Third Sunday of Lent

Dominica III in Quadragesima C

Holy Family Consecration Weekend

24 March 2019

We have been preparing for a novena of days to freely participate in our parish-wide Consecration to the Holy Family, which we will accomplish today after the homily.  I am grateful to our parish Knights of Columbus for proposing and supporting this consecration.  They once again stand out as good Catholic men who keep before themselves and before all of us the call to become even better disciples of the Lord Jesus and members of God’s family in the Church.  Today I want to comment on some lessons of the Scripture passages in light of the role and mission of the Catholic family to be a place of God’s dwelling, an example and witness of Christian life, and a generator for evangelizing the wider society and culture.  Whether your family is still very young or without children, still awaiting children, or whether you still have children in the home, or whether the generosity of adoption has formed a family, or whether children are grown and you are in the empty nest phase, all of our families are called to attract others to Christ like the supernatural fire of the burning bush attracted Moses to God.

The Book of Exodus presents us with one of the most iconic theophanies – appearances of God – in all the Scriptures.  In fact, I can still remember the picture associated with this Bible passage in the children’s Bible my parents gave to me as a boy.  And I’m grateful I have those memories of my parents being evangelizers in the family home.  Moses is on Mount Horeb when he sees the burning bush.  God’s voice tells him that he is on holy ground.  The Hebrew word for holy, “kadosh,” is used by the highest rank of the nine choirs of angels, the Seraphim, a name meaning “fiery ones,” who chant before God’s presence “holy, holy, holy” (cf. Is. 6:3).  The word is used for the Temple, it is used for the sanctuary, it is used for the innermost part of the tabernacle – the Holy of Holies.  It means that this place is set apart, it is sanctified, it is consecrated by a special presence of the Lord God.  So, in this sense, on the mountain Moses is entering into a natural consecrated sanctuary, much like we come to the mountain, to our raised sanctuaries as consecrated places to encounter the burning love of God who gives Himself to us in Word and in Sacrament.

Moses has this privileged encounter with God because he is being given a mission for the good of God’s people who are dwelling in unholy land.  They are dwelling in Egypt, in a polytheistic society where, among the many gods believed in, Pharaoh himself has acted as a god.  By his affliction of the Hebrew people Pharaoh has sought to undo the one true God’s promise of numerous offspring by enforcing harsh labor (Ex. 1:8-14) and killing all the first-born males (Ex. 1:15-22).  Pharaoh has also sought to annul God’s promise of land by refusing to let the people go up to their own land (Ex. 1:10).  Encountering God in fire, Moses is sent out into a trial by fire to proclaim the one true God to a hostile world and to proclaim to God’s afflicted people God’s plan of salvation and His plan to call them to the mission of creating a people who belong exclusively and intentionally to Him.

We can receive the Consecration to the Holy Family in this same sense today.  We come here, to the place set apart for holy encounter with God.  Here we are reminded in Word and we experience in Sacrament the fire of God’s love.  Here we are claimed for Christ and renewed to live that fundamental consecration in baptism to be God’s holy people and to permit God His place in the life of the home.  Compared to Moses’ time, we think of ourselves and our time in history as more sophisticated.  Yet, we live surrounded by people and a society who quite literally are idolaters, having their own golden calves.  You see just how literally this is true in the battle on public ground where Nativity Scenes and Ten Commandments monuments are erected resulting in Satanic groups demanding rights for images of horned goats.  The other false gods of our society are more subtle, yet they easily replace the type of dedication we should have to the one true God.  Examples of false gods abound in our time: the god of self-sufficiency, the god of “my time,” the god of pleasure, the god of money, the god of sports, the god of drugs, the god of lust and of pro-choice, the god of politics, the god of self-determination, the god of infidelity and adultery, the god of fornication, perversion, and gender ideology, and on and on… a circus of polytheism in our own time demanding an allegiance that is fairly called extremism.

Just as Moses encountered God in a holy sanctuary set apart, so do we do so here.  We encounter God and we prepare to proclaim Him to a hostile world, burning with unholy attachments and false affections.  Just as God reveals Himself to the Hebrews as the God of their fathers, so God continues to choose to make Himself present in family life.  Thus, our families need to be strengthened in living their dignity as people set apart for God and their mission to proclaim God to a challenging environment.

But isn’t it good enough in this setting to be basically religious and generally a good person?  What good is a consecration prayer?  Does it really make a difference to God to live family life intentionally as a holy way of life, a holy calling?  The second reading gives us a shocking lesson of not falling into the danger of overconfidence in faith, the danger of misplaced confidence in faith.  The point of the selection comes in the very final line today: “Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”  That admonition follows a surprising listing by which St. Paul highlights the religious blessings and experiences of the ancestors.  And what is the shocking conclusion?  Despite all their religious blessings, St. Paul says, “Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.”  Put that into a New Covenant context and let the lesson apply to us to not fall to overconfidence about being basically a religious person, the privileged cradle Catholic, or a “going-through-the-motions” Catholic.  We have experiences of God in prayer, even in the cloud of incense.  You can pass through the waters of baptism for yourself or bring your baby.  Eat the same spiritual food here… but if we aren’t being careful, if we aren’t going beyond surface or external actions and looking deeper into what kind of persons we really are… we are not learning the lesson of the example St. Paul sets forth.  Is my family life lived as really set apart for God?  If I am a member of Christ’s Body and if I consecrate myself and my family to the Holy Family, am I living as I should?

Avoiding overconfidence is one reason why I have emphasized personal intention and freely desiring this Holy Family Consecration in this preparation time for today’s consecration act.  To borrow the gospel image, God expects fruit from the family tree.  He looks for our families to bear fruit in being places where the style of home life actually permits Him to have room by family prayer, Sunday worship, moral living, and service to others.  He expects fruit to come for the good of our troubled society by the fact of having placed cells of godly family life directly into the fiery trial of modern secular life.  Our families are the domestic Church.  They are emissaries of light, like the burning bush in your neighborhoods meant to proclaim God and His promises to your children and to others beyond the family, even to those who give more attention to the false gods of our time.  Your family life is holy ground.  After all family life is the place set apart by which God Himself, Jesus Christ, chose to come and to bring salvation to our afflicted world!