Yesterday was the feast day of the Holy Innocents—the boys age 2 and under whom Herod put to death in the hopes of killing the Christ-Child. Since this tragedy took place in Our Lord’s infancy, it is appropriately commemorated within the Christmas octave. If that placement is jarring, it should be! The idea that little children should die in order to satisfy one’s security is abominable. For that reason the Holy Innocents are often invoked as patrons of the unborn whose lives may be threatened by abortion.
At the same time, however, the Church knows that abortion harms many lives, including the women and men who approve, assist, or commit the act. Many of these people experience it as an unresolved trauma in their lives that cries out for healing. Recent years have witnessed a compassionate outreach to the post-abortive in a special ministry called “Project Rachel.” As a priest I gladly recommend that ministry to anyone who might profit from it. The confidential telephone number is 1-866-3RACHEL, and I would gladly meet with anyone who wants more information.
In other news: the assembly at the 10am Mass on the second Sunday of the month joins in praying the Holy Name Pledge. You may have noticed that the pledge labels are now in the hymnals. On Friday night our parish Cub Scout troop, some of their parents, and a couple of Girl Scouts performed that service for the parish. The Cubmaster and I thanked them for this important contribution to the life of the parish. They have done something to help people pray.
I spoke to our helpers about the Holy Name Society, a movement of devotion that dates back to the 13th century, when the Pope encouraged devotion to the Name of Jesus as a way to counter a popular heresy. Although the HGA contingent is small, it continues to promote the cause, fulfilling St. Paul’s exhortation in the second reading: “Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17).
On the liturgical day dedicated to the Holy Family, it would be easy to focus on the breakdown of the traditional, biblical model of the family, the relativizing and perversion of the very notion of love. It would be easy, and it would be true. Suffice to note two things: (1) the relationship of father, mother, and children forms a kind of earthly image of the Trinity—a communion of love and life; (2) to varying degrees all earthly households present an imperfect image, very much in need of renovation—that is to say, divine grace and human repentance.
Today I will dwell on the angel’s threefold command to Joseph. It’s a command that most parents issue to their children on many occasions: “Get up.” In the first instance, Joseph takes Jesus and Mary from Bethlehem to Egypt; on the second, he starts them back to Israel; on the third, they end up in Nazareth. That’s quite an expedition, quite an act of obedience. That word, to “get up”: in addition to this first context in Jesus’ early life, Matthew also uses it to refer to Jesus’ acts of resuscitating the dead (11:5), as well as to His Resurrection (16:21, 26:32, etc.).
Another example of the word occurs twice at the Transfiguration: first, Jesus bids Peter, James, and John to “rise, and not be afraid” (17:7); in the next verse, the apostles “raised their eyes [and] saw no one else but Jesus alone (18:8). From start to finish in the Gospels, we notice Jesus rising and His followers following suit. That’s because rising, getting up, is the pattern for the vibrant Christian life. Children and parents raise their eyes to each other’s needs, and raise their bodies in attentive service. The charity that begins at home is meant to extend ever outward. In short, it’s about physically, emotionally, and spiritually being present to the person and situation at hand.
Just as our families are imperfect, so are our efforts in attentiveness, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, gratitude, and so forth: everything that Paul encourages us to “put on.” Hence we rise and turn again and again to the Lord, which in turn enlivens the reverence we pay to God and our neighbor. If we turn to the Lord in the daily moments of tension and indecision, gratitude and joy, whenever we need to seek mercy or extend it, the “domestic Church” of our families and our parish will thrive. They will become the sorely needed wake-up call to our sleepy world!