Monthly Archives: December 2012

Rediscovering the Soul of the Family

The following is an excerpt from a much longer talk I gave earlier this month at the Blessed John Paul II Shrine in Washington, D.C. (owned and operated by the Knights of Columbus).  The talk was part of the Year of Faith Lecture Series and was given in conjunction with the Shrine’s Christmas exhibition, “Christmas Across Africa.”  I post this in honor of The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Enjoy!

From 1974 through 1979, the groundbreaking situation comedy Good Times aired on CBS.  Good Times followed the challenges and joys of the close-knit Evans family who lived in a housing project in inner city Chicago.  Episodes of Good Times dealt with the characters’ attempts to “get by” despite overwhelming odds.  The episodes were usually more uplifting and positive than melancholic as television audiences around the country watched the Evans family struggle and persevere together.

The Evans family represented the undaunted determination echoed in the lives of so many families throughout history.  James and Florida Evans epitomized a long tradition of parents striving to open doors for their children, creating opportunities for them to succeed despite the seemingly insurmountable barriers.  In the face of tremendous adversity, nuclear families struggled, prayed, and remained together.

As the dictatorship of relativism continues to cast a wide shadow over countries around the world, as the institution of marriage is threatened with redefinition, and as family life continues to decline and give way to an increasingly hedonistic culture that eschews the responsibility and commitment to life-long relationships, the task ahead of us seems daunting.  The key to restoring an Evans family ethos lies within the Holy Family, who beautifully express the very heart and soul of marriage and family life.

What, then, is the “soul” of marriage and family life?  Family spirituality is deeply rooted in natural law values shared by every race and culture.  Family life is contemplative: within the family there is an intense awareness of always being in the presence of God.  Family life is recognizing and affirming God’s providence even in the midst of discord.   Family life is both holistic and communitarian: the relationship between fathers, mothers and children does not find meaning and fulfillment in “I” but only in “we.”

Christmas Across Africa

Christmas Across Africa

Authentic family values recognize God as the Supreme Being who creates and sustains all things, and who participates deeply, intimately and personally in a relationship of life-giving love with His children, made in His image and likeness.  This mysterious communion is held together by what cultures recognized as its organizing principle: the preservation and strengthening of the “Life-Force” or “Power”, who has been revealed by Christ as the Holy Spirit.  Filled with this Spirit, family life is to be lived with passion and energy, and simultaneously protected from values neutrality and human malice, hallmarks of an ever encroaching culture of death.

When the family was threatened, the instinctive response within many cultures was to preserve and strengthen the Life Force by any means possible.  Within our contemporary context, this means that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the sine qua non of family life.

This assumes that the true nature of our faith is reflected in the way in which we relate both within the family and the created order, and that living in accord with the guiding principle of natural law (“do good, avoid evil”) synchronous with the fundamental tenet of Christian faith (“Love God and our neighbor as ourselves”), family life will naturally generate witness and actions directed toward the realization of authentic freedom energized by the power of the Holy Spirit.  In short, by participating in the divine nature, families become centers of holiness.

Both the material and anti-religious influences of modern society on the life of families represent a serious affront to our Catholic convictions and gravely hinder evangelization efforts.  The Church’s mission to evangelize –to go and make disciples for Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (cf. John 14:6) – has come face-to-face with a philosophical system that claims there is no objective truth independent of human subjectivity and reasoning.  Consequently, those who engage in evangelization activity are perceived by society to be a dangerous threat to the supreme goods of enlightened modernism, namely, “tolerance” and “diversity.”

Families must challenge the pernicious influence of contemporary culture by building upon the solid foundation of our faith, a faith that forms the heart and soul of our spiritual identity as Catholics.  “Inasmuch as all people are called to a life of holiness, [the family in particular, as the Domestic Church who is] faithful to the Holy Spirit and our Church’s teachings, must seek to pray and work in the spirit of our ancestors in the Faith” (National Black Catholic Congress, Congress IX, Spirituality Principle, 2002).  Thus, in the spirit of the Holy Family and the saints, we must respond with courage, conviction, and unwavering faith to our baptismal call to holiness, to answer Christ’s directive to “be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect”: to “shoulder the responsibility laid upon us by our Baptism into the Body of Christ.  This responsibility is to proclaim our faith and to take an active part in building up the Church” (What We Have Seen and Heard, 18).

This is the nature of covenant relationship within the family.  Covenant relationship means making a complete gift of yourself to another in an outpouring of life-giving love; it is a relationship of sacrifice centered in love of God and love of our brothers and sisters made in God’s image and likeness.  Covenant love is not the arrogant self-love of the culture that places the individual at the center of all meaning and existence, and where truth can be changed to fit one’s personal beliefs, situation, and circumstances.  Within the context of family life, covenant relationship desires Jesus Christ above all else by seeking the good in each member of the family.

Jesus Christ must be at the heart, the core, the very center of our family life.  The better we understand and honor Christ’s role in the family, the more we will be able to love Christ present in each of its members throughout our lives.  Emmanuel, who is the solid foundation of Catholic family life, and who in Himself established the new and eternal covenant, will constantly renew the marriage and family covenant.  The witness of the Holy Family must serve as a constant reminder to our families that God alone is the fountain from which we will receive the strength, power, and grace that we need to help each other get to heaven.

©2012 Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers

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Violence and Strife in Our Land

“O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and thou wilt not hear? Or cry to thee ‘Violence!’ and thou wilt not save?  Why dost thou make me see wrongs and look upon trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is slacked and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous, so justice goes forth perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2-4).

jesus-holding-girl

There’s no point trying to make sense of this week’s tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  It was senseless.

Like many of us, Habakkuk can no longer endure the situation the world finds itself in.  Violence, abuse, and oppression are everywhere.  He cannot comprehend how God can seemingly stand by and watch.  He also realizes that we cannot improve the world’s situation by ourselves—God will need to help us.  That help comes in the Person and mission of Jesus Christ, whose birth we are preparing to celebrate, who saved us from certain death and restored us to life.

What he have seen this week in Oregon and Connecticut are the results of an increasingly hedonistic and godless society where foundational belief in the One True God is becoming progressively more irrelevant.  We’re at the point in this country where even the mention of God is met with fervent opposition, booing, and even the threat of lawsuits.  Our religious liberty, a fundamental tenet upon which this great nation was founded, is in jeopardy.  We replace the God of the universe with moral relativism and subjective truth, where “me” and “my opinions” are god.  A distorted sense of “diversity” and “tolerance” have replaced objective truth, natural law, and common sense.  And we wonder why we’re in the mess we are in today. We reap what we sow.

For the naysayers who claim there is no such thing as evil or that Satan does not exist: this is your wake-up call.  The fact that these horrifically malevolent events occurred so close to Christmas is the devil’s attempt to focus our attention away from Christ, who is the true light and life of the world, and instead stumble around aimlessly in the darkness of sin and death.  Satan will try to use the events in Oregon and Connecticut to cut us off from the life of God, to empty us of grace and fill us with hatred, anger, polemics, and a foreboding sense of hopelessness.

Although we can’t make sense of them, what do the events of this past week mean for us who empathize?  It is within the Cross of Christ that we find the true meaning of love and sacrifice, virtues intrinsic to the law that is written on our hearts (see Romans 2:14-15).  “It is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire.  The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross” (Saint John of the Cross).

In and through the cross, we must begin to find ourselves again and this effort must begin with a return to a culture of life: to a deep and abiding respect for all human life that is woven into the fabric of every human soul.  The return to a life ethos will ensure that no human being assumes “the right to decide who shall live and who shall die.  The right to life is not something that is given to human beings by a government, judicial body, parent, or institution of any kind.  The right to life is the most basic and fundamental right that exists by the very nature of a human person’s being.  We must not weigh human suffering on the one hand with the value of human life on the other […] We exist not to avoid suffering, but to find meaning in the suffering that is unavoidable” (Natalie Hudson).

Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers are with all of the families who have endured unbelievable loss after this week’s events.  But what should our response be?  The answer is not as simple as “gun control” or “prayer in school,” which will undoubtedly be used as pawns in a political shoving match.  We must take a serious look inward: we must examine ourselves as a nation, rediscover the beauty and truth of our Christian heritage, and renew our commitment to metanoia, a turning back toward God, a complete change of direction.  We have been wallowing in the mire of self-centered individualism for too long.  We must challenge the pernicious influence of contemporary culture by building upon the solid principles and values that have shaped the heart and soul of our identity as the Land of the Free.

We are in a spiritual battle.  Let us, then, arm ourselves as Saint Paul did with the weapons of strength, love, and wisdom in the Spirit.  Our strength, which comes from God, is rooted in love and gives us the faith and courage to bear hardships for the gospel.  None of us enjoys suffering, and as followers of Christ and witnesses of Truth, we cannot sit idly by and do nothing as others suffer and die all around us.  In this busy world that numbs us and lulls us into complacency, it’s good for us to be shocked by what we see: to stand still and take a long, hard look at what the culture is truly saying to us, to look upon death, and to live with Christ in the heart of God—to savor the sweetness of the Father’s gift of endless mercy and life-giving love.

©2012 Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers

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Deacon Harold and Colleen Invite You To Do Something Special for Your Marriage in This Year of Faith!

TGC Jamaica

Great Christmas present for your spouse!
Register for your trip by December 24th, 2012 &

ENTER TO WIN your trip PAID IN FULL by Deacon Harold!

Registration deadline is December 31st, 2012
For more information, see details below or contact Kristina Erdmann
What will the Couples Getaway do for you and your spouse?

·      Establish a strong spiritual foundation and deeper commitment to seeking God together.

·      Show more affection, reverence, and esteem for each other.

·      Develop loving habits that will become part of your everyday life.

·      Rekindle the love, joy, and passion you once felt in your relationship.

  • Event:                         Couples Retreat 2013
  • Dates:                         April 3rd – 8th, 2013
  • Location:                    Montego Bay, Jamaica
  • Hotel:

Price Includes:           

Daily Couples Seminar with Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers

One-on-one sessions with Deacon Harold and Colleen Burke-Sivers

Round trip airport-hotel-airport transfers

Five nights of accommodations (Garden View Room)

All inclusive resort plan (meals, drinks, most non-motorized water sports)

To Register:   

1) Fill out the registration form HERE.

 –Please use Full Name as shown on passport.
2) Non-refundable deposit of $250.00 upon registration.
3) Contact Brenda for flight information and purchase.
                                              bmcclain@allseasonstravel.com

 4) Make final payment of $2550.00 and $2850.00 (Ocean View) by January 15th, 2013

5) Secure a passport by January 31st, 2013.

Cancellation deadline: January 1st, 2013

Pre-Registration FAQ’s

What information will I need to book the Couples Retreat?
            Full Legal Name (as seen on your passport)
            Date of Birth
            Any health concerns we should know about
            Citizenship
            Address
            Phone Number
            Email Address
            Emergency Contact Information
Who may attend the Couples Retreat?
Deacon Harold’s Couples Getaway in Jamaica is for married couples of any age.  The Couples Getaway is meant for couples who want to re-connect on a deeper level with Christ and each other.
What is NOT INCLUDED in the price of the Couples Getaway?
            Airfare
            Items of personal nature (phone calls, internet, laundry, etc)
            Spa and Salon
            Any meals off property
            Travel Insurance (this can be purchased separately)
Is it possible to book our own room and pay to participate in the retreat?
There are only 20 couples allowed into the program, and each couple needs to purchase the package deal in order to take advantage of this worthwhile event.
Pre-Trip Details
What day/time should we arrive?
Arrive on April 3rd, 2013.  First group meeting will be in the morning on April 4th, 2013.  Departure will be in the am on April 8th, 2013.
What kind of travel documentation will we need?
Proper travel documentation is required and is the responsibility of the guest.  U.S citizens are required to show a valid, up-to-date U.S. passport.  It is important the guest names on the travel documents be identical to those used during registration.
Can we purchase travel insurance?
  • Yes, you can for an additional fee.  If you would like to purchase travel insurance please contact: Brenda McClain  bmcclain@allseasonstravel.com
What should we pack?
Casual attire is the order of the day.  Casual shorts, jeans, tops and sundresses are welcome everywhere.
What about my medications?
Please carry your required medications in your pocket or purse so that it will be available when needed.  Checked luggage may not be accessible at all times.
What are the goals of the Couples Getaway?
As a result of the Couples Getaway, we pray that the couples will:
  • Establish a strong spiritual foundation and deeper commitment to seeking God together.
  • Show more affection, reverence, and esteem for each other.
  • Develop loving habits that will become part of their everyday life.
  • No longer take each other for granted.
  • Rekindle the love, joy, and passion they once felt in their marriage relationship.

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