Homily by Fr. Richard Myhalyk, S.S.E.
This week’s bulletin attempts to highlight the state of family life both nationally and locally. Family life is certainly changing according to Pew Research. Pew reports: Two parent households are on the decline in the United States as divorce, remarriage and cohabitation are increasing. Families are smaller now. Parents today are raising their children against a backdrop of increasingly diverse and, for many, constantly evolving family forms. By contrast, in 1960, the height of the post-World War II baby boom, there was one dominant family form. At that time 73% of all children were living in a family with two married parents in their first marriage. Today, less than half (46%) do. Black children and those with less educated parents are less likely to be living in two-parent households. For the less educated, more births occur outside of marriage. In four-in-ten, mom is the primary breadwinner.
Locally in the five counties served by the Edmundite Missions 81% of the households served are single-parent. The Missions provides assistance to over 1,000 children each year, 80% of whom are under the age of 13. Alabama’s median household income is $48,193 or $12,143 less than the national median of $60,336. Selma’s median household income is one third that of the nation. The average income of those whom the Missions serves is $11,000, half that of the Selma average. I am very conscious that real families – both near and far – are often very challenged families!
What message should I preach – faced with such a challenging and perplexing portrait of family life?
I found myself drawn to what Paul offers us in Colossians 3:12-21. Here is where Paul instructs us about the practicalities of Christian life. Just before today’s verses, Paul lists sins and faults to avoid. These failings are to be taken off like dirty clothes. Then he tells us that when we were baptized, we put on a new self which is Christ. This is where our reading begins; it is in three parts.
The first part continues the clothing metaphor. Paul sees us as God's special creation whose lives have distinctive characteristics. Authentic Christians proudly display these characteristics like articles of clothing. The qualities we “put on” constitute a sort of uniform – they’re our identity. The overall identity is seen as “love” and this overall bond of love shows itself in multiple ways. We are to be sympathetic, kind, humble, gentle, patient and forgiving of others. That’s what a true Christian life is all about.
Do we have heartfelt mercy? Probably not, if we continually point out the faults and mistakes of others. Do we have humility and gentleness? Humility isn't thinking less of ourselves; it’s thinking of ourselves less. Gentleness and humility take a deep long look at oneself before it judges others.
And, then there's patience! Do we get upset and loose our cool over just about anything? I don’t know about you, but patience is hardest for me when I’m unable to control or resolve challenges.
Mercy, humility, gentleness, and patience all have to do with an openness to others. Do we insist that everything must be done according to our will? Do I think “my” way of doing, saying or fixing is the only “right” way?
Bear with one another! Now that's something to think about. What about tolerance in our family life and our relationships? How does the BEAR in “bear with one another” manifest itself in our lives? Is the bear a NOUN – meaning a grizzly bear? Is the bear a VERB – meaning to tolerate, to understand, to adjust, and to change. That’s what Paul is teaching. How well do we bear with one another?
The second part is a lyrical and carefully balanced passage. The ultimate foundation of all Christian behavior is Jesus the Lord and gratitude. We’re told to cultivate hearts filled with the peace of Christ and be grateful. Let the Lord teach you and respond with songs of gratitude for what you learn from Christ. Do everything under the auspices of Christ and give thanks to the Father through him. Our life together is to be the life of Christ and a life of thankfulness.
In the third and final part Paul offers a very specific list of directives for family life. Wives, husbands, children, parents are to defer to one another. We are to care for one another in the context of the Lord’s will and presence. The issue is not who is supposed to be the boss in the family. Paul teaches Christ is to be expressed in all of our relationships with one another. Be loving and considerate of one another because of the presence and life of Christ in us. Christ’s presence and life in us should make us consistently and habitually grateful. This is the secret of Christian family life and of all other interpersonal relationships.
During my 35-years offering Catholic Engaged Encounter weekends, I remember discussing Paul’s words “wives be subordinate to your husbands”. A wife on the team said: “I would gladly subordinate my life to my husband if he acted like Jesus!” That’s exactly Paul’s point. Notice that Paul immediately says, “husbands love your wives!”
It isn’t a matter of searching out and getting close to people we find compatible, interesting, attractive or who “like us” on Facebook. It isn’t a matter of loving them for their human gifts, they might share with us. It's a matter of being Christ to one another. It’s a matter of seeing Christ in others. It’s a matter of reaching out to others in the Christ who lives in us.
It doesn’t take place as a burdensome demand. It doesn’t take place out of fear of punishment if we don't shape up. It takes place in a context of gratitude. Gratitude for the presence of the Lord in those around us and gratitude for the presence of the Lord in us. Gratitude is always appropriate because everything we are and have is gift. Gifts call for gratefulness.
The commercial asks: what’s in your wallet? Paul asks: what virtues are you wearing?
Our world is often filled with violence and hatred. Paul asks: Have you cultivated a heart filled with love and the peace of Christ?
Christ seems so absent in our world. Paul asks: Could it be that we fail to recognize him in others and fail to be him for others?