Is it too late to save our families and ourselves for God?
It is not easy proclaiming the Gospel in a secularized world – a world that is of diminished religious tone.
In a recent address, December 21, to the Cardinals and staffs of the Roman Curia at the Vatican, Pope Francis recalled that we are no longer living in a Christian world.
“Christendom no longer exists. Today, we are no longer the only ones who create culture, nor are we in the forefront or those most listened to … we are no longer living in a Christian world, because faith… is no longer an evident presupposition of social life; indeed, faith is often rejected, derided, marginalized and ridiculed… the faith used to be passed on within families and the example of parents; society too was inspired by Christian principles. Today, this transmission has been interrupted and our social context, if not anti-Christian, appears to be at least impermeable to the Christian faith. Hence the question … how to proclaim the Gospel where it is no longer known or recognized? It is pointless getting agitated. There is no need to get organized, or to make a noise. There’s no need for gimmicks or stratagems. In the mission of proclaiming the Gospel, you move because the Holy Spirit pushes you, and carries you. And when you arrive you realize that He has come before you and is waiting for you.”
“Proclaiming the Gospel,” adds the Pope, “does not consist in besieging others with apologetic speeches … in shouting in peoples’ faces. Even less is it necessary to fling the truths and doctrinal formulas on others as if they were stones … if people to whom it is addressed have no opportunity to meet and taste in some way God’s tenderness and His healing mercy… to facilitate, that is, make it easy not to put us in the way of Jesus’ desire to embrace everyone, to heal everyone, to save everyone.” Always aware that without Him we can do nothing.
With these thoughts of the Holy Father in mind, is it too late to save our families and ourselves for God? How about the evangelization of our households, our friendships. How about fervent practice of our faith for these times and every time. How about we men being intentional pastors of our households leading the way?
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If you’ve been reading news headlines recently, you’ll find more and more articles and opinions about what a Man is, or what it means to be a Man. Manhood simply is the qualities traditionally associated with men. How you’ve been raised, and your personal experiences, determine greatly your world view.
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Through this blog Bishop Perry and I contribute our own writing to the articles out there, however, from those we share with you on Twitter and the CMCS LinkedIn Page on what is being said through the lens of the many Catholic publications and blogs about the theology of manhood.
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As one husband and father of five children with one on the way openly testifies:
(In our families) “we see the beauty of a child’s faith and we see the immediate negative consequences of sin. There is little that can motivate a man to improve himself more than seeing his weakness imitated by his son. In the constant labor of family life, one either embraces the Cross and finds joy or one retreats to selfishness, shirks one’s responsibilities and accepts misery. The truth is that our vocation is labor and our spirituality must be one rooted in labor. Spending an hour trying to find a toddlers shoe, which for some inexplicable reason is never with its partner, is not a distraction from the life of holiness, it is where we find it! The laity is engaged in a struggle, a war that requires great labor and without spiritual fortitude and maturity it simply won’t be won.”
Dr. Andrew Jones, PhD, “Into the Battle: Finding Holiness and A Lost Shoe While We’re At It,” Lay Witness, Sept/Oct 2014.
Don’t you find it strange that in a world obsessed with communications via cell phones, IPhones, Skype and the Internet, it has never been harder to stay in touch, to build and maintain genuine intimacy. I’m not talking about that artificial contact found in bars or clubs where alcohol and atmosphere create the illusion that everyone is your buddy. I’m not talking about that superficial contact found in the members of the family popping in and out of the house picking up food off the stove or from the refrigerator but never taking the time to sit down and enjoy a meal together. I’m talking about real intimacy that lasts longer than the evanescent fumes of liquor and perfume, real intimacy that must be taken up after the gifts are unwrapped or exchanged back at the stores the day after. The kind of intimacy that takes time, demands sacrifice and intentional effort and is not circumvented by fear or disappointment, the kind of intimacy where each member of the family senses they are appreciated and respected.
This real intimacy I speak of puts other family members first and is willing to accept imperfection in ourselves and in our loved-ones. It is also open to work with challenge and change. This is the only kind of intimacy that keep couples and families together in the hard times as well as the good times.
It is indeed an honor to celebrate this sacred feast with you and to mark these festive days with worship proper to our lives. May the peace and warmth of the season wrap you and those who mean much to you within the embrace of God. May the turn of the calendar year mean another grace-filled twelve months for you and your loved ones with a wisdom that brings us closer to God.
Christmas as it has developed over the centuries touches some of the deepest strivings of the human spirit. We need something high caliber to give meaning to the mess we find in the world.
For several days we change the pace of our lives and dress ourselves not only in our material best but also in our best behavior for the feast. For Christmas reaches down to the very best that is in human nature. Christmas also reminds us of the very best that God wishes for us. After all, God gave us his best, his only Son, so that we might come to know Him and become sons and daughters like unto Him.
Christmas is a drama of the Divine dialectic, you might say, surfacing the many antitheses found in the human condition.
“Peace on earth and good will towards men.”
Mysteriously, once again, these festive days are haunted by political instabilities around the world that cause anxiety stirring the fiber of daily life. Jesus was born within turbulent times where an empire subjugated the known world of that day. The very race within which the Savior was born was a conquered people whose misfits were routinely crucified as a means to intimidate and to cruelly turn the stabbing knife of oppression.
We think of Christmas as a warm interlude of welcome this time each year. Regardless where we live, our images of Christmas involve families and friends gathered affectionately. And so it should be. We bring evergreens into our homes and apartments, real or artificial, and try to make them look as if they are snow or icicle laden. With good food and drink, hugs and kisses, together with all these things we try to create the image of tranquility, the image of happy connections with important people and events, the guise of peace – at least all the good things we desire above the struggle and failure found in our individual lives.
Religious Christmas greeting cards attempt to punctuate similar images. The scenes of Mary, Joseph and the Child are presented with warm glows and twinkling stars. The animals in the stable are clean and calm, the shepherds pastoral in appearance, the edge of their garments gold leafed and clean as any cleaners would make them; and the Wise Men majestic in their presentation of gifts and elegant in their robes with not a speck of desert sand or mud to be found on their vesture.
These scenes help us enjoy the intended effect of the once and coming of the Son of God but they do not mirror exactly the narrative that we find in the Gospels. But that’s alright. God understands our need to dream and to have dreams come true. Recall, God himself had a dream for the human race that we somehow lost grasp of.
The gospels describe a poor people in difficult times. Joseph and Mary are from Nazareth to the north, a small poor village no one would dream vacationing in. The Holy Family, as we call them, took a journey which was highly precarious. Typically, you had to travel in caravans or large groups or hire armed guards to travel with you to get through certain areas where robbers and muggers abounded. There was safety in numbers.
As Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem they find no place to stay. This is because the inns are filled with travelers due to the public census ordered by the emperor where everyone had to return to their ancestral towns and villages to register. Nothing about this was a holiday while it occurred.
It strikes me how unready so much was that first Christmas. The world was unready before the entrance of God’s gift to the world – unready in mind and mood, unready by guilt and sin. Is it possible that we might remedy each our own unreadiness in order to receive Him open-heartedly as it was meant to be that first Christmas?
In face of the world’s unreadiness shepherds are stirred as first witnesses of the Messiah’s birth. We have an idyllic picture of shepherds and their flocks. But, again, this was not the experience of the Gospel writers nor the picture they wished to paint. Shepherds were the lowest on the social pyramid, probably because they were rough dealing, rough talking and rough smelling. Society considered them nobodies.
Indeed, friends, had we been there we would have seen nothing of our Christmas in that first Christmas. That first Christmas was real. Ours is make-believe if not quite sanitized.
The gospel writer Matthew spruces up the story of Jesus birth with the arrival of the star-gazers (Wise Men) from the East who interpreted world events by studying the stars. Luke, on the other hand, wants us to see and feel the destitution, the hardship and the forgotten people of the land. Luke wants us to see the migrants and the homeless people in the travelers Joseph and Mary. He wants us to see the forgotten people of the world in the shepherds. He wants us to remember how desperately our world and many of its inhabitants needed God. Luke wants to teach that God purposefully sent his Son to us precisely when we were overcome by the mess that was in the world.
The biblical figures in today’s sacred narrative were people for whom life was hard. They lived many days with fear of starvation or harm by robbers or annihilation by an oppressive empire. We must find how we too are starved for things truly holy. We must face our own fears. These days can bring about a new peace on this earth that God wills for us despite — our mess.
So, truly, there is nothing glorious presented in the manner of Jesus’ birth. But, this is the writer Luke. Luke wishes us to see that God’s faithfulness is expressed precisely in our human events even when appearances seem to deny both God’s presence and His power. Even when we are beset with the mess of our individual lives, the mess in our families, the mess in our Church, the mess in our society and in other conditions around and about. If God is to be found anywhere, somewhere, we will find Him in the currents good and bad coursing through our lives, not in some Disney World-like reality. In deigning to take on human flesh to live and walk amongst us and show us the better way He graciously took on our mess. And it was our mess that killed him.
Despite it all we need Christmas. Had there been no Christmas we probably would have invented some semblance of it. For we human beings cry out for redemption from the awful mess that defines the world that we live in. We need a Savior to take us from all that has messed up our lives.
Luke, the author of the third gospel here, wants the world to remember that God promised to never abandon His people. Luke wants us to remember the ancient promises that He will be our shepherd, that God saves and will always save us from a messed up world. God keeps on saving if we can allow Him into our mess. The more we mess it up the more God pursues us to straighten it all out.
The prophet Isaiah in the passage (tonight) (from the midnight Mass), writes a hymn of coronation for a new born king of Israel centuries before Jesus’ birth. The scene then was, simply, leadership had failed in Israel. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had been conquered by Assyria. The people of Judah to the south were afraid the same thing would happen to them. Isaiah invokes the same ancient promises of God. For the scriptures tell us consistently God always gets us through the mess!
Our task this Christmas is to find our identity with the shepherds and with Joseph and Mary. Our task is to search out our own moral and spiritual unreadiness so that God can change it to readiness to receive Him this day and every day, to search and find our Savior within the incongruities of our situations.
Apart from God we too are homeless. Apart from God we are sinful. Apart from God we too are nobodies. Yet, today’s feast of the becoming flesh of God tells us in no uncertain terms that we are somebodies as far as God is concerned. We always have been precisely when we were unimpressed by God’s attention to us. Tonight, we have every reason to hope and to grasp the light of God.
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”
This Christmas, I think of God deigning to come down to wallow with us in our mess. Religion’s job is to highlight the contrasts, the dialectic found in life. On the other side of holiness is found our sinfulness. Opposite the purity of life preached to us is found impurity. Opposite the peace the world craves is found perpetual conflict. Opposite the rich is found the poor. Opposite humility is found reckless ambition. God’s coming intervenes in the mess we create struggling with the dialectic for we are frightened to find synthesis at the conclusion of the awful antithesis that is indicative of God’s Will to save. Christmas will be no more than cozy images if we cannot see the favor of God in our lives despite the nonsense we find in our lives and therefore in our world.
So, there’s nothing wrong with what we’ve done with Christmas in all its fascination and decoration or in all of its staging as long as we can recall what Christmas is meant to do – help us reach for the promises that one day the mess will be over and done with, for God’s redemption is at hand.
The shepherds and this expecting couple knew they needed God. At times we’re not sure that we need God. We allow ourselves to think that what we have we’ve earned through our own hard work. We often fail to notice God’s signature at the bottom corner of our life’s portrait.
Christmas is for the needy. Christmas is for those who dream and who hope, who desire the more that only God can provide. The poor and the hungry, those helpless to clean up their lives, the lowest of laborers, they are still with us in our contemporary world. Though we live better we are not much better. On Christmas we remember people in need and among them we must include ourselves.
These festive days don’t be afraid to do the God-talk your households and friendships need. And in the act of giving gifts make sure you invoke the name of the Christ child to loved-one or friend, this God-Child that inspires all we are and do. After all, it is His feast we celebrate.
R. Alleluia, alleluia. Show us, LORD, your love, and grant us your salvation. R. Alleluia, alleluia.
From today’s Gospel in Matthew [21:27], since through embarrassment on the one hand and fear on the other the religious authorities claim ignorance of the origin of John’s baptism, they show themselves incapable of speaking with authority; hence Jesus refuses to discuss with them the grounds of his authority.
As Catholic men, how important is it for us to respect authority? What type of leadership do we have with others, in the community, at work, with our family? In order for us to expect authority, we have to first respect others authority.
Jesus commands authority because he is submissive to the will of the Father, and thus his holiness is magnetic. He is not on his own agenda. For example, if you work for a company and practice your own authority, usually you won’t work there very long. Likewise, with your family, if you are a dictator instead of a servant leader, then you show yourself incapable of respecting authority.
One purpose of Advent is to bring us back to God, and to foster renewal for the mission of our salvation through the Christ Child. Because when men put God first all else falls into place.
Frank’s Photo of the Week
“See, our vision is very clear. Really, one of the biggest challenges we have, as an apostolate, has been casting this vision and trusting God that it would land with church leaders — that when you nurture Catholic Men’s spirituality, and foster men in holiness, everybody wins
…… there are others who are going to benefit.
For CMCS, we know that when you foster a Man in holiness, the positive adjustments he makes can create a upstanding man, husband, or father, and this impact can be felt for three generations
Like too many Catholic husbands and marriages today, I have been faced with the possibility of divorce in my almost 30 year marriage. Fortunately, my wife and I worked through this devistating period of our lives – truly by the grace and mercy of God! But not without the feelings, anger, emotions, and all the ‘stuff’ that comes with it. It is always a constant work in progress, for a lifetime.
As I talk with other Catholic men about marriage and divorce in our time, it is evident to me that marriage is under attack in our culture, if not our world – especially with people of Faith!
The number of weddings – between a man and a woman – is down, people are cohabitating more often than not, and Satan is using every means possible to confuse our thinking and distract what we truly believe. And the holidays – Thanksgiving through New Year’s – is widely known as a time when divorce has most impact on our lives and relationships, direct or indirect.
While divorce removes some pressures, it creates a host of others, says Dr. Gary Chapman in his book‘The One Year Love Language Minute Devotional’. If you are considering divorce, only a small percentage of divorced individuals claim to have found greater happiness in a second or third marriage. “The grass being greener on the other side of the fence is a myth”, he says.
Divorce should be the last possible alternative, because far too many couples opt for divorce too soon and at too great a price. It should first be preceded by every effort at reconciling differences, dealing with issues, and solving problems. When couples seek and find proper help, many have reconciled.
Guys have Hope!
With the right information and proper support, you can be a positive change agent in your relationship. Follow God’s advice and guard your heart, remain faithful to your spouse and seek help. The path towards divorce is filled with more pain and difficulty, believe it or not. Healing takes time. God’s time.
One thing I decided to do in my experience with divorce is to change my perspective and change myself first. I didn’t know about it at the time, but this too is what Dr. Ray Guarendi says “You can’t change your spouse’s behavior and attitude. But you can change yours.” in his book‘Marriage: Small Steps, Big Rewards’. So I will share more on this in another blog post.
A Resource for Men
When I went through my divorce experience I found there was very little online about men and divorce, as much as there was for women. So I decided then to do something about it by writing more articles – and this is one of them. It just has been taking some time in listening to the Holy Spirit about how to go about it. So now, in due time, you can use the keyword ‘divorce’ in the search bar on this blog and have yourself a resource. God bless you!
R. Alleluia, alleluia. Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women. R. Alleluia, alleluia.
In the Gospel reading for today, [1:36–37] The sign given to Mary in confirmation of the angel’s announcement to her is the pregnancy of her aged relative Elizabeth. If a woman past the childbearing age could become pregnant, why, the angel implies, should there be doubt about Mary’s pregnancy, for nothing will be impossible for God.
Mary’s womb is known by the Church as the First Tabernacle, for her saying ‘Yes” and believing in the impossible. God needed a woman first to bring His plan of salvation into the world.
This is why us men should place our own mothers and wives and daughters in the rightful place of honor and respect, and pray the Lord be with them and bless them among women. Do you think this would bring a new light or perspective in your relationships with them?
The best way to make your spouse and children feel secure is not with big deposits in bank account, but with little deposits of thoughtfulness and affection in the ‘love account’.
Frank’s Photo of the Week
When we walk in the way that we should go, and treat others the way we would like to be treated, we find true prosperity.
Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life.
Thanks for Reading.
Make it a great week. See you here again next Monday.
Frank J Casella, CMCS Executive Director
A larger collection of photographs can be viewed on my portfolio.