those who have become addicted to drugs, and our environmental concern for the good of the planet. Let’s hope and pray that our Senators and Representatives in Congress will work more successfully to pass legislation based on the common good rather than on purely ideological and/or political concerns. Let us emphasize what we all can do to keep us together rather than emphasize what divides and keeps us apart.
Thirdly, on January 1, 2019, we celebrate the 52nd World Day of Peace. Imagine—for more than fifty years we have been praying for a real and lasting peace and have supposedly been working toward that end. Each year at this time the Pope sends a message to the entire world in which he offers both a commentary on the world situation and suggestions for peace building. This year Pope Francis’ letter is entitled “Good Politics is at the Service of Peace.” As I have done in previous years, I offer some of his thoughts for your consideration and reflection.
“Peace Be to this House!”
In sending his disciples forth on mission, Jesus told them: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you” (Lk 10:5-6).
Bringing peace is central to the mission of Christ’s disciples. That peace is offered to all those men and women who long for peace amid the tragedies and violence that mark human history. The “house” of which Jesus speaks is every family, community, country and continent, in all their diversity and history. It is first and foremost each individual person, without distinction or discrimination. But it is also our “common home”: the world in which God has placed us and which we are called to care for and cultivate.
The Challenge of Good Politics
Peace is like the hope which the poet Charles Peguy celebrated. It is like a delicate flower struggling to blossom on the stony ground of violence. We know that the thirst for power at any price leads to abuses and injustice. Politics is an essential means of building human community and institutions, but when political life is not seen as a form of service to society as a whole, it can become a means of oppression, marginalization and even destruction.
Jesus tells us that, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9:35). In the words of Pope Paul VI, “to take politics seriously at its different levels—local, regional, national and worldwide—is to affirm the duty of each individual to acknowledge the reality and value of the freedom offered him to work at one and the same time for the good of the city, the nation and all mankind.”
Political office and political responsibility thus constantly challenge those called to the service of their country to make every effort to protect those who live there and to create the conditions for a worthy and just future. If exercised with basic respect for the life, freedom and dignity of persons, political life can indeed become an outstanding form of charity.
Charity and Human Virtues: the Basis of Politics at the Service of Human Rights and Peace
Pope Benedict XVI noted that “every Christian is called to practice charity in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the polis. When animated by charity, commitment to the common good has greater worth than a merely secular and political stand would have….Man’s earthly activity, when inspired and sustained by charity, contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the history of the human family.” This is the program on which all politicians, whatever their culture or religion, can agree, if they wish to work together for the good of the human family and to practice those human virtues that sustain all sound political activity: justice, equality, mutual respect, sincerity, honesty, fidelity.
In this regard, it may be helpful to recall the “Beatitudes of the Politician” proposed by Vietnamese Cardinal Francois-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, a faithful witness to the Gospel who died in 2002:
Blessed be the politician with a lofty sense and deep understanding of his role.
Blessed be the politician who personally exemplifies credibility.
Blessed be the politician who works for the common good and not his or her own interest.
Blessed be the politician who remains consistent.
Blessed be the politician who works for unity.
Blessed be the politician who works to accomplish radical change.
Blessed be the politician who is capable of listening.
Blessed be the politician who is without fear….
Sadly, together with its virtues, politics has its share of vices, whether due to personal incompetence or to flaws in the system and its institutions. Clearly, these vices detract from the credibility of political life overall, as well as the authority, decisions and actions of those engaged in it. These vices, which undermine the ideal of an authentic democracy, bring disgrace to public life and threaten social harmony. We think of corruption in its varied forms: the misappropriation of public resources, the exploitation of individuals, the denial of rights, the flouting of community rules, dishonest gain, the justification of power by force or the arbitrary appeal to raison d’etat and the refusal to relinquish power. To which we can add xenophobia, racism, lack of concern for the natural environment, the plundering of natural resources for the sake of quick profit and contempt for those forced into exile.
Good Politics Promotes the Participation of the Young and Trust in Others
When the exercise of political power aims only at protecting the interests of a few privileged individuals, the future is compromised, and young people can be tempted to lose confidence since they are relegated to the margins of society without the possibility of helping to build the future. But when politics concretely fosters the talents of young people and their aspirations, peace grows in their outlook and on their faces. It becomes a confident assurance that says, “I trust you and with you I believe” that we can all work together for the common good. Politics is at the service of peace if it finds expression in the recognition of the gifts and abilities of each individual.
Everyone can contribute his or her stone to help build the common home. Authentic political life, grounded in law and in frank and fair relations between individuals, experiences renewal whenever we are convinced that every woman, man and generation brings the promise of new relational, intellectual, cultural and spiritual energies. That kind of trust is never easy to achieve, because human relations are complex, especially in our own times, marked by a climate of mistrust rooted in the fear of others or of strangers, or anxiety about one’s personal security. Sadly, it is also seen at the political level, in attitudes of rejection or forms of nationalism that call into question the fraternity of which our globalized world has such great need. Today more than ever, our societies need “artisans of peace” who can be messengers and authentic witnesses of God the Father, who wills the good and the happiness of the human family.
These words of Pope Francis are a clarion call to inspire us to do our part to make sure that our politicians at all levels: city, state, national and international are living up to these ideals and principles Pope Francis has highlighted. We need to make sure we take time to understand what individuals who are running for offices stand for and whether they have been trustworthy in the past. No one should be automatically re-elected without an examination of how they have conducted themselves while they held office. Those of us who live within the city of Chicago can apply these principles as we prepare to elect a new Mayor of our city in the near future.
If you would like to read Pope Francis’ entire message, simply google “Message for World Day of Peace 2019” into your computer.
FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY
Today we are invited to reflect on what it means to be part of God’s family. In the First Reading, we encounter the elderly Hannah, who had been grieving over and dealing with the shame that came with having no children. In desperation, she prayed to God for a son, whom she promised to consecrate to God for life, and indeed Hannah gave birth to a son. When it was time to take him to the temple at Shiloh, the family offered the appropriate sacrifice, and then Hannah—this oppressed woman who had no voice—spoke!
Careful attention should be given to her words. In the Gospel, we learn that the Holy Family went to Jerusalem for Passover. They journeyed in a caravan because it was the safest way to travel through the countryside. On their way home, when Mary and Joseph realize that their son was not with the caravan, they return to Jerusalem in a panic, only to find him teaching the elders in the Temple. Making the situation even more bizarre, Jesus tells them, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” In the ancient world and in some cultures today, childhood stories are regarded as predictors of the child’s destiny.
The Second Reading invites us to reflect on our status as God’s children and what it means for us when the salvation story reaches its end. The author of the First Letter of John reminds us that we are already, in this moment, children of God, but when all is fulfilled, we will experience the incomprehensible. We will see God face-to-face!
We hear in the Gospel that Mary “kept all these things in her heart.” Having been wrought with anxiety for days while looking for Jesus, Mary does not have a clear answer for his disappearance. She only knows that her son answered her distress with the query, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” She is left to ponder Jesus’ reply. In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis explains that Mary’s way of reflecting teaches the Church how to evangelize. He states: “There is a Marian ‘style’ to the Church’s work of evangelization. Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness. We realize that she who praised God for ‘bringing down the mighty from their thrones’ is also the one who brings a homely warmth to our pursuit of justice. She carefully keeps ‘all these things, pondering them in her heart.’ Mary is able to recognize the traces of God’s Spirit in events great and small” (#288).
For Your Reflection: In the reading from the First Book of Samuel, we hear that Hannah offered her son to God. What do you offer from your life? How does your parish help you realize your responsibilities as children of God? How have you been blessed as a child of God?
A CHUCKLE FOR THE NEW YEAR
A poodle and a collie were walking down the street. The poodle turned to the collie and complained, “My life is a mess. My owner is mean, my girlfriend is having an affair with a German shepherd, and I’m nervous as a cat.”
“Why don’t you go see a psychiatrist?” asked the collie.
“I can’t,” replied the poodle. I’m not allowed on the couch.”