Tag Archives: PA

Family Values

Our readings from St. Matthew this week deal with the growing opposition to Jesus as he preaches and performs miracles in Galilee. A  dark section of the gospel. Jesus is opposed by the Pharisees, who now take “counsel against him to put him to death” (Matthew 12.14).

He’s also rejected by “this generation” of Israelites, the towns “where most of his mighty deeds had been done.” Corazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum. (Matthew 11,16-19) They’re like the rocky ground Jesus spoke of in his parable of the sower. They received him first but later forget him “because the soil was not deep.”

Concluding this section, Matthew adds another source of opposition to Jesus that may surprise us. His own family from Nazareth seems to oppose him.

“While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him. [Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.”]*But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12,47-50)

It’s helpful to remember something about family life at the time of Jesus to appreciate this gospel. For one thing, in Jesus’ day nuclear families– a mother, father and children living alone– were not the norm. In Jesus day families were extended families or clans, living and working together.

For this reason, the picture we sometimes have of the Holy Family– Mary, Joseph and the Child Jesus all by themselves in a small house in Nazareth– is not a realistic picture. Families in Nazareth, as we know from excavations in towns like Capernaum, lived in compounds, as they often do today in the Middle East and elsewhere, working together in the fields or in a business and offering each other support.

There were obligations to your extended family or clan. Everyone had to help in the harvest; you were expected to promote your family’s interest. The mother of James and John who approached Jesus looking for a good place for her sons in his kingdom was only doing what she was expected to do.

What we see in this gospel is the extended family of Jesus descending on him as he is speaking to the crowds to remind him of his family obligations. What did they want to remind him of, we wonder? Were they off to a wedding or a funeral of a relative and were telling him to come along? Or, was the wheat harvest ready at Nazareth and they came looking for help? Or, they just wanted him for themselves for awhile?

Whatever it was, Jesus said that his family was the people before him and there he was meant to be.  “ I belong here now,” Jesus seems to be saying to them. The kingdom of God, God’s family, God’s purpose, is greater than his family’s interests.

Today, of course, individualism is our predominant value, and it often stands in the way of family interests. It’s what “I” want that counts. But still today, family interests, family pressure can be strong and can get in the way of what God wants. Sometimes those closest to us, like our family, can be hard to manage, even though they want the best for us.

Jesus experienced that too.

Novena to St. Ann

Throughout the Catholic world novenas honoring St. Ann begin July 17.

You won’t find the names of Ann and Joachim in the bible, but they’re mentioned in one of the apocryphal books, the Protoevangelium of James, written shortly after our New Testament writings.

Interest in Jesus’ family came about because of claims that he was “Son of David,” the Messiah  expected to come from David’s line. Against those who said Jesus was only a carpenter from Nazareth, the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke assert that  Jesus is the Messiah, descended from David.

The Protoevangelium of James also sees Joachim and Ann  in David’s line, and therefore Mary was too. It says they lived in Jerusalem. Did they accompany Mary to Nazareth after her marriage to Joseph? If so,  Jesus had grandparents taking care of him for a time.

If that’s true, it means Ann and Joachim gave Jesus something more besides proof of his bloodline.  Along with Mary and Joseph, they brought him up. As a young child he learned from them, the simplest and the most sublime things. Knowledge came to him, as it comes to us–through the senses, through mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers.

St. Ann is often pictured with her daughter Mary holding a small book in her hands. Written on the book in the statue here in this church are the words, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart,” a verse from the psalms.

Other statues of her have different words in the book. “I,2,3,4; A,B,C,D.” The basics of life. Or notice Giotto’s picture of the presentation of Mary in the temple. (above) Ann pushes her little daughter into the temple. Just like pushing kids to church today?

Parents and grandparents play a powerful role in the lives of their children and grandchildren. They teach kids their abc’s and the  sublime mysteries of faith. Maybe that’s why so many of them make this novena.  They know that’s true.

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus


St. Thérèse  of Lisieux was born January 2, 1873 in Alençon, France, the youngest of 9 children. She died in 1897, only 24 years old. Her father, Louis Martin, was a watchmaker; her mother Zelie, a talented lace maker. Pope Francis declared them saints on October 18, 2015, praising them as Christian parents who created “ day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters, among whom was Saint Thèrése of the Child Jesus.”

St. Thérèse  is one of three women doctors of the church, along with St. Theresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena. A few months before her death September 30, 1897 she said, “I feel that my mission is about to begin, to make God loved as I love him, to teach souls my little way…It is the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute surrender.” From the time of her death, Thèrése has been teaching her “little way” to countless numbers here on earth. Her feast is October 1.

We know a lot about her, thanks to her own writings and the witness of those who knew her. Her mother, who died when she was 4, wrote of her intelligence and strong spirit. As a little girl, she climbed  onto a swing outside their home and demanded to be pushed ever higher.

Thérèse  described herself and her strong desire for life in a simple story from childhood: “One day, Léonie, thinking she was too big to be playing any longer with dolls, came to us with a basket filled with dresses and pretty pieces for making others; her doll was resting on top. ‘Here, my little sisters, take something; I’m giving you all this.’ Céline took a little ball of wool that pleased her. After a moment’s reflection, I stretched out my hand saying: ‘I want it all!’ and I took the basket without further ceremony

Thérèse  wanted it all. Her “little way” “the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute surrender” let God be the creator of her all, for she knew God wanted her to have more than she could ever dream. God would give her everything.

She called herself the “little flower,” one among many flowers in God’s garden. God was the sun that gave her light and the soil that nourished her. She would grow as God willed.

The Lord led her and taught her,

and kept her as the apple of his eye.

Like an eagle spreading its wings

he took her up and bore her on his shoulders.

The Lord alone was her guide. (Entrance antiphon of her Mass, October 1st)

For us today Thérèse  is an important teacher and Doctor the Church. She lived in a world of growing unbelief and a church that was reaching out to worlds unknown. How shall we live in such a world? She offers  wisdom.

The Carmel of Lisieux has a wonderful website about her.

A Divine Guidance System (DGS) ?


Angels play an important role in St. Luke’s gospel and its continuation, the Acts of the Apostles, which we read during the Easter season. Angels appear to Zachary in the temple announcing the birth and name of John, but the priest rejects the angel’s message and loses his speech. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary, announcing the coming of Jesus and she welcomes his message and breaks into song as the Holy Spirit comes upon her. Angels announce the birth of Jesus to the poor shepherds and send them off to Bethlehem to see the newborn Child. Later in the gospel, an angel appears to Jesus to strengthen him as he prays in Garden of Gethsemane.

Besides angels, the Holy Spirit is important for Luke. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus announces in the synagogue of Nazareth, “to bring glad tidings to the poor.” As he ascends into heaven he tells his disciples “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

Notice in Luke’s accounts, how often angels and the Spirit of the Lord tell people to go somewhere. “Go to Bethlehem,” “Go to Egypt,” “Go to Nazareth.” In one of our readings last week an angel tells Philip to get up and head south on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route.” Then, after Philip meets the Ethiopian official and baptizes him, “the Spirit of the Lord snatches him away” and sends him on the road to Azotus and then to Caesaria.

It sounds like a GPS system. “Go here, turn right, head for this place or that.” Actually, a GPS system is a good analogy for what Luke wants to say. He believes that there’s a divine guidance system for our world and it’s up to us to listen to the signs we’re given and follow God’s instructions. God has a plan for this world and for each of us. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leads us.

I had to drive out to Greensburg, PA, last week to conduct a retreat for the Sisters of Charity there. Most of the way I know, but I never drove to Greensburg so I decided to use a simple GPS system I have in my IPhone .

I never used it before, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t trust it. The GPS said to take Route 66 after you get off the Stanton exit; get off at route 30 and a quarter of mile after that you will be there. I followed it, but then I saw a sign for route 130 and I said to myself, “This thing is wrong, It must mean route 130.” I got off at 130 and I was wrong. The GPS was smarter than I was. So I had to call the convent and say, “ Sister, I’m lost, can you come and get me.”

No matter who we are, we need to pray for guidance and listen to the ways the Lord speaks to us. God is smarter than we are.

Today is Mothers’ Day. I think the smartest mothers, like the smartest fathers, the smartest anybodys, are those who know they need the guidance of God and pray for it every day. A mother I know wrote this prayer some years ago. Here she is, a mother praying for angels and the grace to hear them:

O Lord, I need your help today.
I want to care
for those you’ve sent into my life,
to help them develop the special gifts
you’ve given them.
But I also want to free them
to follow their own paths
and to bring their loving wisdom
to the world.
Help me
to embrace them without clutching,
to support them without suffocating,
to correct them without crushing.
And help me
to live joyfully and playfully, myself,
so they can see your life in me
and find their way to you.
(Virginia Burke Phelan)

The Spirit of the Child

For most of our novena the gospel readings at Mass are from the 11th and 12th chapters of Matthew’s gospel, which deal with the growing opposition to Jesus as he preaches and performs miracles in Galilee. It’s a rather dark section of the gospel.

Jesus is opposed by the Pharisees, who now take “counsel against him to put him to death” (Matthew 12.14) and by “this generation” of Israelites, the towns “where most of his mighty deeds had been done.”  (Matthew 11,16-19). He meets little success.

Concluding this section, Matthew adds another source of opposition to Jesus that may surprise us. His own family from Nazareth seems to oppose him.

Yet, in this bleak section of the gospel, when so many turn against him, Jesus praises his Father, Lord of heaven and earth, “for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”  (Matthew 11,25)

He praised those who have the spirit of the child and keep it. Certainly, St. Ann taught her daughter Mary that spirituality. On this day of the novena, we will  reflect on it.

St. Leo the Great, an early pope, said that becoming like a child– remember Jesus told his disciples to become like little children– does not mean going back to infancy physically. It means, like children, to be free from crippling anxieties, to be forgetful of injuries, to be sociable, and to wonder before this world.

St. Francis Center for Renewal

I’m preaching a retreat these days at St. Francis Center for Renewal in Bethlehem, PA, for a group of sisters from various communities. Surrounded by 108 acres of woodlands and meadows, the center belongs to and is staffed by the School Sisters of St. Francis. It’s a silent retreat for 7 days.

The center has some wonderful programs for Catholics and groups from other religious traditions. Its ecumenical reach is praiseworthy. True Franciscans, the sisters like the wide world God made.

Places like this need support because they meet the growing spiritual needs of so many today. In the balancing act that is our present church, I hope we keep retreat centers like St. Francis in play. We need them.

Go to Bethlehem.