the holy family: blood and water

Posted By on Dec 31, 2017

As I was preparing my homily for this feast, the old phrase “Blood is thicker than water” kept coming to my mind, but in a negative way. I assume the saying means that our family ties, at least with our blood relations, are the strongest ones––but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I say this in no way to denigrate the nuclear family, but if you think about it, the marriage bond, the very heart of the nuclear family, isn’t a bond of blood; it’s a bond of choice, an act of the will. Think of Joseph: he wasn’t blood related to either Mary or Jesus! I was reading an article in the New York Times recently that was recounting what a common phenomenon it actually is for people to be estranged from a member of their family, even a parent, even sometimes estranged from their entire family. I realized at one point that my own life and interests had grown so vastly different from my own family that if I was going to have a relationship with them as an adult, I was going to have to choose it, and cultivate it. Is blood really thicker than water? The water symbolizes Baptism to me, but first of all the “baptism of desire,” if I may misuse that phrase. The strongest relationships may be the ones we desire, the ones we choose, the ones we will. Baptism, of course, is also a symbol of the spiritual life, and I have found that by now my friends and companions in the spiritual life, who I easily refer to as brothers and sisters, know me as well as or even better than my parents or my sisters. Not only do they know what kind of snacks I like, they know when I’m tense and need a break, they know what topics really set me on fire and where my deepest sadness comes from. In this way, the water––the water of spiritual initiation––is a mighty strong bond, thicker even than blood. Even Jesus would say the same thing; once when he was told that his mother and brothers were waiting for him outside, he said, ‘Whoever hears the Word of God and keeps it is brother, sister, mother to me.’ There’s a sub-theme to the story of the Presentation in the Temple that we hear this year for the Feast of the Holy Family that is easy to overlook, and that is its Eucharistic aspect. All throughout the infancy narratives, Saint Luke does a marvelous job of weaving together themes and allusions from the Hebrew Scriptures. And in this scene with Simeon...

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For about the past 12,000 years, since the Ice Age, the Earth has been in the geological era that scientists call the Holocene. I’m not sure you’ve noticed but it’s been a relatively stable period with remarkably stable temperature range. It’s within this period that all of human civilization developed and spread across the planet, especially in the past five thousand years. With the growth of civilizations, however, humanity has actually wound up shaping the environment more than we have been shaped by it. In fact, some anthropologists and geologists believe we human beings have altered the environment to such a degree that by some time in the 1950s we had entered a whole “new epoch in the geological time scale,”[i] a new era, a new age. The International Geological Congress was held in Cape Town, South Africa in 2016. And during that meeting a working group of geologists voted to recommend an official recognition of this new epoch, and they adopted a term that a Nobel laureate named Paul Crutzen had come up with: the Anthropocene Era. You will recognize the Greek root anthropos––which means “of or related to the human beings.” What we mean by “Anthropocene” is that at this point in the history of the universe our very choices as human beings and our actions based on those choices are affecting the course of evolution! As a matter of fact, the force of natural selection (or evolution) has in some sense been superseded by human choice. Through our decisions and our actions based on those decisions, we human beings are changing the very trajectory of evolution in a way that no other species possibly could. Whether we know it or not, we are deciding which pathways of evolution will be shut off forever, and which can flourish. I have mostly heard this described as a bad thing because of all the problems that stem from our ever growing population of now over 7.5 billion souls: industrial and other development that leads to increased resource use especially the overuse of fossil fuels, and leaves behind toxic chemicals and plastic wastes, as well as a reduction of wild lands and the killing off of wildlife in the world by half, to the point of what is being called the Sixth Extinction, that could result in 75 per cent of species going extinct by the end of the century. This is obviously the negative aspect of the Anthropocene, and the consequent need for conversion that Pope Francis addressed in his now famous encyclical Laudato Sì. Some folks on the other hand, like so many young people I meet who...

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the child and the refining fire

Posted By on Dec 23, 2017

We hear this beautiful tender story of the birth of John the Baptist today, the last day of Advent, from the Gospel of Luke (1:57-66), but first we hear a powerful reading from the prophet Malachi (3:1-4, 23-24) that is a sort of warning about what John the Baptist is going to be like later in life. He is going to be like a refining fire and a fuller’s soap, cleansing the children of Levi! Remember, John makes the people go outside of the Promised Land to the other side of the River Jordan to be baptized and then re-enter, purified, ready to receive the New Covenant. We have seen in the last few days not only how Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecies, but also how John the Baptist is. Luke does such a wonderful job of weaving images from the Hebrew prophets into his infancy narrative. The things we heard about Samson the other day from the book of Judges (13:2-7, 23-24), for example, and in the reading from Malachi today––‘He will drink neither wine nor strong drink,’ and ‘in the Spirit and power of Elijah’––were repeated by the angel Gabriel to Zechariah concerning his son about to be born. Even Hannah’s song of praise yesterday, which is pretty much an exact replica of Psalm 112, is not only a foreshadowing of Mary’s Magnificat; it is in response to the story of Hannah giving birth to Samuel (1 Sam 1:24-28), who is also sort of a foreshadowing of John the Baptizer. Then Luke presents all these parallels: John is announced, Jesus is announced; John is born, Jesus is born; Mary sings, Zechariah sings. And the people are amazed at John’s birth and ask the awed question: “What will this child turn out to be?” And later the shepherds are amazed. Luke is at pains to present Jesus and John as parallels. And there is another parallel too: I’ve heard it said that the wood of the cradle becomes the wood of the cross. John the Baptist is born, it seems, for glory. Indeed the hand of the Lord is upon him. But it’s a terrible thing sometimes for the hand of the Lord to be upon you! Like Jesus’ own kenosis, John’s real glory is going to be that he points away from himself. His real glory was that he decreased so that Christ would increase. His real glory was that he knew he was not the one, but only preparing the way for the one. Even up to the macabre story of his own beheading and being offered up on a tray, his self-offering is presented...

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