9 Dec 2018
2nd Sunday of Advent, Year C
The “separation of Church and State” is an idea we’re all familiar with. It comes from the First Amendment to our Constitution, where it reads that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." And, today, that amendment is so often taken to mean that the Church and the State should just mind their own business; that they shouldn’t have anything to say to one another; and even, perhaps, that they should at least be unfriendly, if not combative, toward each other.
And I bring this up because it’s a dangerous interpretation which undercuts the well-being of society. Instead, the “separation of Church and State” means that they should cooperate with one another, without trying to replace the other. Both have the same goal; namely, the flourishing of human society, the flourishing of the human person. But they approach that goal from different spheres: one human, and the other divine.
It’s why the clergy are prohibited—by the Church—from supporting any particular candidate or party. Instead, we support general Christian principles. And it’s why there’s such a problem when the State tries to “push” any one set of religious beliefs (or lack of beliefs) over and against another. The Church and the State can’t replace one another, and they have to cooperate; again, for the good of human society and the flourishing of the human person.
In some ways, the country is like a “home.” We have certain values embedded in the State, and those values help shape us; values like: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And we have certain values embedded in our homes, too, that shape who we are; values like: “don’t hit your brother,” and “eat everything on your plate and be thankful.” So you can imagine the impact of having God in the home, and God in society.
God gives us values. He shows us what’s important and what isn’t. He shows us what’s right and what’s not. So in a society where God has been banished, or in a home where God is not welcome, there are going to be some important values missing. And those are values, teachings, and truths which cannot be replaced by the government or by secular society. A society and a home where God is “separated” off and banished is a severely handicapped place.
And it’s not only a handicapped place, it’s an increasingly scary place, as we see on the news, in social media, and so on. There’s a certain lawlessness, valuelessness, a place of violence, where “it’s every man and woman for themselves.” Of course, it’s not like that all over the place. There certainly are pockets of civility and goodness. But those pockets are places (and people) where God is still allowed to be a part of life; where God hasn’t been “separated” off. And one of those places, hopefully, is in our own homes.
Last weekend, Deacon Mike brought up the idea of the “Domestic Church.” And it’s something the homilies will focus on through the Feast of the Holy Family. And we’re doing that very intentionally, because we know that the health of the Church, and the health of any sort of missionary work we do is entirely dependent upon spiritual health in the family, in the home. Without homes where God is welcome, we don’t have much to build on, and the gospel cannot be spread—except by a few people who are paid to do that. And that’s not really what Jesus envisioned for his people.
Now, “evangelization” is an intimidating word—mainly because we immediately picture people going around door-to-door, standing on street corners, trying to shout out the good news to whomever will listen. And for some people that might be what their vocation in life looks like: to be a street preacher. And that’s fine and we can support them. But for most of us, the call to share the gospel is much simpler. The call involves simply having a home where God is welcome and invited.
If you’re a parent, you evangelize your children every time you pray and give thanks before a meal. You share the gospel every time you correct your children—with love, with firmness, with a desire to see them be “good” people. You share God with your children by being the face of God to them, when it’s easy and when it’s difficult. You don’t have to stand on a street corner to evangelize; you just have to have a home where God and his influence are welcome and invited.
If you’re empty nesters, how do the kids and the grandkids experience your home? your marriage? Do they realize that “this is a Catholic home,” and that prayer is important, that truth is important, and that happiness and mutual respect are values of your home? Do the two of you pray together? Do you ask God to be part of your marriage, just like you did on your wedding day?
If you’re a widow or a widower (or even a single person who’s never been married), what do you fill the “empty times” with? Family and friends? God? With the front door always open to God, there’s always someone to share with, there’s always someone to laugh with and to cry with. Even when life gets tough, do God’s hope and love still dwell in your home?
Sharing the gospel, being missionary disciples begins in the home. It begins in the Domestic Church. It doesn’t happen in the parish office. It doesn’t happen in the Sunday homily. It doesn’t really even happen here at Mass. Sharing the gospel, living the gospel begins at home. Nothing can replace a home where God dwells.
Now, if I were in the pews listening to this homily, I would feel...nervous, maybe. And that’s because I’m not crazy about others trying to organize my personal life. And this talk about God’s influence in the home gets personal. Of course, that’s something I’ve had to get over—because it’s God we’re talking about. You know, God isn’t someone we invite into our homes, only to have him just sit there—kind of like when Martha had Jesus over for coffee and donuts and she couldn’t stop telling him what to do.
Welcoming God into our home also means welcoming a certain amount of change—and stability—into our home. While I’m sure God enjoys the coffee and donuts and our hospitality, he especially enjoys it when we sit down and let him do the talking. And I don’t mean just having him remind us of the commandments and the Beatitudes and his other teachings. I mean sitting down and listening to his story. Who is this Jesus? What’s God the Father like?—we know he’s happy to share what he knows. What was it like to be raised by Mary and Joseph? How did it feel to be betrayed by his friends? What makes him happy? What makes him sad?
And that might be a change for us—to welcome God into our home, but to let him do the talking; to let him be that person who people gather around to hear stories. That might be a change for us: to actually welcome God and to take in what he has to share—not only as a visitor, but as a member of the family.
But with that change in approach to God (if that would be a change for you), God also brings a certain stability to the home; stability by way of a set of values and beliefs, stability by way of a solid faith, a confident hope, and that never-ending light of Christian love. God transforms the home into the Domestic Church, and the Domestic Church transforms society into an earthly kingdom—one household at a time. But it all begins by welcoming the Lord into our home, into our personal space, and letting him set the tone at home.
Now, the Jewish people have a long-standing tradition with the ritual of circumcision (it has its roots in the First Book of Kings). And the tradition is that they place a “chair for Elijah” next to the person who leads the ritual. The Prophet Malachi refers to Elijah as “the messenger of the covenant” (Mal 3:1). And Elijah serves as “the guardian of the little ones” being circumcised. And so, Elijah’s Chair signifies his presence; it signifies the blessing and protection of God at the ritual. A physical chair signifies Elijah’s presence in the home.
And we can take a cue from this Jewish tradition. When we welcome the Lord into our homes, into our families, is there a physical “something” we put in place as a reminder of his Living Presence? Many people put a crucifix in a prominent place. Maybe there’s an image of Jesus or the Trinity or the Holy Family that sits on the mantel—not by itself, but maybe with a candle by it, and a little basket by it where we can offer our prayers and thoughts to God.
When we welcome the Lord into our homes, is there a physical “something” that serves as a reminder of his presence? Next weekend, we’ll talk more about some of those concrete ways we might do that.
But, for now, this weekend, it’s good to consider some fundamental questions: How do people know that my home is a Christian home? What do they experience there? And how do I, myself, remember that God dwells in my home...that I have welcomed him, not just for a visit, but to stay. How do I see to it that in my house there is no “separation” between God and the life that goes on in my home?