December 2008


nativity_lg

“In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, 
to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ 
So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir. ”
Galatians 4:4-7

I love St. Joseph.  While I disliked the movie The Nativity Story, most especially for their crazy portrayal of the Blessed Mother as some moody, disgruntled teenager, I loved the portrayal of St. Joseph.

Finally a portrait of a man.

Because that’s what St. Joseph was!  A real, honest-to-goodness man.  A buff carpenter.  (My apologies, Joseph, if you’re blushing in Heaven.)  Except for Jesus, of course, I don’t think there was a better looking, holier man than Joseph.  The apex of manhood.  Rugged.  Strong. Manly.

I need to get some personal pet peeves off my chest.

I really don’t think he was on Medicare when he married Mary.  The Middle Ages did a disfavor to poor Joseph– the artists thought that by portraying Joseph as an older man, they would show his wisdom and purity.  Okay, sure… but for some reason it seems like now we think that he must have been old– or Mary wouldn’t have preserved her virginity.

As if his old age was the only thing preserving the original Josephite marriage.  Come on, people.  There was virtue.  And lots of it.

Joseph was a hunk.  Just admit it.  He won Mary’s heart, right?  (She wasn’t plastic, right?  I mean, there’s nothing wrong with admiring God’s creation, right?  She could all the better admire Joseph without the sin of lust because she didn’t have that crazy concupiscence that follows all of us around!!  Her thoughts were pure, but they were still feminine, right?!)

So Mary was the most attractive woman in the entire universe (which she was, of course, since sin is what disfigures us) and Joseph was a hunk.  Doesn’t that make their lives of virginity so much more awe-inspiring than if Mary was 14 and Joseph was 50?  I think so.   They LOVED each other!  Once again, we seem to think that Mary and Joseph had about as much feeling as the plaster statues in church.  Just because they remained virgins doesn’t mean they didn’t love each other!   They loved each other with more passion than we can imagine.

Can I take a little tangent here?  I’m sitting on my couch, looking up at my picture of Raphael’s Sposalizio (Betrothal of the Virgin).  Raphael reminds us of the tradition of the Church that the suitors of Mary were asked to produce their staffs.  One sprouted flowers– that man was worthy to take the Virgin into his home!  Yay, St. Joseph!  I always laugh when I see the man in the front right of the picture– so angry that his staff failed the test that he’s breaking it over his knee.  The man behind him is a little more enervated in his disappointment and is just bending his until it snaps.  Hahaha.  You might notice the parallel to the story in Numbers 17– when the people rebelled against Aaron, God gave instruction that one man from each tribe place his staff into the tent of meeting– when Moses pulled Aaron’s out the next day, it had budded.  Taking care of the ark of the covenant… taking care of Mary… get it?

Okay, on to my next pet peeve.   I hate when people say that Mary was an unmarried pregnant teenager.  Mary and Joseph were married.  Betrothal, in ancient Jewish practice, was a temporary time between the covenant of marriage and the time when the spouses lived together.  Spouses were legally married, just not living together.

Lastly, and this is the big one… I hate, hate, hate it when people act like Joseph thought Mary had committed adultery.  Some people paint Joseph out to be such a jerk.  Or an ignoramus.

Let’s look at this.  We know Joseph wanted to divorce Mary quietly, for the Bible tells me so.  But did Joseph want to divorce Mary because he thought she had committed adultery?  Okay, so we can’t be sure… but let’s make an educated guess.

First of all, we know that Joseph was a just man.  A righteous man.  A h0ly man.

We also know that Mary was holy… the holiest woman in the world.  Sinless.

Stay with me here.  We know that Joseph knew Mary (no, not that way, silly).  He knew her character, he knew her likes and dislikes, he knew her thoughts and dreams and loves.  He knew what type of girl she was, right?   He was married to her, for goodness sake.  She wasn’t a stranger to him… he was in LOVE with her.   So do you think he knew she was a holy, sinless woman?  Yep.

So why would he suspect her of her adultery?   We forget that these people were real people– flesh, blood, emotional people.  (not moody teenagers.  But emotional… in an ordered-passions way.)

One last nail in the coffin of the theory that Joseph suspected Mary of adultery… if this is why he wanted to divorce her, because he was a just man who wanted to obey the law (Deut 24), then why would he disobey the law by not seeking to punish her properly for her adultery (Deut 22)?  Why would he only seek to fulfill half the law?

Yeah, I thought so.  See ya, “Suspicion Theory.”

Let’s study the “Reverence Theory.”  What if Joseph, this just and upright man, knew Mary well enough to know she was an extremely holy and virtuous woman… and what if he knew his Scriptures enough to know that in the fullness of time, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son (Isaiah 7)….

Being a holy man, what if his ‘suspicion’ was that something… or Someone… greater was at work here.. and, knowing his own sinfulness, thought it was better for him to bow out now… but quietly, so as not to draw attention to Mary.  In fact, the phrase “unwilling to put her to shame” is fairly weak in the Greek and means something more along the line of not wanting to exhibit Mary publicly.

The angel appears to Joseph to assuage his fears of unworthiness.  He, too, is called to be part of God’s plan, and there’s no need for him to bow out– on the contrary, he is a vital part of salvation history!  Notice the angel reminds him that he is a son of David– Joseph knew his prophets– he knows what the angel is telling him!  He’s no dummy.

This seems to fit much better, don’t you think?  (Thanks to Dr Hahn and the Ignatius Study Bible… not many other people are still paying attention to the Reverence Theory. But hey, if it’s good enough for St Jerome AND makes good sense, it’s a winner in my book.)

Now, let me get to my title of this post…  No, St. Joseph is not the patron of Advent.  Well, not officially.  But I think he should be.  As Guardian of the Virgin, he’s a pretty good companion for anyone during this time of preparation.  I think a lot of people forget about St. Joseph, as if he was just along for the ride during this whole thing.  But he was doing a lot more than leading a donkey back to his hometown.  He had the weight of the world on his shoulders.  It’s easy to look back now and see that everything turned out okay.  But what was he thinking when he heard that decree from Caesar?  When he realized he was going to have to take 9-month-pregnant Mary on a donkey to an over-crowded little town over 100 kilometers away, up winding hills and down paths frequented by robbers?  What about when they got to Bethlehem and he knew even if there was room in an inn, it would mean Mary giving birth in a crowded public room, full of other pilgrims with no privacy?

As we enter the Octave before Christmas, that special time as the Church nears the conclusion of her preparation, shall I suggest a meditative reading of Redemptoris Custos?

(And don’t forget those O Antiphons!  Happy Octave, everyone!)

Now THIS is a Christmas tree!! [Hahaha, I hope the Cardinal doesn’t mind my snow falling on his press conference. Hee hee.]

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Traditional Lighting of the Christmas…“, posted with vodpod

I mentioned the possiblity of a sneak-peak at my meditation for my home parish’s bulletin insert.  Here it is!  Have a wonderful Gaudete Sunday!

The Word Became Flesh…

By the time Christmas rolls around, we are already full of cookies, wassail, and Christmas cheer. The carols have been playing since before Thanksgiving, and while the Christmas lights in the snow still give us a magical feeling, we are too often unaffected by the real Spirit of Christmas. The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14). We’ve heard John’s mystical phrase so many times it no longer gives us goosebumps. Perhaps it never did.

On that cold evening in Bethlehem, Light came into this world of darkness. The eternal God, Who by His nature is beyond space and time, entered our world at a precise moment in history, sanctifying time and the world He created. He came to save us from the death we had chosen and to win our hearts back to Him. In the fullness of time, “He humbled Himself to come among us as a man” to fulfill the plan He “had formed long ago [to] open for us the way to salvation” (Preface for Advent I). The God we could not see, of Whom the prophets longed to catch a glimpse, came to the earth to seek us out. In Christ the invisible God became visible, as Isaiah had foretold, “No longer will your Teacher hide Himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher” (Isaiah 30:20).

Before Christ’s coming, God “spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets” (Heb 1:1). It was revelation, but a veiled revelation. With Christ’s coming, God spoke in fullness, with utter completeness. When He spoke fully, He spoke one Word. Christ. Christ is the fullness. He contains in Himself the entire law and the prophets. Vatican II tells us that in Christ “the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion” (Dei Verbum 7).

Revelation, the dialogue between God and man, has reached its final meaning in Christ. But does this mean that God is silent now? No! God, in Jesus Christ, is constantly addressing every man. “Your eternal Word leaped down from heaven in the silent watches of the night, and now Your Church is filled with wonder at the nearness of her God” (Opening Prayer, Christmas Mass at Dawn)

Where? Where do we find this close encounter, this “nearness” of our God? The recent Synod on the Word of God reminds us, “the encounter with Jesus, Word of God made flesh” is an “event of grace that reoccurs in the reading and hearing of the Sacred Scriptures….it is hoped…that each of the faithful will personally possess the Bible.” The Bishops are not calling us to “possess” the Bible by interpreting it however we’d please, but by living it and bringing it into our daily lives.

Reading the Scriptures daily enables us to become familiar with the text so that it becomes as much a part of us as the food we eat. Because the Word is Christ Himself, the Scriptures are not dead pages of history, but living text written for us, here and now. Pope Benedict tells us, “It is important to read Sacred Scripture in a very personal way, and really as St Paul says, not as a human word or a document from the past as we read Homer or Virgil, but as God’s Word which is ever timely and speaks to me. It is important … to enter into prayer and thus read Sacred Scripture as a conversation with God.”  This conversation must be a common occurrence, for only deep, frequent conversation will affect our lives. It is the greatest love story ever written, and it is written for each of us personally. “What is right and important is for us to read the Bible regularly, to let it keep us company and guide us” (Pope Benedict).

Because we are not a People of the Book, but a People of the Word, we must always remember that the Scriptures are at home in the liturgy and flourish there. As we listen to the Word of God at Mass, it should burn within us, preparing us to receive the Word made flesh after He comes on the altar of sacrifice for us.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… “He is no longer distant. He is no longer unknown. He is no longer beyond the reach of our heart. … For us, God has become a gift. He has given Himself. He has entered time for us” (Pope Benedict). This Christmas, accept God’s gift. Embrace His Word in wonder. Allow God’s Word to guide you through the rest of the year, making it a part of your lives. Read Scripture daily, even if it’s just for a few minutes before you turn off the light at night. It’s one gift you won’t want to return.

Although this is a Christmas carol, not an Advent hymn, it seems fitting to listen to today!  Enjoy!


I’m open to your comments on this… I’m always open, of course, but having just whipped this up in the past thirty minutes or so, I’d be interested to hear input from others.

In these post Vatican-II days, the American Catholic Church has an affinity for the word ‘community.’  It’s used to highlight the significance of the Church as the Body of Christ and the importance of our role in something greater than ourselves as individuals.  But it has also been used as the justification for denying individuals private prayer time at Mass—after all, the liturgy is about community, right? 

The documents of the Second Vatican Council do highlight communion in a particular, radical way.  Cardinal Ratzinger said that the term was key to the ecclesiology of Vatican II.  But our English translation does a disservice in understanding what the Fathers were teaching.  “Communion” for us connotes fellowship and sharing, an association or unity of people.  In English, communion tends to refer to a horizontal relationship.  Therefore, you aren’t in communion with your brothers and sisters if you’re spending time in individualistic private prayer.

I urge us to return to the word that the Fathers of the Council used: communio.  Rather than translating the word, we should be using the Latin word in order that our comprehension is not tainted by an American understanding of the translation.  Communio is much more than a horizontal relationship, a fellowship with our brothers and sisters. Although this is an important aspect, it really is only a result of the real meaning of communio: a vertical relationship, a unity not just with fellow human beings, but with the Most High God.  Communio is that relationship that the Father calls us to when He calls us to be His children.  It is that friendship that gives us the great gift of becoming one with the Holy Trinity.

In the East, they have always emphasized theosis, or the divinization of man.  While sounding slightly scandalous to our modern ears and perhaps making us recoil or wince with fear of pantheism, theosis is a doctrine of the Catholic Church.  As St. Athanasius said, “God became man so that man might become God.” (On the Incarnation 54:3, PG 25:192B).  It is this union with the Trinity, whereby sinful man receives the life of the Triune God that gives us the real meaning of communio.

In modern America, you find Catholics walking around with a severe disconnect between their beliefs and their actions.  They claim to be Catholic and believe what the Catholic Church teaches, but they will not allow those beliefs to influence their actions.  Catholics will vote for the most pro-choice senator in the country because they will not allow their moral beliefs to accompany them into the voting booth.  Or, in a related way, there are Catholics who don’t even claim to believe what the Catholic Church teaches but still find it important to assert that they are Catholic. “I’m Catholic… is contraception morally wrong? Of course not!”

What does it mean to be Catholic? It means to be in communion— to be a part of this communio of which the Council Fathers speak.  While the sacrament of baptism is our entrance into the Church, to be Catholic is more than whether or not you were baptized—after all, the Council Fathers tell us in Lumen Gentium that there are some who are not baptized but are to some degree in communion with the Church.  There are also those who, although baptized, are not in communion, for “he is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity” (LG 14).

Communio is whether or not you are living an encounter with the living God.  If you are in communion, you are walking with the Triune God, allowing Him to accompany you… everywhere. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (Jn 14:6)  You are allowing your beliefs to impact your actions; not because a man in Rome told you, but because Truth is objective, not relative, and in your journey together that Truth has revealed Himself to you.  There is communio… between you and the person sitting next to you in the pew, yes, but only because it is first there between you and God. Our practice at Mass, whether it is singing together or walking up to receive our Savior in Holy Communion, is only possible because there first exists a communion between God and man.  The vertical comes first, produces the horizontal, which then enables us to go out and live our faith– everywhere.  Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi!

“We who, by the grace of God, are Catholics, must not squander the best years of our lives as so many unhappy young people do, who worry about enjoying the good things in life, things that do not in fact bring any good, but rather the fruit of immorality in today’s world.  We must prepare ourselves to be ready and able to handle the struggles we will have to endure to fulfill our goals, and, in so doing, to give our country happier and morally healthier days in the near future.
But in order for this to happen we need the following: constant prayer to obtain God’s grace, without which all our efforts are in vain; organization and discipline to be ready for action at the right moment; and finally, we need to sacrifice our own passions, indeed our very selves, because without this sacrifice we will never achieve our goal.”
Blessed Piergiorgio Frassati

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