Recording [I actually preferred the 8:00 a.m. version, but this audio from the 10:00 a.m. is so much cleaner.]
Video [8:00 a.m. Mass]
Preached at Assumption Parish in Bellingham, WA
NB: I did not like how my text read at the 5:00 p.m. Mass, so I went off-script for the 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. Masses. I continued this trend of going off-script in subsequent weeks.
Over my vacation, I was finally able to finish Alistair MacIntyre’s seminal work After Virtue, one of the most important works of moral philosophy in the last centuries. Among the many, many points worth pondering in that dense text, the one that most got my attention was the idea that it is impossible for a human being to live a good life apart from a narrative. In other words, we have to tell ourselves stories about who we are and what the purpose of life is in order to make good decisions that will lead us to true happiness. The reason that the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, the Canterbury Tales, and, in an exceptional way, the Bible are important is not simply because they are works of literary genius, but also because they provided the framework through which the people who heard them understood the purpose of life and the meaning of virtue. It is through these stories, tested and handed on through the centuries, that we learn what the good life is and how to live it.
Reading about this is After Virtue really hit home for me, because it helped me to rearticulate one of the primary reasons that I love being Catholic. I have long realized that Catholicism connects me to previous generations in a way that nothing else can; that Catholicism serves as an anchoring, if you will, which keeps me from being swept up in the trends and revolutions that seem so potent at the beginning, but which are swept away quickly after a short time. Now, having read MacIntyre, I realize that this connection to the past is something deeper and more profound than just connection. The Catholic faith has provided me with my narrative, with the structure that frames my life and allows me to be happy, a structure that I can trust because it has proven effective over millennia.
All of this also reframes, somewhat, my task as a homilist. It has helped me realize that one of my jobs at this ambo is to tell the story of the Christian people; to remind us, in this present generation of the Church, what it means to follow Jesus and to live our lives in union with him. I am responsible for providing our narrative history so that we can all know deeply, based on the self-Revelation of God, what a good life looks like for a human being and for human society.
Today, I think, it will suffice to focus on the mind-boggling statement from the first letter of St. John, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us, that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. […] Beloved, we are God’s children now[.]”
Who are we as Christians, as the community of the baptized? We are the children of God.
But we cannot just say this. MacIntyre insisted that stories are necessary to truly understand it. At the risk of sounding saccharine and kitschy, I think the story told in the musical Annie can really help us understand this Christian truth.
In case you have not seen Annie, and I am sure you can find a zillion versions of it on a streaming service tonight if you want, Annie is an orphan, currently housed at an abusive orphanage. Through a series of events, she ends up in the household of the richest man in town, Oliver Warbucks, who falls in love with Annie and chooses to adopt her. Toward the end of the musical, that adoption is threatened, but in the end, everything works out for our protagonists.
I think this story is a good framework for us today because, when St. John talks about being children of God, we are tempted to hear the word “children” as primarily meaning young and innocent. But he doesn’t mean this at all. He is talking about the legal concept of childhood, which in other parts of the New Testament is referred to directly as adoption. As Christians, through our baptism, we are adopted in exactly the same way that Annie was adopted by Daddy Warbucks – made true children and full members of his household. Well, not in exactly the same way. Unlike Annie, we were not adopted because of our optimism, tenacity, or merit. Our father chose us, in fact, for the exact opposite reason: because were pitiable and alone. He pulled us out of squalor despite the fact that we seemed to prefer it to his infinite and impossibly generous love.
Okay, so God went to the orphanage and he chose us, despite our ornery and rebellious disposition, to be his adopted sons and daughters, with full rights in the household and full claims to the inheritance. We did not earn it, but now we have it. Annie’s story ends at that point, but where might it have gone? Where does our story go from here?
Well, unlike Annie, we did not choose this new life, so our first option might be to reject it entirely. We have the choice to run away and never have anything to do with God again, and large swaths of the baptized have chosen to do exactly that. But chances are good that anyone listening to this homily has not made that choice. Instead, we who are here have realized what a great gift our unexpected and unmerited adoption through baptism was, and we have decided to try to make the most of it. But remember, we come from the streets, like Annie did, so we have no idea how to live in the household of God.
Which means that our first task is, slowly, to learn the will of our father. How does he live? What are his mannerisms? How does he interact with us? What does he expect of us? How do we get along with everyone else who lives in the house? It will take time, and we will make plenty of mistakes. We may feel like we do not fit in for a while. But eventually, we will be pretty well in tune with our father, and confident that we can live well in his household as his children. Oftentimes, being adopted comes with a new name, that seems foreign at first, but eventually comes to feel natural. How much more so for those of us who have been given the name Christian.
Incidentally, how would we learn the rules and manners of our new household? Following around the Father of the house is probably not the wisest course of action. Plus, he may be away at work or some such thing. Thankfully, unlike Annie, we are not the only child who has been adopted into this household. In fact, our father has one natural child, the eldest child, Jesus, and Jesus seems to know his way around this household. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” It turns out that it is Jesus’ job to show us around the house and to teach us what it means to be children of our father. Jesus knows everything about our father and, apparently, he also knows everything about us. Not only does Jesus show us around, he also is the one to protect us in strange, new, and dangerous environments. “I am the good shepherd, and I will lay down my life for the sheep.” Remember, we are not guests in this household. We are full members. We are children. This is our house, too, and Jesus is our brother. We are his responsibility, and he will take care of us, not as guests or strangers but as younger brothers and sisters. “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.” Jesus is our shepherd, our guide, our friend, and, truly, our brother. We have been adopted by Jesus’ own father into that father’s own household.
Of course, we will not be spending our entire lives in the household of God. Even as we are learning what it looks like to be his children, we are also going out into the world. But, as children of our father, we now represent our father in everything we do. We become agents of our new family, trying to act as our father himself would act. Once he has made us his own through adoption, now we cannot be separated from his household, so everything we do is a representation of the household of God. Very much like the British royal family, who has been in the news recently, there really is no public and private. There is only, always, being an agent of the household – but in our case a household whose patriarch is perfect and without sin.
Thankfully, this agency is not hard if we have already dedicated ourselves to knowing and uniting ourselves to the will of our father. If we are already trying to learn how he would act, then we already know what we need to do. We simply ask ourselves at every moment, “What would my father want me to do here? How would my father interact with this person? What can I do to bring the resources of my father to bear on this situation?” And yes, I suppose, this may be exhausting, and like Prince Harry we may be tempted to walk away from our royal duties, but it is at those moments that we remember the incredible beneficence of God. The fact that we are a member of the household, that we are children, is a gift, freely bestowed upon us. Without God, without that adoption, we would be on the streets, alone, abandoned, without grace, without care. Trying to be a good representative of the perfect Father is the least we can do in return for being made his beloved sons and daughters and co-heirs with his son, Jesus.
So who are we as Christians? We are the freely adopted sons and daughters of God our father. We live our lives trying as best we can to unite ourselves to the rest of the household of God and to represent that household well everywhere we go in everything that we do. We give thanks for the incredible grace that has pulled us from the street and into a mansion, a mansion of care, support, and infinite love.
En caso de que no me hayan escuchado decirlo antes, lo diré nuevamente: si hay alguna esperanza para la cultura de los Estados Unidos, vendrá de la cultura de nuestros inmigrantes hispanos. Aquellos que vienen a nosotros desde México, Centro y Sudamérica a menudo todavía tienen una fe muy profunda en Dios y un compromiso muy profundo con la familia.
Se nota que la cultura hispana es saludable porque todavía hay niños, a veces muchos niños, en estas familias. La cultura gringa ha utilizado tanto control de la natalidad que no hay más nacimientos. Pero los hispanos aman a los niños, aman a las familias y piensan que son importantes. En el segundo en que la cultura hispana pierda este amor por la familia y el amor por los niños, sabremos que se ha corrompido al igual que el resto de los Estados Unidos.
Y debido a que nuestra comunidad hispana todavía tiene muchos niños, hoy es más fácil entender nuestra segunda lectura. En él, San Juan dice: “Miren cuánto amor nos ha tenido el Padre, pues no sólo nos llamamos hijos de Dios, sino que lo somos. Hermanos míos, ahora somos hijos de Dios.”
Esto no es solo una frase, no es solo algo agradable para decir. Es la verdad. Somos hijos de Dios. Hemos sido adoptados por Dios, llevados a su casa y engendrados sus hijos. Le pertenecemos. Nos ha reclamado.
Entonces, ¿por qué seguimos pensando que Dios nos odia, o está decepcionado de nosotros, o nos castiga, o no quiere tener nada que ver con nosotros? La mayoría de ustedes son padres. ¿Es así como amas a tus hijos? ¿Es así como tratas a tus hijos? Entonces, si somos hijos de Dios, ¿por qué pensaríamos que él nos trataría de esta manera?
No, en cambio, ¿cómo actúan los padres hacia sus hijos? Aman a sus hijos. Harían cualquier cosa por sus hijos. Hacen increíbles sacrificios por sus hijos, como Dios hizo por nosotros en la Cruz. De hecho, en muchas familias, los hijos se convierten en el centro de la vida familiar y el motivo de muchas cosas que hace la familia.
Por supuesto, los padres también enseñan a sus hijos. Por supuesto, hay disciplina en el hogar. Pero esta disciplina, cuando es santa y no cuando es pecaminosa, esta disciplina no proviene de un lugar de odio o decepción, sino de un lugar de amor, porque los padres quieren lo mejor para sus hijos. Dios quiere lo mejor para nosotros de la misma manera. Nos disciplina y nos enseña exactamente porque nos ama y quiere lo mejor para nosotros.
¿Y cómo tratan los padres a los niños rebeldes? Si la disciplina y la enseñanza fallan, a menudo permiten que sus hijos experimenten las consecuencias de sus acciones. “Oh, ¿no quieres vivir de acuerdo con las reglas de esta casa? Entonces tal vez necesites encontrar una nueva casa. Oh, ¿querías mentirme? Entonces dejaré de confiar en ti y debes recuperar mi confianza.” Pero nuevamente, cuando esto es santo y no pecaminoso, el propósito de los padres no es castigar porque están enojados, sino enseñar para que el niño pueda vivir una buena vida. Dios no quiere castigarnos nunca, quiere llevarnos al arrepentimiento y la conversión, para que podamos vivir una buena vida nuevamente. Si un niño se disculpa de verdad, un buen padre perdonará. Si le pedimos disculpas a Dios en confesión, él siempre nos perdonará.
Por supuesto, si somos hijos de Dios y podemos entender mejor a Dios como nuestro padre, entonces los padres tenemos la responsabilidad especial de ser padres según el ejemplo de Dios. He escuchado confesiones en el Skagit Valley y en el condado de Whatcom el tiempo suficiente para saber que, por eso, muchos adolescentes hispanos tratan con padres que son mucho más estrictos que los padres de sus amigos. Y este es un gran problema. Porque si sus padres son tan estrictos que nunca hay confianza ni libertad, ¿qué les enseña esto acerca de Dios? No es que Dios quiera lo mejor para ellos, sino que quiere controlar cada uno de sus movimientos. Y así, estos adolescentes comienzan a ver a Dios como un padre opresivo y demasiado estricto, y huyen de la fe al igual que huyen de su hogar. Debemos ser padres como Dios, con un amor profundo y un deseo de enseñar a través de la disciplina, no un deseo de controlar cada movimiento para prevenir cualquier daño. Dios no nos protege del daño. Aunque le entristece mucho, nos permite pecar y cometer errores horribles. Pero él siempre está donde nos damos cuenta de que estuvo en lo correcto todo el tiempo, y cuando volvemos a disculparnos y hacer las paces.
Mis hermanos y hermanas en Cristo, somos hijos de Dios. Dios es el padre perfecto y nos enseña a ser padres perfectos. Lo que sea que queramos de Dios nuestro padre, sea amor o afecto o perdón o cuidado o atención; todo lo que queramos de Dios nuestro padre, él nos lo dará. Pero también debemos dárselo a nuestros propios hijos.
Español (Original English)
In case you have not heard me say it before, I will say it again: if there is any hope for the culture of the United States, it will come from the culture of our Hispanic immigrants. Those who come to us from Mexico, Central, and South America often still have a very deep faith in God and a very deep commitment to family.
You can tell that the Hispanic culture is healthy because there are still children, sometimes many children, in these families. The Anglo culture has used so much birth control that there are no more births. But the Hispanics love children, love families, and think they are important. The second the Hispanic culture loses this love for family and love for children, we will know that it has been corrupted just as the rest of the United States has been corrupted.
And because our Hispanic community still has many children, it is easier to understand our second reading today. In it, Saint John says, “Miren cuánto amor nos ha tenido el Padre, pues no sólo nos llamamos hijos de Dios, sino que lo somos. Hermanos míos, ahora somos hijos de Dios.”
This is not just a phrase, this is not just a nice thing to say. It is the truth. We are children of God. We have been adopted by God, brought into his household, and made his children. We belong to him. He has claimed us.
So why do we still think about God has hating us, or being disappointed in us, or punishing us, or not wanting anything to do with us? Most of you are parents. Is this how you love your children? Is this how you treat your children? Then, if we are children of God, why would be ever think he would treat us this way?
No, instead, how do parents act toward their children? They love their children. They would do anything for their children. They make incredible sacrifices for their children, like God made for us on the Cross. In fact, in many families, the children become the center of family life, and the reason for many things that the family does.
Of course, parents also teach their children. There is, of course, discipline in the household. But this discipline, when it is holy and not when it is sinful, this discipline comes not from a place of hatred or disappointment, but from a place of love, because parents want what is best for their kids. God wants what is best for us in the same way. He disciplines us and he teaches us exactly because he loves us and wants what is best for us.
And how do parents deal with rebellious children? If discipline and teaching fail, they often allow their children to experience the consequences of their actions. Oh, you do not want to live according to the rules of this house? Then maybe you need to find a new house? Oh, you wanted to lie to me? Then I will stop trusting you and you must earn my trust back. But again, when this is holy and not sinful, the purpose of the parent is not to punish because they are angry, but to teach so that the child can live a good life. God does not ever want to punish us, he wants to bring us to repentance and conversion, so that we can live a good life again. If a child truly apologizes, a good parent will forgive. If we apologize to God in confession, he will always forgive us.
Of course, if we are children of God, and we can understand God best as our parent, then we parents have a special responsibility to be parents according to the example of God. I have heard confessions in the Skagit Valley and Whatcom County long enough to know that so, so many Hispanic teenagers deal with parents that are far more strict than their friends parents’. And this is a huge problem. Because if their parents are so strict that there is never any trust and never any freedom, what does this teach them about God? Not that God wants what is best for them, but that God wants to control their every move. And so these teenagers begin to see God as an oppressive, overly-strict parent, and they run from the faith just as they run from their household. We must be parents like God, with a deep love and a desire to teach through discipline, not a desire to control every movement in order to prevent any harm. God does not protect us from harm. Even though it makes him very sad, he allows us to sin and to make horrible mistakes. But he is always where when we realize that he was correct all along, and when we return to apologize and make amends.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are children of God. God is the perfect parent and he teaches us to be perfect parents. Whatever we want from God our father, be that love or affection or forgiveness or care or attention. Whatever we want from God our father, he will give us. But we must also give that to our own children.