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2/2/2020 Presentation of the Lord - Fr. Reggie

The birth of a child is always a special event.

In the time of Jesus, Jewish traditions surrounded childbirth with a series of religious rituals that expressed just how special it was.

These are the rituals that St. Luke describes in today's Gospel passage. One of the rituals consisted in a new mother offering a sacrifice to God, to symbolize her awareness that, by bringing new life into the world, she participated in a special way in God’s own holiness and power. Usually, this sacrifice consisted of offering a lamb and a pigeon. But St. Luke explains that Mary offers two pigeons instead of the normal combination. 

This tells us something important about Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. A stipulation of the Jewish law allowed an offering of two pigeons for those families too poor to afford a lamb (pigeons cost much less than lambs).  Jesus Christ, King of the universe, not only became man, but he became a member of a normal, humble, working class family.  Mary, Queen of heaven and earth, lived her incomparably holy life as wife and mother in a poor family.  Joseph, patron of the universal Church and greatest of all Patriarchs, worked hard just to keep enough bread on the table.  Such a normal family, such an ordinary life… And that was how God chose to live when he came to earth.

God wants us to know that his Kingdom is within us; we can find him in the midst of our normal occupations, where he wants to be with us as our friend. 

He wants us to know that true, lasting happiness doesn't come from having a lot of money, or things, or achievements, or celebrity.

No – if those things were the secret to meaning and happiness, then Jesus would have been born into luxury and comfort.

Real happiness comes from a kind of wealth that no one sees, the wealth of a heart set on knowing and loving God.

We are all tempted to forget this, to think that money and material wealth can solve all our problems, and that can lead us into the capital sin of greed.

Remember the Wicked Witch of the West from the classic film The Wizard of Oz ? A frightening figure, with her green face, long and pointed nose, claw-like hands (always rubbing together), hunched posture, and obnoxious, cackling voice. She wanted Dorothy''s ruby slippers. She really wanted them; she couldn''t live without them. She wanted them so much that she was willing to kill for them. All her evil power was furiously bent on getting those slippers. Her resentment of Dorothy for having something she wanted is a classic example of envy, but her maniacal desire to acquire the slippers for herself is a classic example of greed.

The frightening thing about the Wicked Witch is that we can all relate to her.

We have all felt the powerful attraction of material things; we have all felt the temptation to lie and steal in order to get what we want.

Faith and trust in God is the antidote to greed, the answer to those temptations.

Faith and trust in God remind us that life means more than stuff, they show us the true meaning of all material realities. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, we are on a purposeful journey; our lives are a pilgrimage to the Father's house. God has made sure that we have all the supplies we need to make this voyage, including the goods of the earth. They nourish and sustain our life and health (that''s their material purpose), and their beauty and order also show forth God's goodness and wisdom (that's their spiritual purpose). But when our desire for them leads us off the path of faith in, love for, and obedience to God, we become easy pickings for the Witch.

There is a vast difference between having poison and being poisoned.  Doctors have all kinds of poisons for their use, but they are not poisoned.  In like manner, you may possess riches without being poisoned by them " (St Francis de Sales)

Three Tips to Conquering Stuff with the Spirit

Material things are useful for life, but they are not meant to be the main ingredient of life; that's what our relationship with God is for.

And the example of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph reminds us of this.

There are at least three things we can do to keep God primary and material things secondary.

First, we can use a budget.

If you would like some help learning to make and use a budget, there is a wonderful Catholic web site with guidelines, consultations, and resources: Budgets help us prioritize our material needs, either as individuals or as families. They help us get out of unhealthy debt and use our money wisely, according to realobjective priorities, not just momentary cravings and whims.

Second, we can make sure that we regularly eat meals together as a family. This helps us turn a material need into a spiritual reality, which helps us in turn to avoid  becoming obsessed with material things. We can imagine what family meals were like for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus: a time for relaxation and conversation, a time to build relationships, a time to learn from each other and to get know each other. The modern world wants to take that away . If we let it do so, just think how much our lives and our society will be impoverished!

Third, we can renew our commitment to spending at least ten minutes a day in personal prayer, reflecting on the Bible and speaking heart-to-heart with Christ.

This is one way to protect our relationship with God and make it grow, and that's what really matters, because that's what will last forever.



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