Know Your Dignity: 7th S. 2020

Today’s reflection is for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 23, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This post continues the theme of “The Holy Family.”

I’m always saddened to hear about parents who abuse their children; verbally, physically, emotionally, or otherwise. It is such a contradiction in the order of things. It is quite clear to me that those who do not know their own worth will act as though they have none at all, and will often treat others the same.

All of our readings today point to the dignity and value of a person, not for what they have done or have failed to do, but simply because they are. What a beautiful thought. In a world that measures a person’s worth by accomplishments and/or wealth, the gospel teaches us that we are valuable because we are a child of the most high God. We have been created a masterpiece, filled with dignity and grace. Period. End of the story. Amazing.

It’s our inner amazingness that demands an outward expression. To fail in this regard is to fail to image God, in whose image we have been created, and whose temple we have become. Said in another way, we are great not because of what we do, we do what we do because we are great! St. Paul heard that the church in Corinth was not living up to their full Christian dignity—rivals, divisions, factions, arrogance, selfishness, idolatry, and revelry. He just assumes this can only be because they have forgotten who they are. He asks, “Brothers and sisters: Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

Similarly, Moses is commanded by God, “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” God is not saying to “be tall because I am,” or be fast, or be funny. God is saying to be holy—something all of us can be, because we are created like Him and by Him, and that’s what He is, and that’s what all of us can be if we choose to be so. We must make the decision each day to be like Him.

And this is the primary role of parents, of course—to be examples of who we are as Holy Children of God, who live and treat others with the dignity and respect that each of them deserves as God’s child as well—whether they know it or not, we do.

That starts in our home and is also lived out in the world. Children look first and foremost at their parents to understand who other people are in relation to themselves. If parents berate each other, insult others, dismiss, or ignore others then children quickly learn and do the same. They are taught that others are of less worth or less dignity than ourselves—and if that is true, then the scriptures and our faith is not. Far from worthless, we are worth-full!

EVERY person is created in the image and likeness of God and has worth beyond imagining. The homeless, the incarcerated, the theologian, the millionaire, the teacher, democrats, republicans, and the list goes on. Any given person (our children and ourselves included), at any given moment may not be living in a dignified and holy way, but they possess dignity and value nonetheless—because it is a gift freely given by our generous God. It is not something earned, but something received.

This is why the cycle of violence must end with we who know. As the Gospel teaches, we don’t take an eye when someone takes an eye, that would make not one but two people acting unholy and in undignified ways. When someone who does not know your worth, who does not know that you’re an amazing child of God strikes you on your cheek or takes your tunic, we cannot reduce ourselves that level of ignorance! We know better! We cannot act in an unloving way toward God’s children! We know who they are. We know their great worth—even if they don’t! We don’t act in kind when mistreated, we seek to educate through patience, long suffering and perseverance.

Thank God for great teachers who help children each day to know their own worth. So many of our students come to school dirty, in dirty clothes, without socks, with uncombed hair filled with lice—such a sad condition. If only someone had recognized the Christ in the infant Jesus the holy family would never have been thrust into the manger. Our teachers, holy people and holy parents, help people—and especially their children—to know their greatness, who help them see Christ present, and to respond to the greatness that is in them.

This is why Jesus commands us to, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The violence that is within us, and the cycle of violence within the world will not end by those who do not know, it can only end by people who recognize the dignity in the whole of humanity. And the violence toward the earth, whose stewards we are, will only end when we realize and take responsibility for the fact that the earth does not belong to me, but to the children of God in every generation. Let me never squander it.

May holy families always pray first. At bedtime each night think to include those that day who acted harshly toward us or others. Pray that God can use us to help them to see. In that way, we grow in holiness, recognize the holiness in others, and like Jesus, help to open the eyes of the blind that they too might see, and that we can see more clearly too. Amen.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

The Presentation: 4th S. 2020

Today’s reflection is for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, February 2, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This post continues the theme of “The Holy Family.”
Let me first be clear, Jesus was NOT Christian! Jesus was Jewish. His family was Jewish, and his religious community was Jewish too. We who follow him, recognize him as the Christ, the anointed one of God, and through the mystery of Baptism, we come to share in his anointing, and that makes us Christian–not him.
Today’s Gospel reads, “When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord.”

Jesus had great parents who took their Jewish religion seriously. They were both open to the prompting of God, which brought the Savior into the world. They listened to their conscience and did what was right by God–and so should we who strive to be holy families. The Holy Family brought their child to be circumcised according to the law of Moses so that he might be presented to the community. When the community has a new member, it is cause to celebrate!

Circumcision is not just a custom that Jews do when their children are eight days old, however. It is a way of making public what had been to that point a more private affair, the birth of a child into a family. Circumcision publicly commits a child into the family of God–into a Holy Nation. And the nation rightly celebrates the growth of the nation by new membership!
As Christians, we do not circumcise, but we do Baptize! Baptism has, for Christians, replaced circumcision as a sign of entry into the people of God. It takes on all the same significance that circumcision does for Jews, and more!
Baptism ushers us into the family of God, presents us to the community (which is why baptisms should take place within liturgical celebrations), cleanses us of sin, and makes us sharers in God’s work of salvation. We don’t know of any other way to be united with the Savior, with the community of faith, and to experience salvation through him (C.C.C. 1213). “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life... Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission.”

Holy Parents do wait to bring their child to the Church, the community of faith. They bring their child forward as early as possible to be cleansed of the stain of original sin and be born again of water and Spirit. To be presented to the community, to God, and to receive His grace, friendship, and love.

It’s not only about heaven and hell, it’s about life and love, and community, and welcoming the newest member of the Church. Baptism is amazing. No wonder the church teaches parents not to wait…why would you?!

I often hear that baptism is for individuals to choose, not have the choice made for them, or so goes the argument for adult baptism, but the truth is that my children were born into my family without choice. They were named without choice. They were fed without choice. And they brush their teeth without choice.

As a loving parent, it’s my job to do what’s good for my children. And I believe in the real grace and salvation of baptism. Why would a loving parent who believes in God, and the power of sacraments, and who belongs to a community of faith, not publicly celebrate that child’s entry into the community at any age?

Baptism is not about what an individual chooses or does, but is rather first and foremost what God is doing. God is naming, God is blessings, God is saving. We respond as best as we can. Throughout our whole life we respond as best as we can. And some days are better, and some worse, but I know that I forever belong to a community of faith and am a child of the most holy God. And holy families want that for their children too. Like Rafiki in The Lion King, present the child. Amen.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos