Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
Red poinsettias
By Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
December 30, 2013

I would not claim that poinsettias miraculously turn red at Christmas, but the coincidence is remarkable. Actually, the process begins many days before Christmas where the poinsettias were kept in complete darkness for twelve hours every day until their leaves turn red. Reminiscent of the long nights Mary and Joseph traveled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to draw down the Light of God, Christ into the world who ultimately sheds his blood as red as poinsettias, as red of the blood of the martyr Stephen remembered on the day after Christmas, as red as the blood Jesus shed recorded in the Gospel of John on the second day after Christmas and finally as red as the blood of the Holy Innocents commemorated on the third day after Christmas.

Each of these memorials, Stephen's, John's and the Holy Innocents' – the Church celebrates on the days immediately following the birth of Christ, reminders that Jesus came not only to die for the sins of the world but to enlist us to be his continuing witnesses in the world until the end of time. This process of bringing light out of the darkness continues to this day until the end of the world and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth where God will illumine everything. Not all those who will gain heaven will wear the red of martyrs. Many will be clothed in white, but all, red and white, will be witnesses of Christ by the conduct of their lives through this passing world which is a burden we can bear for the sake of eternal happiness. ( cf. Matthew 11: 28-29 ). All it requires is God's grace and our faith. We should not be afraid of the greatness of God's power. "Some are born great . . . . Some achieve greatness . . . . And some have greatness thrust upon them," Shakespeare famously said. (Twelfth Night, Act 3, scene 4). It is a matter of proportion and scale. The majority of people may have sanctity 'thrust upon' them as long as they have all their priorities in order and are open to God's advances – even children and adolescents have endured martyrdom as did Saints Lucy, Agnes, Aloysius Gonzaga, Dominic Savio and the Holy Infants of Bethlehem. They had the right disposition of heart and mind which is possible for any of us. We will only know years from now how many martyrs there were, for instance, in Egypt, Syria and China. The witness of faith is a powerful force especially among family and friends. Think of the effect God had on Mary and Joseph, the mother and step-father of Jesus.

I often, however, think we get our faith backwards. We may strive with good intentions to model the Holy Family to our human circumstances and miss all the preparations God made for our benefit beginning with the baptismal vows our parents made for us as God the Father foreordained at his Son's baptism by John the Baptist. Jesus was not baptized for any forgiveness of sin but to embody the Father's and the Son's relationship with mankind which the Church re-enacts in the Sacrament of Baptism. "The Spirit of God descending like a dove [we read] and coming to rest on him and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3: 16- 17). (Lord God are you pleased with us?) With Mary and Joseph God re-created a New Adam in Jesus and a New Eve in Mary, setting in motion a new human family bound closer to God through Jesus then was ever the case in the old creation which we are passing through in this lifetime. Jesus made that clear when his Mother Mary and his other relations came to see him while he was teaching:
    and standing outside they asked for him [while] a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, 'Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you.' [What did Jesus say?] 'Who are my mother and my brothers?' And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother'. (Mark 3: 31-35).
We were God's intended children long before we were our biological parents' children. Sad as it may be – and I know how sad that can be – we may be living separate lives within our human families. If they are not here with us in all likelihood they have separated themselves from us which does not mean we care less for them. But clearly a moral divide exists between us. We are already in the times Jesus spoke of – among relatives who ignore, berate or scoff at our Catholicity which is no time for us to shrink away or be apologetic. We have enough of that from others in the media, liberal activists and their defenders in the government. Jesus forewarned us about this when he said:
    I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. (Luke 12: 49-53).
It is also instructive how Jesus anticipated our possible qualms or denials when he added:

"When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, 'A shower is coming.' And so it happens. . . . You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" (Ibid. 54-56). Our times are the same as they were for the Apostle of Paul in Rome when he said:
    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth . . . . For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own person the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:18-24). [The Apostle Jude repeated the same condemnation] just as Sodom and Gomorrah . . . which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:7).
There is no greater danger to the family than the acceptance and promotion of homosexuality in our society. Ironic, too, that homosexual behavior for many is legally and morally acceptable but our vocal opposition to homosexuality is considered politically incorrect, socially offensive and hateful speech. The argument is usually couched in terms of 'discrimination' as if the word itself is illegitimate which means 'to distinguish one thing from another', as rational as distinguishing sweet from sour, cold from hot or ignorance from knowledge. We may condemn murder, theft and lies, for example, with or without knowing the people involved. We judge the behavior regardless of who may or may not be involved. Personal objections alone can not repeal a moral code, nor can same sex marriage procreate human life. No human behavior is exempt from discussion and examination no matter how emotionally animated some would be. We should not be deterred from the truth by the tantrums of others. Stand our ground in composure. There is no other human institution where fidelity in more important than in marriage, in the relationships of spouses and their children. Children know this instinctively. Even in nature any complex relationship of mother and father – the fidelity of male and female in their joined parenting – affects their offspring's health and survival, no less than the human family and human society.

© Fr. Tom Bartolomeo


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Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

I am the founder and director of the Families For Families Retreat House, a refuge for anyone who wants to rethink his or her life in a quiet non-demanding environment in an historic house c.1709 when life was less complicated. I am also and primarily a Catholic priest having been a college and university teacher, business-owner and executive among other things. I received my Bachelor's and Master's degrees in English literature from Saint John's University, Jamaica, New York and completed post-graduate studies at Kansas State University. Contact me at (Fr. Bartolomeo passed away on September 18, 2018. His obituary can be found here.)


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