Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Circumcision, Adoption, and Us

Readings for Sunday, January 1/ Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God:
Numbers 6:22-27
Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:16-21

“When the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

All of us go through life and experience different things and those things – our baggage, in a sense – color the way we understand and interact with the situations, places, and people we encounter later in life. My own life experience greatly changes the way that I pray with the passage I just quoted from St. Paul because I was actually adopted shortly after my birth. To contemplate receiving ‘adoption as sons’ isn’t some lofty thought for me, but is strikingly concrete. I think of the decisions parents have to make about when, how, and if they should tell the child about their adoption. I think about the struggle to understand what it means to be adopted. I think about the occasional ‘out of place’ feeling that still makes it’s way into my heart and the frustration of having to say “I don’t know” to my family history on medical forms. That’s how I approach this simple sentence of the story of being brought into the family of God. It’s tough sometimes, it can be a bit messy, and it doesn’t happen without planning, preparation, and a price tag.

This past weekend I took a little road trip up to Ohio to visit my family up there and met up with my cousin Britt. He and his wife are working on adopting a child into their family and he was telling me all of the plans, preparation, and prices to make that a reality. It turns out that a family has to have $12,000 before they can even start the process because of legal fees and all sorts of hoops that one must jump through to be able to adopt. But the truth, my brothers and sisters, is that when Jesus Christ took on our flesh and came among us as a child, the price was much higher than $12,000.

God had the plan drawn up from all creation. He knew when He created Adam & Eve that they would fall and that they and their descendents would need a savior. He knew everything that would happen in all of time before time even began. He knew that you would be there tonight in the spot you are with the people you’re with and even the color of shirt you’d choose to wear. He’s God. He doesn’t predetermine things where we lose our freedom, but He does know all that will happen. And so He set out His plan and began to bring it to fulfillment. Those of you who attended the Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve heard the Gospel of Matthew wherein he gave the genealogy of Jesus… ‘Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, and so on down to Jesus’. Through the Old Testament we can look to the many ways that God was preparing His people for what was to come; how the crossing of the Red Sea prepared the way for baptism, how the Manna in the desert prepared the way for the Eucharist, and how the prophets all spoke of the Christ who was to come. All of those things God was preparing for our adoption. And then the day came to make it happen, to pay the price and make us adopted sons and daughters of a heavenly Father.

The Circumcision from the Workshop of Giovanni Bellini
This first day of the New Year, the Octave of Christmas, in the Ordinary Form of the Mass (the Mass of Vatican II) we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. This title of Our Lady emphasizes the fact that she indeed bore God in her own womb and gave birth to the Word Made Flesh. But in the Extraordinary Form Mass (the Mass prior to Vatican II/Traditional Latin Mass), this feast is that of the Circumcision of the Lord. This is so because in the Jewish tradition, on the eighth day after birth every male child would be circumcised and given their name as a sign of being brought into the family of God, the people of Israel. Interestingly enough, we Christians also have a circumcision that we must undergo to be brought into the family of God. But rather than a circumcision of the flesh, it is one of the heart. In baptism, we are brought before the Lord and by the blessed waters, original sin is cut from our hearts and we are joined to the Church, the Body of Christ, the family of God. And there, too, we are given our name in the Lord. That’s why the first line of the baptism ritual even today is ‘What name have you given your child?’ All of us have been circumcised in our hearts, brought into the family of God and made sons and daughters of the Father. But the truth is that we must continue to undergo a circumcision of our hearts to be able to rejoice in the riches of the kingdom. There are still sins that each of us cling to in this life, things that we have joined ourselves to that pull us away from God and try to take us out of the family. Things that the devil tries to use to make us think we don’t belong here. And the Lord invites us today to let Him come to us once again and cut those things away, to set aside the old and rejoice in the new. Christ paid a heavy price for our adoption as sons a daughters  - that of His own life and blood. Are we really willing to do the same for Him?

I realize I’m saying this and some of you are probably thinking, ‘Wow, Father, we were all joyful at the start of a New Year and came looking for a nice pick-me-up homily to cap off the Christmas octave but you’re being sort of a downer today.’ I recognize that. But think about this as well. When Jesus came among us He didn’t come in a nice little nativity scene like we have in the sanctuary. He was born in a cave, where the animals were kept, and He was laid in a manger, a feeding trough. I may be a city boy, but I have been to enough farms and barns to know that animals don’t smell nice and they aren’t neat freaks. They can be pretty disgusting at times, and yet that’s the place where Jesus comes. It’s not pretty, but it’s reality. Also, think about the fact that on December 25 we celebrate Christmas, the birthday of Jesus, the King of Peace! Then on the 26th, St. Stephen the Martyr. On the 27th, St. John the Apostle, the only one of the 12 Apostles not martyred. On the 28th, the Holy Innocents, that army of youths slain in attempts to kill the Christ child. On the 29th, St. Thomas Becket, who was martyred for the faith in England. Are you sensing a trend?! The King of Peace comes indeed, but the message is clear: the peace is not necessarily of this world but of the world to come. Should we strive to attain peace in this life? Absolutely! Should we be surprised if we don’t receive it like we want? No. That’s the journey of this life, the purifying fire, if you will. That’s one reason that I wear the particular vestments that I do. You have likely noticed that at almost every Mass I wear this extra vestment on my left arm. It’s called a maniple. It is a handkerchief and, since the priest’s hands were touching the Body of Christ, it was tied around the left arm so that when he needed to wipe off his face from the sweat of the work of celebrating Mass, he could do so without using his hands. After years it became an official vestment of the priest and the prayer that accompanies it when vesting speaks of it in reference to the ‘tears and sorrows’ of this life. Living the faith isn’t easily. But the word of consolation is this: Christ has taken on our flesh and was brought into the family of God on Earth so that we might be adopted into the family of God in Heaven. We are sons and daughters of a heavenly Father whose love knows no bounds, and that love promises that we his children are not just sons and daughters but also heirs of the Kingdom.