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, Monday 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 2018, 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.
Thirdly, on January 1, 2018, we celebrate the 51st World Day of Peace. Imagine—for fifty years we have been praying for a real and lasting peace and have supposedly been working toward that end, yet today we find ourselves worried about a possible nuclear confrontation with North Korea or several other nations, we are witnessing uprising between the Israelis and the Palestinians, we fear bouts of terrorism both at home and abroad, and we experience all kinds of violence in our neighborhoods and on our streets—to name just a few issues in our midst. Despite these situations, we must never give up. We truly believe that Jesus Christ came to bring peace and not the sword, but it is up to each of us to become beacons of light and peacemakers in our own unique ways.
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 “Migrants and Refugees: Men and Women in Search of Peace.” As I have done in previous years, I offer some of his thoughts for your consideration and reflection.
Heartfelt Good Wishes for Peace
Peace to all people and to all nations on earth! Peace, which the angels proclaimed to the shepherds on Christmas night, is a profound aspiration for everyone, for each individual and all peoples, and especially for those who most keenly suffer its absence. Among those whom I constantly keep in my thoughts and prayers, I would once again mention the over 250 million migrants worldwide, of whom 22.5 million are refugees. Pope Benedict XVI, my beloved predecessor, spoke of them as “men and women, children, young and elderly people, who are searching for somewhere to live in peace.” In order to find that peace, they are willing to risk their lives on a journey that is often long and perilous, to endure hardships and suffering, and to encounter fences and walls built to keep them far from their goal.
In a spirit of compassion, let us embrace all those fleeing from war and hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands.
We know that it is not enough to open our hearts to the suffering of others. Much more remains to be done before our brothers and sisters can once again live peacefully in a safe home. Welcoming others requires concrete commitment, a network of assistance and goodwill, vigilant and sympathetic attention, the responsible management of new and complex situations that at times compound numerous existing problems, to say nothing of resources, which are always limited. By practicing the virtue of prudence, government leaders should take practical measures to welcome, promote, protect, integrate and, “within the limits allowed by a correct understanding of the common good, to permit them to become part of a new society. Leaders have a clear responsibility towards their own communities, whose legitimate rights and harmonious development they must ensure, lest they become like the rash builder who miscalculated and failed to complete the tower he had begun to construct….
Four Mileposts for Action
Offering asylum seekers, refugees, migrants and victims of human trafficking an opportunity to find peace they seek requires a strategy combing four actions: welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating.
“Welcoming” calls for expanding legal pathways for entry and no longer pushing migrants and displaced people towards countries where they face persecution and violence. It also demands balancing our concerns about national security with concern for fundamental human rights. Scripture reminds us: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Heb 13:2).
“Protecting” has to do with our duty to recognize and defend the inviolable dignity of those who flee real dangers in search of asylum and security, and to prevent their being exploited. I think in particular of women and children who find themselves in situations that expose them to risks and abuses that can even amount to enslavement. God does not discriminate: “The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the orphan and the widow” (Ps 146:9).
“Promoting” entails supporting the integral human development of migrants and refugees. Among many possible means of doing so, I would stress the importance of ensuring access to all levels of education for children and young people. This will enable them not only to cultivate and realize their potential, but also better equip them to encounter others and to foster a spirit of dialogue rather than rejection or confrontation. The Bible teaches that God “loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Dt 10:18-19).
“Integrating,” lastly, means allowing refugees and migrants to participate fully in the life of the society that welcomes them, as part of a process of mutual enrichment and fruitful cooperation in service of the integral human development of the local community. Saint Paul expresses it in these words: “You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people” (Eph 2:19).
A Proposal for two International Compacts
It is my heartfelt hope this spirit will guide the process that in the course of 2018 will lead the United Nations to draft and approve two Global Compacts, one for safe, orderly and regular migration and the other for refugees. As shared agreements at a global level, these compacts will provide a framework for policy proposals and practical measures. For this reason, they need to be inspired by compassion, foresight and courage, so as to take advantage of every opportunity to advance the peace-building process. Only in this way can the realism required of international politics avoid surrendering to cynicism and to the globalization of indifference.
Dialogue and coordination are a necessity and a specific duty for the international community. Beyond national borders, higher numbers of refugees may be welcomed—or better welcomed—also by less wealthy countries, if international cooperation guarantees them the necessary funding.
The Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development has published a set of twenty action points that provide concrete leads for implementing these four verbs in public policy and in the attitudes and activities of Christian communities. The aim of this and other contributions is to express the interest of the Catholic Church in the process leading to the adoption of the two U.N. Global Compacts. This interest is a sign of a more general pastoral concern that goes back to the very origins of the Church and has continued in her many works up to the present time.
For our Common Home
Let us draw inspiration from the words of Saint John Paul II: “If the ‘dream’ of a peaceful world is shared by all, if the refugees’ and migrants’ contribution is properly evaluated, then humanity can become more and more a universal family and our earth a true ‘common home.’” Throughout history, many have believed in this ‘dream,’ and their achievements are a testament to the fact that it is no mere utopia.
If you would like to read Pope Francis’ entire message, google “Message for World Day of Peace 2018.”
I would also call your attention to a special Mass presided by Cardinal Blasé J. Cupich on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 7, 2018, at Holy Name Cathedral at 5:15 P.M. This Mass surely fits in with the themes of Pope Francis’ Message for the World Day of Peace and helps all of us to begin National Migration Week, “Many Journeys, One Family,” which is celebrated by the Catholic Church in the United States from January 7-13, 2018.
FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY
Family is a wonderful thing. But many of us also know the pain and suffering of family life. Today’s Scripture readings invite us to reflect on biblical families, in particular the Holy Family, so that we can see what holds them together through times of trouble—faith in God who is always faithful. In the First Reading, we hear Abram complaining about how God promised him a horde of descendants, but, as an old man, he still does not have a single son. In spite of Abram’s rudeness, God simply repeats his promise of many descendants. Abram responds in faith, and God gives him a son, Isaac. The Abraham stories remind us how hard it is for humans to trust in God’s faithfulness.
The Second Reading reinforces this theme of faith and faithfulness by recalling the stories of Abraham in a repeated pattern reminiscent of a litany, each section beginning with the words “by faith.” The author of this letter finds Abraham’s faith exemplary since even when he could not see God’s promise fully realized, he still believed.
In the Gospel, we hear about Mary and Joseph traveling with the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. Luke portrays them as people of deep faith since Jewish Law did not require them to come to Jerusalem to perform this sacrifice. Because of their poverty, instead of the year-old lamb prescribed in the Law, they brought a poor woman’s offering—two pigeons. Yet their trust in God’s faithfulness was genuine.
The Church considers today’s Gospel as she acts in the world. At the beginning of the Second Vatican Council document Lumen gentium, the Church Fathers proclaim, “Christ is the Light of Nations!” The authors of this document go on to state, “Because this is so, this Sacred Synod gathered together in the Holy Spirit eagerly desires, by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature, to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church” (#1).
As prescribed in the Jewish Law, Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple, along with an offering. Traveling to the temple was likely a financial and physical hardship for the couple, but since their life centered on God, they did not shrink the duty to bring their son up in the faith. The Vatican II document Gaudium et spes relates the value of a family life that has faith at its core. It states: “As a result, with their parents leading the way by example and family prayer, children and indeed everyone gathered around the family hearth will find a readier path to human maturity, salvation and holiness. Graced with the dignity and office of fatherhood and motherhood, parents will energetically acquit themselves of a duty which devolves primarily on them, namely, education and especially religious education” (#48).
For Your Reflection: How did your family members show you that faith matters? The reading from St. Paul provides a litany of what St. Paul has done “by faith.” Reflect on your litany of what you have done by faith. When have you trusted in God in the midst of a hardship?
A CHUCKLE FOR NEW YEAR’S
After registering for his high school classes, a youngster burst into the house, filled with excitement. “Dad,” he announced in one breath, “I got all the classes I wanted. But I have to have my school supplies by tomorrow. I need a protractor and a compass for geometry, a dictionary for English, a dissecting kit for biology—and a car for driver’s ed!”