Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Imperfect Holy Family

"He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man."
Luke 2:51-52

There is no such thing as a perfect family. In most cases it is because none of us are perfect. Aside from that, there is also the reality that the circumstances that surround us are flawed because of the different types of people that we deal with on a daily basis. 
 
With that being said, even the Holy Family was far from perfect.  I'm sure we heard many examples of this in the multiple homilies we heard over this past Christmas weekend with all of us being able to relate to each idea in our own way. As always, the bible is not only filled with stories of real people whose faith in God made a big difference in their lives but also lessons for all of us to apply to our own lives.  
 
Firstly, imagine Mary's position: a teenage girl betrothed to a man (so in all essence she was already his wife in those days) and having to tell him that you are going to have a child that is not his.  Imagine being in Joseph's shoes, having the responsibility of raising such a child after accepting the truth of the origins of this child, which for many would have been all but impossible without the grace of God. This certainly serves as a source of inspiration for those of us who have been faced with a task that seems all but impossible. 
 
From the moment of Jesus' birth, there were many challenges that they faced.  As parents we all want the best for our children, some couples choosing what nice hospital, with large birthing rooms to give birth at, or having elaborate home births with a doula.  Yet, for the parents of our Lord and Savior, no one had room for them except in a stable, born among the animals, where they fed, slept and even urinated and defecated, then laid in a manger, the container from which animals fed.  I could only imagine what Joseph would have felt like, not being able to find a comfortable room for his wife to give birth after traveling for so long.  Imagine Mary being far from everyone she knows, far from the comfort of her own home.  

Aside from not having the comfort of a room at an inn the couple would barely have time to stop and celebrate the birth of Jesus nor could they simply go home following Joseph fulfilling his obligation to register for the census. Herod's obsession to find the Holy Child, which led to the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, forced the Holy Family to flee to Egypt. We could only wonder the fear and anxiety felt by the couple while they fled along with whatever concerns they had once they settled into the land of Egypt. All they could do was have faith in the where the Lord had guided them in order to keep them safe. Still, the Holy Family would eventually be allowed to go home while many before and after them would experience similar dangers while never having the chance to return home.

Even the moments of enlightenment and joy do not always start out that way. During the moment known as the Finding in the Temple the couple would have endure searching for Jesus for three days before finding Him among the teachers of the Temple. Perhaps that could remind us of the many unsettling moments we have experienced in our lives when we were searching for our own answers....or when we await to hear from someone else the important details that they need to share with us. 

There are so many who speculate on what many call The Lost Years of Jesus: His teen and early adult years. There are so many traditions and stories that have developed over the centuries with the Church not recognizing these as authentic mainly because they do not fit a typical narrative of Jewish man from the first century. Perhaps the answer to such questions lies within Jesus' followers. We have all experienced things within ourselves and with our families that have led to feelings of love and joy along with pain and growth with us admitting that we would not trade those experiences for anything. This is part of being human. Jesus Christ was true God and human so while we may not have specifics we know more about Jesus' earthly life than we realize. We can take those to prayer and ask for the Lord to guide us during the difficult times while also giving Him thanks for the joys that come from being human. 

For Mary, she had the experience of presenting her child to the Lord before being told of the pain she will undergo as the mother of Jesus. For years she would see this manifest itself in so many ways before having to endure the death of her Son before her eyes. With only her faith and trust in the Lord to hold on to she would wait three days before experiencing the Rising of her Son, the fulfillment of His promise, the fullness of the gift that she accepted in her womb. Her trust rewarded. Hope fulfilled not just for her but for her people; for all of humanity. We also have those moments where our faith and trust are challenged; when we simply cannot comprehend all that is happening us. But, if we keep our eyes on the Lord and remain in faith we will see all that God has planned for us.

But what of Joseph, the parent who would not be present for such events? The earthly father who was charged to love and protect our Blessed Mother along with the Holy Child. What did he endure while approaching his last breath knowing he would have to leave his family behind? Knowing the woman that he called his wife he had to know that she would do whatever it took to be there for Jesus when He needed her. And, knowing the Son her raised was certainly comforted by the fact that this young man would not care for His mother but also fulfill all that He was called to do by His Heavenly Father. As spouses we are comforted in knowing that we can rely on our partners to do what must be done for our families. As parents we can also feel the joy of seeing our children grow into capable adults fulfilling the will of God in their own lives. 

Now let us ponder the last two verses in the second chapter of Luke after Jesus was finally found in the temple: He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man. What the last line implies is that He was not already born fully with the wisdom and knowledge that Jesus had during His ministry.  He gained more wisdom as He grew up.  What a great responsibility that was placed on Mary and Joseph's shoulders, to have to raise, nurture, and teach the Christ child who would be the Savior of the world.  Consider the kind of environment Jesus needed to grow up in, to have already been wise enough to preach at a young age.  Then to be willing to go back home, already knowing His calling, and continue to be raised by Mary and Joseph is a testament to the amount of love they gave, and it shows in the compassion He showed in His ministry.

For His mother, twice Luke's Gospel mentions that Mary "kept... these things in her heart."  The first time was when the shepherds told her what the angel told them of Jesus when he was born (Lk 2:19) and after Jesus was found in the temple preaching.  It did not say that she kept these things in mind, where she just remembered and thought of it.  But she held on to it and felt it deeply. She is not God, so she did not have the gift of omniscience.  But considering that the first miracle Jesus ever performed was encouraged by His mother, she truly believed from within who He was.  She did not shy away from the responsibility, but she with Joseph did what they could.  In looking all that Mary, Joseph and Jesus had to go through, there was no room for pride.  They constantly, obediently, faithfully and willingly followed God's plan for them.

Living as imperfect families do not remove the reality of love and the sense of hope and commitment that come from that love. Even the holiest families will never be spared the struggle and suffering that comes from the human experience but the love and commitment that was modeled in the Holy Family should also he the focus on how we should live within our own families, humbly and faithfully, which in turn will allow us to say, Thy will be done.....as a family.  
 
 

 

Carlos Solorzano

BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach
Certified Through the Theology of the Body Institute
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate


Angelica Delallana

Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner
Fertility Care Practitioner Intern and NaPro Technology Medical Consultant Intern with the St. Paul VI Institute
Confirmation Catechist
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate

https://www.hcdtalks.com/    

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Are Pregnancies Really Unplanned or Unintended?

Having a conversation on the topic of abortion is never comfortable, but for me it is rather frustrating because, as I tell my students, it tends to focus only on words. Very few people want to look at the evidence of what occurs during the procedure. We faithfully speak of the a woman's right to choose along with statements of fear of what could happen if the procedure was outlawed along with many personal stories that reinforce our positions. 

Now, with our society being made up of so many people who claim to focus on the science I am still amazed at the use of a certain idea that will be the focus of this blog. Are we really unaware of the FACT that sexual intercourse can lead to the conception of an unborn baby? It is true that conception may not have been one's intention but it is also the true to say that one's intention will not always agree with how our bodies work. 

Is it our intention to get into an accident when we drive a car? Is it our intention to become ill when we eat certain foods? Is it our intention to get hurt when we participate is some kind of physical activity? And, in our current social setting, do we intend to have our reputations shattered because of something we said or posted in the past? With all of these proposals we know one thing for sure: we are have to deal with whatever consequences come out way, even if we DID NOT seek some form of negative outcome.   

There was a time when a man would find out that his partner was pregnant and once he shared that with others would be asked if he was planning on marrying her. No, this is not always the best way to start a marriage but there was an important implication in such a question: are you planning to take responsibility for your action? Why have we as a culture moved away from such an idea? Sure, our attitude has changed but our bodies are the same so why not accept the truth of our bodies that has been given to us by science? 

Yes, there are those who state that they did behave in a responsible way by using contraception. Let us take a look at another fact. Whether it is due to user error, a defect in the product, or the body's inability to respond, there is no form of contraception that is 100% effective. So, what do we do when it fails to work? And, how do we find out that it failed? Conception.  

Rape and incest? This seems to be the time when we accept the possibility of conception with this happening in the most horrific way for the woman who may be pregnant. There is so much to be said about this terrible act of violence towards women, which we could explore in a whole other discussion about the way we are rearing men in terms of their attitude towards women. But for the sake of this discussion, yes, there is the possibility of the human bodies doing what they could do during this horrific misuse of sexual intercourse. This terrible reality is why so many people are passionately pro-choice. 

Of course, there are is also another approach where a couple's situation could be ideal for bearing children. There could be that married couple that conceived and upon sharing the news they might be asked: were you trying? With the knowledge of how the body works as well as the fact that some couples actually include some affirmation of accepting children as a gift from God during their wedding vows, it could be suggested that such a question in irrelevant for that couple. After all, to affirm that they would accept children as a gift from God is an affirmation of: Yes, we will consummate this marriage. Yes, the marital act will be done on numerous occasions during our life together. Yes, we realize that there are times when the act will lead to conception. Yes, we accept this responsibility, together.  

We have so many ways of expressing this idea: You weren't planned. You were a surprise. You were an oops. Then, when there is a serious discussion like abortion we hear the words unplanned or unintended. With the way things are going right now in our social discussion on the issue we even have media stories where people are heralded as heroes for making the choice to abort.  


https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/music/stevie-nicks-if-i-had-not-had-that-abortion-there-would-have-been-no-fleetwood-mac-1.4380717 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/12/01/billie-jean-king-mississippi-abortion-supreme-court/


Without passing judgment, I do not believe for a moment that neither of these intelligent and talented women were unaware of the possibility of conception. We are all guilty at times for trying to make excuses for our behavior while trying to appeal to some form of ignorance. Further, this whole use of unplanned or unintended is tied to a method based on emotion to network and maintain the current majority outlook on the issue of abortion. 

In reality, to be successful in any endeavor requires commitment and sacrifice. This is also why some people choose not to get married and have children until after they retire from a profession that they will no longer be able to do after a certain age. Further, if people are going to in fact become sexually active, it should not be considered offensive to suggest that they reevaluate their attitude towards what it means when conception occurs. Yes, it would be a struggle at times to not seek out the gift of love as well as one of the many ways to express that love but it's much harder to carry the burden of the potential negative outcomes that could come out of that now lost love, which lasts a lifetime. 

This is why I admired many of the disciplined students I met while I was in college. Many of them were just as hungry for love, companionship and any other form of affirmation sought out by people their own age. Yet, many of them denied themselves such experiences because of their commitment to their studies as well as their future, stating on a regular basis that they did not want either the unnecessary distractions or potential heartbreaks that could prevent them from getting those most out of their collegiate studies. These are true examples of mature adult behavior 

The truth of our bodies is one of many reasons for the Church's teaching on chastity. It is not just based on some supposed rigid teaching on our sexual behavior that is meant to deprive us of one of life's greatest pleasures. One simply has to see all of the pain, brokenness, diseases and other serious issues that exist in our world due to our misuse of the gift of our sexuality. Obviously, our attitudes and behaviors towards sex are not working in the healthiest way.  If we look deeper, an unplanned pregnancy is not a failure of the contraceptive method.  Rather we failed our own bodies, not recognizing and accepting the awesome power and gift we have of being able to create new life and choose instead to fight against its very nature and essence.

In regards to this discussion, chastity could lift the burden that a woman would have to carry for the rest of her life along with the impact this decision would have on those closest to her. How many of these cases would be avoided if we embraced true freedom, which is to be able to do what we ought to do? Of course that takes courage to stand up to the expectations of our culture, which is why we need God's grace to strengthen and guide in acting in accordance to His will. Let us be reminded that Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to do just that. 


But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. (John 16:13) 


That includes accepting the truth of our bodies when it comes to what really happens or could happen when we choose to be sexuality active. 

  



Thursday, December 16, 2021

Reclaiming the Reason for Christmas for Future Generations


The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. 
- Luke 2:10-11

Santa Claus, elves, snowmen, snowflakes, garlands, Christmas tree, mistletoe, holly, candy canes... When I look at all the images that are supposed to represent Christmas and how little of it makes people think of the reason we are celebrating the day and why it is even called Christmas, it does make you stop and think.  Of the religious/cultural holidays that are celebrated, it seems to be the most removed from its religious origins.  A survey by Pew Research Center (PRC) found that 81% of non-Christian celebrate Christmas.  A quote from History.com stated "Christmas, a Christian holiday honoring the birth of Jesus, has evolved into a worldwide religious and secular celebration, incorporating many pre-Christian and pagan traditions into the festivities."  In another survey, the PRC found a decline in Catholics who believe in the religious aspects of Christmas and find it more to be a cultural holiday.  This is more true in the younger generations than the older generations.  In fact, when I did my own Google search using the word Christmas, the only image of the baby Jesus was an outdoor light display that was not clear.  All other images were of snowmen, Christmas trees by the fireplace and Santa.

So easily do we get trapped into the material aspects of celebrations that we forget why Christmas was so important and what it meant for us.  Holiday sales bring in billions of dollars of revenue for the economy.  The National Retail Foundation estimated that even in the pandemic of 2020, holiday retail sales grew over 8%, estimated to total over $789.4 billion. Americans spend hours shopping online or going into the stores.  Yet there is a decline in the number of Catholics who attend Mass for Christmas. How ironic that we create such elaborate and extravagant parties and focus on the materials we give and receive to the point that the extravagance appears to take precedence over what/Whom we are celebrating in the first place: the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Lk 2:12)  Jesus was born humbly from the moment of His own birth.

The first wake-up call for me came not during Christmas, but during Easter one year, when a relative of mine who is very much into family traditions but not at all religious, looked at me funny when she asked if I did anything about Easter with my children prior to Easter Sunday. I told her that I had taken my kids to Church and we did the Stations of the Cross.  She was most likely referring to the Easter bunny and egg coloring.

Family traditions are important, as they create memories that children can grow up and remember fondly.  I have my own memories of Christmas as a child that I look back at and reminisce on with my many cousins including good food, putting on our own Christmas concert, the mountain of gifts that covered the Christmas tree and holiday games we would play.  Some years "Santa Claus" would even drop by and hand us a few presents. Yet when I look back at those photographs, amidst all the good cheer and the smiles, there is something... or rather some One... who is missing.

But why is it becoming less and less religious?  In a previous blog, I had talked about how the Catholic education begins at home.  What we emphasize to our children, even in the way we decorate for Christmas, shows them what the focus should be.  Growing up I don't remember a Nativity scene, not even a photograph, in the house.  Even though my grandparents, particularly my grandfather, was "very Catholic" (in the words of my aunt when he just recently passed), they also did not have any Nativity scenes in their home.  It was only in my Catholic school that we lit the candles of the Advent Wreath.  Yes, we attended Mass, a few Midnight Masses, but definitely the daytime Masses on Christmas day.  Yet when we arrived home there was increased tension and stress of making sure we had the food and all the presents ready.  Once Grace had been said before the meal, all thoughts of Jesus were out the window and it became about how many presents we had received or who won what game.  Time with family was definitely enjoyable, but what little kid wouldn't be looking at that mountain in front of the tree thinking "I want to open them already?" before littering the living room floor with scraps of wrapping paper and ribbons?

I'm not saying that having a Nativity set is a requirement.  But when we remove the image of our Lord as the child He was born, only surround our children with gingerbread houses and tinsel, they will lose focus.  We must integrate celebrating the anticipatory coming of our King, our Messiah, into our holiday traditions.  It takes more than just going to Mass for an hour on Christmas day.  It takes daily family prayer and reflection during the Advent season.  It takes redirecting our children to focus not on the material gifts they will receive but what Jesus should mean to them.  The secular world is doing its part to remove Christ from being the center of our lives and focus. It is up to us to help the next generation keep Him in focus.  Help our children be as excited for the birth of Jesus as they are for the stocking stuffers that they will wake up to on Christmas morning.  Let Jesus be the one to fill them with joy.  If we don't do this now, it will be even worse for future generations.  Christmas will be less and less about Christ and more and more about the commercial hoopla it has already become.

Friday, December 10, 2021

The Word Made Flesh to Know Flesh - What Jesus' Incarnate Body Means for Our Humanity

 He emptied himself... coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
- Philippians 2:7-8


Humankind has been known to be vulnerable to its own sinfulness.  There are those who would even argue that humans are inherently evil.  But when we step into the Beginning, we see that it was not so.  In Genesis 1, when God created light, land, sea, plants, and animals "God saw that it was good."  (1:12, 18, 25).  It wasn't until after He "created mankind in his image" that God looked at all He had created and "found it very good". 

Our goodness did not change after the fall, even though we would now carry the burden of concupiscence. While that leads to the tendency to sin it also means that we are still capable of not sinning, thus, following the will of God. Aside from that is the reality that would come sometime after the fall: God would come to us as one of us in order to redeem us. Such a selfless act could only be done for those who are ontologically good that are still capable to do good should they choose to follow the life that God made for them. This is also the same God whose mercy is without measure, which is why it is important to note many of the things done to redeem humanity.  The incarnation of Jesus raises the question: if the body is inherently evil, then why would God not only send His only begotten Son to us in the body of a man, but allow Him to be conceived, carried, and born through the body of a woman?


Salvation began in the garden. 

After the couple ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17) their eyes were open as they now knew what it meant to wrong. There was shame because there was the realization that disobedience has consequences both in the world along with the way we feel. When this occurred the Lord clothed them with garments of skin (Genesis 3:21) in order to cover their shame and expelled them from the garden, not as a punishment, but to protect them from eating from the tree of life, which would have put them in this sinful state on a permanent basis (Genesis 3:22). In other words, the Lord removed them from this place because there was a risk of the situation getting worse. 

Fast forward several generations and we have the Lord speaking to us about what to do with a body part that causes us to sin (Matthew 5:29-30). We can look at that in a different way where Jesus is asking us to remove a part of ourselves that is sinful, which is not the same as leaving one's home like the first couple. Either way, to remove such a thing from our lives in painful but the Lord also reminds us that He is the one who will provide what we need to get through this struggle:  As stated in Matthew 11:28: Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. 


The Son of Man 

There is something to be said about the fact that the Lord came to us as one of us. The prophets did their job and yes, we have always been called to conform to the will of God but there is something to be said about the Incarnation. 

Matthew 13:54-56 shows a community that was aware not only of Jesus' presence but also the fact that He lived a regular life among them. He was a member of a family. He worked, which also meant that He learned skills, dealt with those requested His services, perhaps even hurt Himself while in the carpenter's shop, attended synagogue with his neighbors, endured the struggles that all people face in their lives; all without standing out in a way that led His neighbors to believe that He came down from heaven. 

That alone should speak volumes in terms of how the God of the universe sees humanity. His mercy is without question when we simply reflected on the events that occurred after the first couple of expelled from the garden but now the second person of the Trinity came among us, and not just at the time when His hour had come to begin His earthly ministry.  Think of how we feel when the Holy Father leaves the Vatican and visits our home countries. Some of us have even had the opportunity to see him in person, which is very moving. But if we look at the reality of the Incarnation the Lord is telling us: Yes, you are all worth it! 

The fact that Jesus was tempted by the devil shows that He was capable of making choices. (Matthew 4:1-17). The importance behind that is the fact that like Jesus, who promised to empower us with the Holy Spirit, (John 16:13) demonstrated through His own life as a human being that all of us are capable of living in accordance with God's will. 

Our Empathetic God Who Wants to Know Us

There is a lot of distinction between the "Old Testament God" and the "New Testament God".  Previously, God was seen as wrathful and vengeful.  We see His wrath several times, distinctly the Flood (Gen 6-7) the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19), but it is threatened many times over throughout the Old Testament.  However, it is not out of spite, but out of the love of a Father.  God's "wrath" has always been to let us know our own sinfulness, our sin that harms others and ourselves, inflicting pain against the world that He had created for us.  Just like any mother or father would reprimand their child, a good parent who loves their child does not allow their short-comings to go unnoticed.

God had always known the goodness He had created us in, and in His omniscience could always see the deepest longing and desire of the human heart. But in our limited view of the world, we don't always understand or know what God's intention is/was for us.  It was Jesus who showed us the way and the truth and the life... If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him. (John 14:6-7)Not only did He show sympathy and compassion for others in His mission, but could empathize with us.  Jesus wept (John 11:35), felt anxiety (Luke 22:44), was betrayed and denied by those closest to Him, suffered pain and death.  In Jesus' humanity, life and mission, we have come to know the loving compassion of God.  Through the suffering He endured in His Passion, we know how much our Lord can feel our pain and anguish.

Love One Another 

In our youth we've all had a moment when we just needed to know that we were loved. We walk into the front door with a fresh wound and feel the comforting embrace of one of our parents. A teacher hands us back a test with a bad grade and reassures us that they will find a way to help us better understand the material. It wasn't just the kind act as much as it was the fact that these actions showed that we mattered to these people. 

Jesus was at times that parent who covered our wound or the teacher that corrected our mistakes. In doing so He would also tell us a better way to play or a better way to do our school work. This was demonstrated in the story of the the Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8:1-11) because while Jesus did not condemn the woman He also did not condone her behavior, thus, the statement of Go, and from now on, do not sin any more. 

Jesus openly stated that what she had done was wrong but not without being truly God by having full knowledge of the situation. First, she was not the only one to commit this sin but was the only one accused. Second, her sin was being used as bait to set Him up. Finally, Jesus would know the underlying void in her life that caused her not to see her true value in God's eyes, which in turn caused her to seek fulfillment in such a sin. One can only wonder the impact Jesus' words had on her, to gaze into His eyes while hearing of her true value from God Incarnate. 

As I Have Loved You

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).  God saw the value in humanity, and showed us how worthy we truly are through Jesus' suffering and death, for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (John 3:16).  What we must remember is that Jesus still had a choice, and He chose to endure pain and give His life so that we can live eternally with our Lord in Heaven, knowing that we are imperfect beings.  Not only did He heal the sick and the blind, raise the dead, and show forgiveness to those who sinned, He showed us that every single one of our lives was worth His own; that unconditional, all-giving love for us.

God knows our tendencies, our imperfections.  Yet He allowed Jesus to walk among us, get to know us as a human, feel what we feel, endure what we endure, and ultimately give His life for us.  Humanity was created good at the core.  And though we have been corrupted, prone to our own concupiscence, He still showed us how much we are worthy, and that we are all capable of goodness through His own humanity.  Let us learn to love ourselves and one another with that unconditional love that our Lord has given us.