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Subordinate? Homily for Holy Family Sunday.

The selection for the Second Reading (St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians) rally annoys some people – I would say about 50% of the congregation. Since “Fools enter where angels fear to tread,” let’s look at this passage by examining 1. What is going on from a literary point of view, 2. Where this genre comes from, 3. The challenge it presents to modern ears and lives, 4. Two examples of homework to consider.

So, what’s Paul doing from a literary point of view? St. Paul is using the literary “tactic” of exhortation. There are 2 types of genre in hortatory literature:

  1. Protreptic calls the audience to a new and different way of life.
  2. Paraenetic offers advice and exhortation to continue in a certain way of life.

In other words, protrepsis is conversion literature. Paraenesis is aimed at those who already follow that path, giving them advice on how best to follow it.

The first part of this passage in Colossians is a “parenetic,” or an ethical section:

  • It follows a pattern
  • It reproduces the structure of a primitive Christian catechism.
  • It begins with a list of virtues, introduced by the imperative “Put on.” This could be seen as reflecting the “putting on” the baptismal robe of the candidate as he or she came up out of the baptismal font.
  • It is could also be preceded by what the candidate should “Put off,” followed by a list of vices.
  • This is then followed by a kind of “household code” This lists the various members of a family (dad, mom, husband, wife, child)  and society along with their respective duties.

Where did St. Paul get this?  These “codes” were derived from Greece, specifically from the teaching of the Greek “Stoics.” This was picked up by Greek (Hellenistic) Judaism. Jewish people eventually came to Judaea and Israel and brought these practices with them. This was eventually passed into Greek-speaking Christianity.

This ethic reflects a strong sense of duty, authority and a subordinationist ethic of society. What is the challenge to us today? This mindset is totally foreign Western, post-modern thinking. We chafe at “Wives, be subject.” We don’t like the idea that Samuel was not consulted about his future. He should have been left to decide for himself when the time came what he should do with his love.

Why is this important to us in the “modern world?” Are you subordinate to anything? What controls your destiny?

Consider a few examples of “spiritual architectures. A number of years ago, the Legionaires of Christ (a religious congregation of priests) fell on hard times when the founder  Marcial Maciel had been involved in a number of serious moral indiscretions. The Legionaires, and Regnum Christi,* as it have been originally constituted, collapsed. Over the past several years they have been successfully building up again.

In the midst of this rebuilding effort, a number of priests, along with corresponding Regnum Christi members began to have a conversation. “What are we – really?  Who are we? If we can’t clearly define that, we will not be effective in anything that we do.  This conversation eventually led to a book,  The Quest for the Core. The Legionnaires and Regnum Christi identified three items:

  1. SPIRITUALITY… Christ calls us to a friendship of the heart and for Him to be the Lord of my life.
  2. COMMUNITY … People with diverse background, gifts and talents getting together in a unity of purpose.
  3. MISSION …. We are sent by Him to first be formed by Christ (just like Christ formed the apostles) and then sent to build up the kingdom within society.

A second spiritual architecture model was presented by Pope Paul VI in his Homily/Encyclical on the Holy Family  He also presents a number of items that we can learn from the Holy Family:

  1. First, we learn from its silence. We are beset by the cacophony of strident protests and conflicting claims so characteristic of these turbulent times. The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers.
  2. Second is the value of study – of Scripture, of meditation, of silent prayer and a well-ordered personal spiritual life,
  3. Third, we learn about family life. Family is a community of love and sharing. It is a place of problems it poses and of rewards that it brings in engaging and dealing with those problems. It is a setting for rearing children.
  4. Finally, in Nazareth, the home of a craftsman’s son, we learn about work. The Holy Family teaches about the discipline work entails. It teaches the value of work that it both demanding yet redeeming. It teaches respect for the dignity of the work—and the worker. It teaches about the place that work holds in the economic system and the purpose it serves.

What about mine? What is my “spiritual architecture? Pastores Dabo Vobis (or I Will Give You Shepherds) was an apostolic exhortation released on March 25, 1992, by Pope John Paul II. Although it primarily concerns the formation of priests, it is relevant and addressed to clergy and the lay faithful of the Catholic Church. Pastores has four “dimensions:

  1. Human Dimension: Diet, exercise, medical care, friendship, entertainment, recreation, leisure.
  2. Intellectual Dimension: What are you reading? Are you reading a balanced diet of both secular and spiritual materials. Only then will your preaching be relevant.
  3. Spiritual Dimension: Prayer, sacraments, spiritual direction.
  4. Pastoral Dimension: Reaching out to, and serving, family, friends, parishioners, and priest brothers.

Are you subordinate to anything ? What – or how – informs your daily decisions? Who – or what – controls your destiny? If Christ is not the Lord of everything then He is not the Lord of anything

Jesuit Scripture Scholar, Father John Kavanaugh, S.J. writes that,

Christmas is a lot about plain humanity – ours and God’s. In the last analysis we are as defenseless as a child before the great forces of time and consciousness. It is unsettling for many—and sometimes for us—that God would penetrate and inhabit this ordinariness of ours. Thus, it is fitting that the holiness of the family also be celebrated at this time. For it is only by the ordinariness of being born, nurtured, and taught, so frail and dependent upon those who have welcomed us into their lives, that we ever grow in strength and grace.

God enters these intimacies, too, just as surely as God wants entry into all of human history. And so the wisdom of the father and the authority of the mother and reverence of the child reveal the splendor. 

Audio version of the homily is here:

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