40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #18 Saint Joseph


Saint Joseph

Today is the feast day of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin.  Like many Catholic men, Saint Joseph is my hero.  Here’s a man who was the step-father of the Son of God yet we don’t know a single word he ever said. We don’t even know when he died.  The last reference we have to him in scripture is the incident where he and Mary found Jesus in the temple when He was still a young boy.  Yet he was a key player in our salvation.  Without Joseph’s participation God’s plan for our salvation would have come to a screeching halt.  We don’t know how old he was at the time he took Mary as his wife though legend has it that he was an older man.

One thing we know is that he had tremendous faith.  He accepted God’s call.  He accepted Mary’s explanation of her pregnancy.  He agreed to allow Mary to remain a virgin, even after their marriage.  At the angel’s command, he abandoned what we assume to be a successful carpentry business and move his family to Egypt.  Then, after he must have restarted his business there, the angel came again and told him to move back to Nazareth.

When the child was left behind in the temple, he helped Mary search for him, and when they found Him, what did Jesus say?  “Didn’t you know I must be in my FATHER’S house?”  How painful must that have been for him?  Yet, he followed his calling and did everything he could do to raise God’s son.  As his human role model, Joseph taught Jesus how to be a man.

When I think of Jesus, I’m reminded of my late father-in-law.  He was a devout Catholic but he didn’t make a big deal out of it.  He did what he thought God wanted him to do in a simple, humble way.  If he had been born a generation later, Harold would have made a much better deacon than his son-in-law.  He lived his faith and, as Saint Francis said, he preached the Gospel every single day without using words.

In spite of what the media and anti-Catholic pundits would like us to believe, the Catholic Church is not dominated by men.  Granted the ordained leadership is male-only, as Jesus wants it to be.  But take a look around you on Sunday at mass.  Women are in the majority.  Our society makes it much more difficult for a man to be a devout Catholic.  It’s just not “manly”, especially in the United States.

One example, and it may not be particularly insightful but it’s still a common occurrence, would be professional sports.  Catholic athletes from other countries, particularly those from Latin America, regularly make the sign of the cross before stepping into the batters box in baseball, and when they’ve had a successful at-bat.  Hispanic goal keepers kiss the goal posts and cross themselves before every game.  But, when was the last time you saw an Anglo-American do the same thing?  Not often.

We men are very blessed to have Joseph as our spiritual role model.  He may not have said anything that the Gospel writers felt was worth writing down, but his actions spoke volumes.

So, here’s to you, Saint Joseph, on your feast day.  You answered God’s call.  You suffered much hardship and raised God’s son to be a man.  You went about your faith and your business with quiet dignity.  Thank you for your example.  It couldn’t have been easy to be you.  Being the only member of the household who was capable of committing sin must have been quite a challenge. Whenever anything went wrong, it had to be your fault.

Saint Joseph, husband of Mary and mentor to the Son of God, thank you for showing all of us what it really means to be cool!

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

First of all, Happy Hanukah to our Jewish friends.  I don’t know if I have any Jewish readers, but just in case, I wish you a joyous and prayerful celebration.

I have four children so I have some experience with pregnancy, if only as a close and very interested observer.  With the birth of Christ just four days away, I can imagine what Mary and Joseph must have been going through.  With any birth there are expectations and worries.  After nearly nine months of pregnancy, the couple must have been very excited and apprehensive about the coming birth.

Added to the normal concerns of a couple so near to becoming parents, there was the additional concern about this particular child.  What would the future hold for Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus?  As if that weren’t enough, they had the additional burden of a trip to Bethlehem for the census.  It’s about 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  If he was in reasonably good condition, Joseph could probably lead a donkey about 20 miles per day.  Of course, anyone who’s ever travelled with a pregnant woman knows there were most likely frequent stops.  To be safe and conservative, we’re probably talking about a trip that lasted a week.

So, in our liturgical time line, Mary and Joseph are well on their way.  Since every citizen had to make the trip to their native city, it’s reasonable to assume that Mary and Joseph were probably traveling in a caravan.  Roman citizens rarely made long trips alone for fear of robbers or other problems along the way.  This would be especially true of a pregnant woman.

In your quiet time today, think about all that’s going through Mary and Joseph’s minds as they make this trip.  You and I know how the trip ended, but they didn’t.  Would Mary make it to Bethlehem or would she have to deliver her child along the side of the road?  What kind of birth would that be for a king?  Would God be angry with them for their poor planning?  There were no EMTs to help.  It would be just the two of them.  If they made it to Bethlehem would they be able to find a place to stay?  With so many people traveling it might be hard to find a place.  Again, we know how the story turns out, but they didn’t.

Do you think the couple had second thoughts?  Are they sorry for what they’ve gotten themselves into?  Think about it.

4th Sunday of Advent

In our first reading today, the Lord gives Nathan a fairly long message to deliver to David.  He makes David a series of promises ending with “your throne shall stand firm forever.”  Remember, this is the same David who had one of his men killed so he could have the man’s wife for himself.  David had more skeletons in his closet than Herman Cain.  But here’s God telling him that he’s going to be a mighty king and that his kingdom will last forever.

 

Even in David’s time, everybody knew that no kingdom could last forever.  It’s still true today, especially in the Middle East.  But the Lord wasn’t talking about an earthly kingdom.

Fast forward to today’s Gospel, Luke’s famous telling of the Annunciation.  It’s a beautiful story and one we’ve all heard many times.  Right in the middle of the story the angel tells Mary “the Lord God will give him (meaning Mary’s unborn Son) the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

 

There it is again.  “The promise of a never-ending kingdom”.  We know today that the angel is talking about a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly one.  Poor Mary doesn’t know what to think.  Her response is, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

 

I want to stop here for just a minute.  When I was first in formation for the diaconate, which was about 1997 or so, I went to a two-day workshop on the Gospel of Luke.  The speaker was Father Eugene La Verdier, an expert of Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, which was also written by Luke.  He spent the entire first morning talking to us about this Gospel passage.

 

Obviously I can’t tell you everything he said, but the gist of it was this.  Everything about Mary was small.  She lived in a very small town, Nazareth which was part of a very small province called Galilee.  To the people of Jesus’ time, Nazareth was kind of a back-water place, definitely not the kind of place that would give birth to the Messiah.

 

Then there’s Mary herself.  She’s a young girl from a small town.  She’s still a virgin.  In Mary’s society women were definitely second class citizens.  But married women at least had the prestige of their husbands.  Unmarried women were the lowest rung on the social ladder.  Aside from the biology of the thing, the idea of a young, single woman, a nobody in the Jewish society of that time, giving birth to such a mighty king was unprecedented.  “How can this be since I’m no more important than a good donkey or camel?”

 

Remember that Mary was engaged to Joseph.  Surely she intended to have children.  The idea that one of them might become a king was far-fetched but not impossible.  Her response only makes sense if we look at it as a sign of humility.

What I’m suggesting to you is this.  The Son of God was born of a woman; an unmarried woman from a small, insignificant place.  The idea that she would give birth to Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God was outrageous.   But Mary was chosen by God.  Jesus was the only person in history to have chosen His own mother.  He didn’t choose someone wealthy.  He didn’t choose someone powerful.  He didn’t choose a queen.  Any of those choices would have made it much easier for Him to perform His ministry.

 

He chose Mary.  He chose Mary to show you and me that with God anything is possible.  He chose her to give us encouragement.  If this lowly girl could be His mother, then you and I shouldn’t be afraid to tackle anything.  He chose her to show us how we should respond to God’s call.  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

In the readings for today’s mass we see the contrast between Eve and Marry.  The couple in the garden seem very familiar.  Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating of the forbidden fruit.  When God asked Adam why he had done such a thing, he blamed Eve.  When God questioned Eve, she blamed the serpent.  Neither of them wanted to take responsibility and so both of them, along with the serpent were thrown out of the garden.  Most of the problems we face in this modern world can be traced to someone not taking responsibility for their own actions.

Fast forward to today.  Many of our brothers and sisters blame their poor choices on someone or something outside themselves.  They blame their parents.  They blame their school.  They blame the government.  They blame “society”, whatever that is.   Rarely do we hear someone say, “I made a bad choice.  I did something stupid.  I take full responsibility for my actions.”  Like Adam and Eve, we blame everyone but ourselves.

Contrast this with Mary’s response to the angel in today’s Gospel.  In the first-century world there was hardly anyone lower in society than Mary.  She was a young girl from a small town.  She was unmarried, which meant she had no place in the community.  Yet here was the angel telling her that she would bear a son, even though she had never had relations with a man.  And, not just any son.  “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”  Imagine how frightening this must have been for her.  She was to be the mother of a king who would rule forever.

No one would have blamed Mary if she had refused.  But, she didn’t.  She accepted God’s word and agreed to do what He asked of her.

How many of us have been asked to do something big; something we thought was beyond our capabilities?  How did we respond?  Every idea we have, every challenge we face is a call from God.  Do we respond like Adam and Eve, or do we respond like Mary?  It’s not hard to notice that every Catholic church in the world has at least one statue or painting of the blessed Virgin.  You can’t say the same for Adam and Eve.  Mary’s response, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.” is our model.  As you reflect on this solemnity, this Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent, think of the times you had a chance to say “yes” to God.  What happened when you said “yes” and what happened when you said “no”.

Like I said in the beginning, the world would be a much better place if more people would follow Mary’s example and if fewer people followed Adam and Eve’s.

The Annunciation of the Lord

What to say about today’s Gospel story that hasn’t already been said.  The angel Gabriel comes to a little town in Galilee, called Nazareth.  He announces to a young virgin girl that she is going to become pregnant and give birth to the Son of God.  “How can this be since I have had no relations with a man?” she asks.

How can this be, indeed?  To appreciate everything that’s going on here, we have to take a few steps back and view this scene from a distance.  Nazareth was a little town, in a little province, on a little river.  Mary was a young girl, a virgin.  Everything about this picture is small.  Nothing exciting ever happened in Nazareth.  If it weren’t for Jesus, we would probably never have heard of it.

But, here’s this little town taking center stage in the “Greatest Story Ever Told.”  And, this little girl, this virgin from this little town is the star.  The angel calls her “full of grace”.  This isn’t some second-rate angel, not Clarence from “It’s a Wonderful Life”, it’s Gabriel, the archangel, one of God’s right hand men.  And he’s come to Nazareth to announce the birth of the Son of God!  It’s all up to Mary.  Will she agree?  Will she cooperate?  Imagine if she had said “no”.

Part of Gabriel’s sales pitch is to tell Mary that cousin Elizabeth, elderly cousin Elizabeth, is also pregnant.  That news alone boggles the mind.  Maybe that was Gabriel’s plan.  Shock Mary with the news of Elizabeth and she’ll be more likely to accept the news about God’s plans for her.

Anyway, as we all know, Mary did say “yes.”  Her “yes” set in motion a series of events that would lead her through great joy and great sorrow.  Her life was changed forever and so were yours and mine.  More than 2,000 years ago, this little girl from this little town said “yes” to something she couldn’t possibly have understood.  She did it because she had faith.

How many times does God ask things of us?  How often does He give us a chance to say “yes”.  And how many times do we disappoint him?  I think we’d all like to say “never.”  But you know it wouldn’t be true.  That’s why Mary is so important to us Catholics.  She’s a model of how we should respond to the Lord.  That’s why we so often say, “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.”

She knew when to say “yes”.  Hopefully some of her obedience will rub off on us.

Our Lady of Sorrows

Today’s Gospel is one of my favorites; Simian meeting Mary and Joseph and their baby Jesus.  We know that Simeon was an elderly man and He had been waiting to see the Messiah as the Holy Spirit had promised him.

“He took (the Child) into his arms and blessed God saying, “Now, Master, let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation”.

Then he says what we read in today’s Gospel,

“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted.  And, you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

I honestly don’t think that we men can appreciate what Simeon said, or what actually happened.  Mary was His mother.  We may see Christ as the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God, but to Mary, He was her son; her baby; her little boy.  The pain that Mary must have had to endure is almost unimaginable.

There’s a great line in a song called, “My Son” by the Oak Ridge Boys.  “They took my son away from me and the angel said that I’d been blessed.” It may be the greatest irony of all times.  The angel said, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.”  But it was a blessing that would tear Mary’s world apart.

She would have to stand at the foot of the Cross and watch her Son die a horrible, painful death.  Mary was really Our Lady of Sorrows.   When my son Patrick was just twelve years old, he underwent brain surgery.  We were told the surgery would take two hours.  It actually took four.  We got no word from the operating room about what was going on for those extra hours.  But I can tell you they were the longest, most painful 120 minutes of my life.

I yelled at God.  I pleaded with God.  I bargained with God.  I have an idea of what Mary must have gone through.  But I’m not a mother.  As much as I love my kids, and I love them more than life itself, I can never have the feelings for them that their mother does.

We Catholics make a big deal out of Mary.  When Jesus died, he left her to be our mother.  We celebrate all the important events in her life.  We ask her to pray for us, now and at the hour of our death.  But when all is said and done, she was a mom.  Her Son may have been the Son of God, but He was still her little boy.

We call her full of grace.  We call her blessed.  The angel called her blessed. But as she watched her son suffer and die, how blessed do you think she really felt?

They took her son away from her.  She became our Lady of Sorrows.

Happy Birthday, Mary

Birthdays.  We all have ’em, whether we want to or not.  Every year, just like clockwork.  Mine’s coming next month.  I’d just as soon skip the whole thing, but at least this year the government’s going to have to start sending me money every month, so I guess it’s not so bad.

Normally we don’t celebrate saint’s birthdays.  Rather than celebrate the day they entered this world, we celebrate the day they entered into eternal life.  In fact, we really only celebrate two birthdays–Jesus’ and Mary’s.

It’s pretty obvious why we celebrate Jesus’ birthday.  The birth of the Messiah is definitely something we want to remember.  We remember Mary’s birthday because without her, Jesus couldn’t have been born.  Her birthday is the key to the whole thing.  We know that from the time of her Immaculate Conception, she was something special.  She was conceived without sin, born without sin, and died without sin.  That’s the only way it could have been.  Our Lord and Savior had to be born of a sinless mother.

Today, as we celebrate her birth, we recognize our own sinfulness and thank God for the fact that He chose to send us His Son, born of a virgin, to allow us to escape this world and to spend eternity in paradise.

So Happy Birthday, Mary.  Thank you for saying “yes” to God.

It’s very appropriate that this feast falls on Wednesday this year so we have an opportunity to venerate Mary in our Perpetual Hope devotion, which starts right after our communion service.  It’s not a long devotion, but it’s very special, especially today.

Mary, the Mother of God

Listen to the Podcast.

Today we celebrate the Blessed Virgin as the Mother of God.  No, we don’t worship Mary as some of our separated brethren might think.  We worship only God.  But how can we worship Him and not hold His mother in the highest regard?  After all, even before she was born, God chose her to bear His son.

But even the Almighty Creator of the universe had to depend on Mary’s saying “yes” to a plan that must have seemed outrageous to such a young girl.  But she had the faith to submit to God’s will and bear the Son who would save us all.

One of my favorite songs at this time of year is called “Mary, Did You Know?”, especially when it says, “Mary, did you know that when you kiss your little baby that you kiss the face of God?”  What a great line.

But couldn’t you say the same thing to any mother?  Jesus is present in all of us and every little baby’s face is the face of God.  As you celebrate this special day, look at a baby, at a mother, or especially at an expectant mother and recall this simple line.  It says so much in such a few words.

God bless all mothers, and especially our Blessed Mother, whose feast we celebrate today.

[Full disclosure.  My oldest son and my youngest son both informed us on the same day that we would again become grandparents next summer.  As you might imagine, I’m especially aware of the miracle of birth during this Christmas season.  God’s face is definitely part of our Christmas celebration this year.]

The Sixth Day of Christmas

Listen to the Podcast

Today’s reflection is a little bit different, but I thought it was worth bringing up.  Today’s Gospel contains an interesting statement, especially for Catholics.  Luke writes:

There was a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.

We believe that Mary was a perpetual virgin.  Remember that in Matthew’s Gospel earlier this month he wrote:  “He had no relations with her until she bore a son.”   Some would say that this passage means that she did have relations after “she bore a son”, which is a convenient but inaccurate understanding of the word until.

Anna lived as a widow “until she was eighty-four.”  Logic and common sense tell us that Anna died at eighty-four, not that she remarried at eighty-five.

Often the words of scripture require interpretation.  We have to look at the use of certain words in Biblical times, even going back to the original Greek and Hebrew for clarification.  For those of us who aren’t skilled at foreign languages, we can still look at the customs of the day or just plain old common sense to understand what God is telling us through His inspired Word.

“Until” tomorrow, have a blessed day.  [Hmm, I wonder if that means that I hope tomorrow isn’t a blessed day.  I’m just sayin’…..]

The Fourth Monday of Advent

Mary visits ElizabethIn today’s Office of Readings Saint Ambrose reflects on Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.  Quoting Luke’s Gospel he writes, “as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting the child leapt in her womb, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.

“Notice the contrast and the choice of words.  Elizabeth is the first to hear Mary’s voice, but John is the first to be aware of grace.  She hears with the ears of the body, but he leaps for joy at the meaning of the mystery.  She is aware of Mary’s presence, but he is aware of the Lord’s.”

Ambrose explains that John received the Holy Spirit from Jesus’ presence and Elizabeth received the same Spirit from John.  Elizabeth received the Spirit after John was conceived where Mary received the Spirit before Jesus was conceived.  As Elizabeth says to Mary:  Blessed are you because you have believed.

Then Ambrose speaks to you and me when he says, “You are also blessed because you have heard and believed.  A soul that believes both conceives and brings forth the Word of God and acknowledges his works…..Christ has only one mother in the flesh, but we all bring forth Christ in faith. ”

We all have the opportunity to share the Spirit with others when we proclaim our belief in the Incarnation, in our actions and our words.  And isn’t that the greatest Christmas gift of all?