3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Jan 27, 2019
Unhappy families are unhappy in their own way, but happy families are happy in the same ways. Over the last several weeks I been delivering a series of homilies on family life. I’ve called the series, “Secrets of Every Happy Family.” In them I’ve pointed out that while unhappy families each have a unique cause for their unhappiness. Happy families seem to follow the same formula or set of principles that make them happy. While these characteristics are many, I’ve focused on three.
The first principle is that happy families respond to the fact that family life gets messy at times. Even the best family is dysfunctional on occasion. Every family has a member or two that have faults and foibles. Every family has members that are flawed. Happy families recognize this and respond to it with grace and flexibility.
We heard how they do that in today’s second reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Paul was writing to a community of early Christians who were very dysfunctional. They were splitting into different factions along economic and social lines. They were dividing along the lines of loyalty to different preachers. Sinful behavior on the part of some members was also causing stress to the community.
The community had written a letter to Paul asking for his advice on how to overcome their strife. Paul points out that they need to follow the three principles I’ve been speaking about. He reminds them that they need to remember they are all one body of Christ. They need to respond to their problems with grace and flexibility. They aren’t rooted in parts but in the whole. They don’t all need to be the same and think the exact same way. There is room for diversity. He compares the community to a body. He tells them a body has different parts all contributing to the whole. Likewise, every member of the community contributes uniquely toward the wellbeing of the whole community. That is how happy families live. They recognize that every member has their own gifts and role to play. Everyone doesn’t need to be exactly alike as long as they remember they are all working towards the same goal.
The second mark of a happy family is that they all respect each other. This respect begins with reverence for God. Respect for God carries over to a respect for all family members, spouses, children and extended family members too. Paul points out the need for mutual respect when he describes how every body part depends on the other members of the body to function properly. No body part can claim primacy. They are all interdependent and are due mutual respect if the body is to function properly.
Paul also points out to the Corinthians the third secret of happy family life. That is that every happy family understands it is part of a bigger picture. They recognize that their family health influences not only their own family but the larger family of their community, nation and in fact the world. As every body part must be healthy for the whole body to be healthy so each family must be healthy for the community of nations to be truly healthy.
Two weeks ago, we looked at the role of fathers in happy families. Children in families are instinctively searching for their father’s approval and encouragement. It is the father’s role to bless and encourage their children often. It is his role to help them develop the confidence they need to face the world. Last week it was mothers turn and I told you that the role of the mother is to prepare the child for the world and to then have the courage to let them go out into the world to make their way. Happy families give each other encouragement and the freedom to live their own lives.
While these are some of the keys to a happy family life, they are often difficult to accomplish. It is difficult to really be a happy family. We don’t love our families as we would like to love them. In fact, we often find ourselves treating our family with less patience and understanding than we do our friends or even strangers. At times our family can even be difficult to be around and we are anxious to be away from them.
That is because the bonds we have for our family often isn’t real love. It is what we often referred to as affection. Affection is an emotional connection that is a fondness for our family. It comes about because of our natural relationship with them. Affection helps us to want to engage with family but it often isn’t enough to actually do it. It isn’t enough to help us really have the feelings of understanding to put into action our plan for a happy family. Feelings of affection aren’t enough to help us develop into happy families.
What we need to really love our family is more than affection. It is grace. Grace is the gift of unmerited favor from God. It is direct help from God that can’t be bought or learned from a self-help book. It is a free gift from God that isn’t earned. It isn’t something we deserve because of good behavior. Grace isn’t magic. God’s grace is a gift that transforms us and strengthens us to freely do God’s will. It is the fuel we need to live the fullness of life that God desires for all of us. It is the fuel from God to live as happy families.
While grace is a free gift from God it is something that we need to be properly positioned to receive from God. To receive grace from God we need to open ourselves to the gift. Today I’d like to explain two key ways that we can position ourselves so that we can be open to God’s grace to help us live as happy families.
Today’s first reading from the Book of the Nehemiah illustrates for us how we can position ourselves to receive God’s grace. The Book of Nehemiah was written about four hundred years before Jesus. It was a time when the Israelites were just returning to Jerusalem after decades of exile in Babylon. They had come back to the city and begun to rebuild their homes but not the city walls. For the people of that day city walls weren’t only for protection from enemies. They also were a physical sign of the unity of the people. If you lived within the city walls you symbolically belonged to a group or family of people. Nehemiah recognized that and set about leading the people to rebuild the city walls.
At the point of today’s reading the task has been accomplished and Nehemiah wants to celebrate. He recognizes the need to celebrate because while the new city walls have united the people physically, they aren’t united spiritually. They aren’t a united happy family of the People of God. So, Nehemiah declares a festival. He gathers all the people men, women and children old enough to understand. He holds a feast day that begins with the reading of the Torah or first five books of the Bible which included the Law of Moses and its interpretation.
The people listen to Ezra the priest as he reads the Law. They don’t listen passively but are engaged in their hearts with what they are hearing. They recognize how they have failed to live the way God wants them to live. They realize that they haven’t been living as a happy family. The people are sorrowful and begin to weep. Nehemiah tells then to stop their crying and be happy because a forgiving God will give them the gift of grace. Through God’s gift of grace, they will be able to conduct their lives so that they can be the happy, loving family of God. That good news causes the people to rejoice and they begin a great feast of joy.
That is the same purpose for our Mass each weekend. We come together as a family of God. We recognize that we aren’t always the happy family we should be. At the very beginning of Mass, we recognize that we have all failed to be as loving as we should during the past week. So, we express our sorrow as we begin every Mass. Then we set about listening to God’s word with engaged hearts. We listen so we can be instructed as to how to be open to God’s grace. That special ingredient that we need to live as a happy family. Having heard of God’s love and forgiveness in the readings and the homily we rejoice like the people of Nehemiah’s day. We rejoice and set about eating the great feast of the Eucharist. Then having received God’s grace we go out into the world filled with joy as a happy family.
At least that is our objective. Since coming to Holy Redeemer eighteen months ago I have been trying slowly but surely to make our Sunday liturgies joyful. I have been trying to make them not just something to get over and done with as quickly as possible but the high point of the week. We still have a way to go but we are working on it.
That is something I can’t do alone. To make our Sunday Masses truly a time when we become open to God’s grace to transform us and help us make our families happy ones, I need your help. You can help by making sure that you come to Mass every week. To become transformed into a happy family we need to be engaged with them all the time. No family can become a happy one unless everyone is present physically and spiritually. If we are only part of our family when we have nothing better to do then we can’t grow into a happy family. Attending Mass each weekend has to be our first priority. It can’t be something we attend only if the weather is nice but not a beach day. It has to come ahead of soccer practice, a football game, even our job. To be part of a happy family we need to invest in its success.
When we come to Mass we need to be engaged. We can’t allow distractions to make us diffident or uninvolved. If we never participate in the prayers. If we refuse to sing it isn’t going to work no matter how uplifting the celebrant tries to make it. Unless we open our hearts there is no way God’s grace is going to get into our souls no matter how hard God tries. God’s grace can change us and help make our family a happy family only if we are disposed to God’s transforming us. Coming to Mass every week and joyfully participating has to be a lifestyle choice.
The second way we position ourselves to be open to God’s grace is to recognize our need to grow in our faith. That growth in faith comes through prayer but also from coming together with other Catholics to learn more about our faith. Our study of the faith can’t end when our childhood religious education ends. We need to be reading and studying our faith all our life long.
This Lent the parish is taking some baby steps toward enhancing our adult faith formation program. On the Fridays of Lent, we will be reciting the customary Stations of the Cross at 4:30 in the afternoon. Each week a different parish group will recite a different version of the stations. It will be one that reflects the ministry they have here at Holy Redeemer. Following the stations, we will provide a simple soup supper and time for parish fellowship. After supper you will be invited to attend a short video presentation and time for discussion on a topic of our faith. It is our first attempt so please plan to come and give us some encouragement. You will receive a healthy dose of grace as a reward.
It is God’s freely give and abundant grace that is the key ingredient for the formation of happy families. That abundant, free gift of grace is what we will receive today in Communion. In just a few minutes God will share with us the real presence of Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Today accept this gift of grace with joy and anticipation so that you can use it this week to help transform your family into a truly happy one.