4th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Feb 4, 2019
Today I will close out the series of homilies I’ve been giving on the family. Since just after Christmas I’ve been preaching a series I’ve called, “Secrets of Every Happy Family”. In this series we’ve been examining the qualities and characteristics of happy families and how we can put them into practice to make our own families happier.
I’ll be on vacation next week and Fr. Tom Lopes, a retired priest of the diocese will be covering for me. Please welcome Fr. Lopes next weekend. The week after that Deacon Joe Mador will preach at all the masses.
The next series of homies will begin on the first Sunday of Lent. This new series of homilies I’ve entitled, “From Maintenance to Mission”. Lent is the season when we are called to take time for some reflection on our faith and where we need to grow in it so that we can live out our baptismal call to be Jesus’ faithful disciples. During the Lenten series I’ll be unveiling for you some of my plans to move Holy Redeemer Church from just getting by, just treading water to one where members are excited about growing in discipleship. I hope that prospect enlivens you and that you will plan to be with us to hear all about our plans for the future. Lent is a good time to invite people whose faith has grown cold to come back to church. Plan to invite family members, friends and neighbors back to church to hear the homily series, From Maintenance to Mission, so they too can renew their commitment to discipleship.
Every unhappy families is unhappy in their own way. Happy families are happy in the same ways. These last few weeks we’ve been discussing the fact that happy families seem to have the same basic characteristics. While these qualities are many, I’ve told you about three basic ones that are the most important.
First, happy families recognize that family life can get messy at times. Since no one is perfect there are no perfect families. Every family is dysfunctional at times because members have faults and foibles. Every family has some people who are problematic. No matter how happy a family might be. At times members hurt each other or cause conflict with other family members. Happy families realize that and they are prepared for it. They treat those situations with grace and compassion.
Happy families are built on mutual respect. That respect begins with reverence for God’s authority over the whole family. They recognize that God is the ultimate head of the family and the family works together to please God. There is respect between spouses in happy families. Happy families recognize that every member is responsible for respecting every other member. Respect is everyone’s job.
The third secret of a happy family is that they recognize that they are part of a bigger picture. Cordial family life isn’t just about them. Their happiness they realize has an effect not just on them but their neighborhood, church community, in fact the whole of society. They recognize that their family wellbeing extends beyond themselves.
Three weeks ago, I spoke about the important influence fathers have on the family. I told you that fathers have the responsibility to bless their family and show them encouragement. Children naturally have a desire to please their father and gain his approval. It is the father’s role to encourage their children so they can enter the world with confidence. The next week I spoke about the role of the mother. Their role is to prepare children for the world and then to release them into the world to use their God given gifts to productive results.
Wrapping up this series today I would like to return to last week’s message and expand upon it. Last week and again today the second readings come from Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians. Corinth was one of the most important cities in the Mediterranean world of Paul’s day. It is located at the head of the Gulf of Corinth and was a very important trade center. It was a very cosmopolitan city. Paul established an important Christian community there and visited it three times.
Although it was an important church it tended to be very dysfunctional. Despite Paul trying to teach them the gospel the community had a great deal of trouble actually living out Christian principles. They were splitting into factions along economic and social differences. They were developing different groups that were loyal to different preachers who visited the community. There were some seriously sinful behaviors going on too. See even the early Church had its problems. The Corinthians wrote to Paul asking for advice on how to become a more loving family.
In response Paul wrote one of the most popular sections of scripture which we heard today. The 13th Chapter of Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians you probably recognize because it is so popular as a Bible reading at weddings. In my experience I think 95 % of couples chose it as a reading for their wedding Mass.
Paul begins by very poetically telling the Corinthians about the importance of love for a happy community. He tells them that it doesn’t matter what other great gifts and talents they may have if they don’t have love it is useless. They might be great prophets. They could be very generous with material gifts. They can have the physical strength to move mountains but if they don’t love they are worthless.
That is the same for our families. We can live in a beautiful home worthy of a spread of pictures in Chatham Magazine but if that home isn’t filed with love it is stone cold. We can take the family out to eat at Stars Restaurant at the CBI and have an expensive, lavish meal but if our family isn’t loving and are at each other throats we will only get indigestion. It won’t be a pleasant occasion. We can take our whole family on a Viking Cruise down the most beautiful rivers of Europe but no one will enjoy that time together without love for each other. It will in fact be full of stress unless we are a loving, happy family.
Often, we can’t love our family because we aren’t properly equipped to do so. It isn’t really our fault but try as we might we aren’t really equipped to love our family as we desire. We aren’t prepared to love our family because the kind of love we have for them isn’t the right kind of love.
There are many different kinds of love. Unfortunately, our English language isn’t really equipped to differentiate among them. The kind of love we often have for our families is called affection. Affection is a sense of emotional attachment and fondness we have for family members and friends. It comes about from our shared experiences together. It is often governed more though by social norms than genuine heartfelt feelings. It often comes about from the expectations of society. Affection isn’t enough to make our families really loving ones.
To really be a loving family we need to have what the scriptures call agape. Agape comes from Greek and describes a deep heartfelt self-giving love. Agape comes only from God’s gift of grace. Grace is God’s unmerited love for us. It isn’t something magic. We can’t buy it or develop it on our own with a self-help book. We don’t come to deserve grace because we try to live good lives. Grace comes generously from God.
Last week I explained that to receive God’s gift of grace we have to be properly positioned to receive it. If you’re old enough you might remember the days before WiFi, fiber optics and cable. In those days, TVs had bunny ears or an antenna on the roof to catch TV signals. From time to time that antenna had to be adjusted so that the signal could come in clearly. It had to be properly positioned to get a clear picture and voice on the television.
It is the same way with God’s grace. Last week I spoke of the ways we can position ourselves to receive God’s gift of grace. We position ourselves properly to receive God’s grace by good spiritual practices and habits. The most important of those spiritual practices is faithful attendance at weekend Mass. To be effectively positioned to receive God’s grace we need to come together with the faithful every week. We need to come to ask for forgiveness of our sins, listen to God’s instruction in sacred scripture and the homily and to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. There is no greater responsibility for us as Catholics and no greater spring of grace for our lives than right here at Mass.
To take full advantage of this source of God’s loving grace we need to do more than just show up. We need to participate in the liturgy. That means we come to church early enough to quiet our hearts so that we can keep distractions from causing us to lose our focus during Mass. We need to respond to the prayers and other liturgical actions. We must raise our voices, no matter their quality, in song. To receive the fullness of God’s grace we can’t be so anxious to leave that we don’t stay to the end of Mass to enjoy God’s final blessing from the priest at the end of Mass.
We supplement our weekly participation at Mass with prayer. We are able to position ourselves to be receptive to God’s grace by taking time, even only ten minutes a day, in prayer. That can be reading from the Bible, saying a Rosary, doing some spiritual reading or listening to Christian music. When we focus on God for anytime at all during our day, we are growing in the grace that will help us in our efforts to become a happy family. This week develop your own strategy to open your heart to God’s grace so you can improve family life.
In the second half of today’s second reading Paul gets poetic. He tells us what grace filled self-giving love is and isn’t like. He gives us some down to earth, practical qualities of love. Paul says love is patient and kind. He isn’t only talking about being patient in frustrating circumstances but with frustrating people. That means controlling our road rage and stifling our sarcasm at the dinner table.
The apostle tells the Corinthians that if they want to practice really self-giving love, they need to give up being jealous, pompous, inflated and rude. This means they have to open themselves to real lifestyle changes. They need to be open to conversion deep in their hearts.
To allow the type of conversion Jesus calls us to Paul says we need to give up brooding over injuries. Now that is a tough one! You probably have heard the joke, “What are the symptoms of an Irishman with Alzheimer’s?” … He forgets everything but his grudges.” I’m sure that isn’t only a characteristic of the Irish but of every ethnic group. Giving up grudges and living in love with even those who have seriously hurt us is very difficult. It is something I know I really have to pray to be able to do.
Paul seems to be asking the Corinthians to really make a commitment to being loving. He asks them to commit to loving all things. He seems to be asking a lot of them. But at another level it is really easier. At another level it is actually easier to try to live in God’s love and grace in all things. Having an attitude that we want to practice love in our families and in all of our relationships is easier than wasting our energy on negativity. It takes much more work and energy to invest in anger, annoyance and impatience than in just love.
Today God want to offer you the gift of grace so that you can make offering self-giving love to your family and all your relationships your default position. This Eucharist we are about to celebrate together is the source and summit of God’s grace. It is the fountain where we can receive the strength to live all our days in love not with only our immediate family but the family that is the Kingdom of God in heaven.