March 20 (instead of 19, 2017)
St. Joseph, Husband of Mary, Foster Father of Jesus
Faith, Hope, and Promise
In Matthew 1:16-24 the angel tells Joseph “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” What was he afraid of?
We usually assume that Joseph thought Mary, to whom he was engaged, was pregnant by another man, and for that reason was going to break off the engagement and “dismiss her quietly.”
Another interpretation is that Mary told Joseph exactly what had happened, and he believed her. He was intending to take Mary as the wife who would be the mother of his children. But when Yahweh, the LORD, made it known that he had chosen his fiancée to be the mother of his own Son, Joseph’s reaction, as a devout Jew, was to back off in reverent “fear of the Lord.”
The angel affirmed that Joseph was to be Mary’s husband anyway — and fulfill the role of earthly father to Jesus. “You are to name him,” the angel said, which was the father’s prerogative. But the real Father, Yahweh, chose the name: “You are to name him Jesus....”
Thus Joseph had a double role: as the one everybody assumed to be Jesus’ real father, he was to be for Jesus everything a father should be on earth. But he was to exercise his role as “steward” of God the Father, whose place he held. And see his son Jesus always through eyes of faith that told him whose Son Jesus really was.
Every Christian mother and father must see their children as more God’s than theirs. At Baptism parents deliver their children over to death. Yes. Shocking, but true. We are incorporated into the body of Jesus on the cross to die in him and rise with him to live for nothing except to let Jesus continue his divine mission in our body, through our human words and actions. Christian parents are charged to raise their children as divine, to live on the level of God. Could that cause doubt and fear?
We need faith to see our own children as divine: bodies in whom Jesus Christ is living and acting. 2Samuel 7:4-16 calls us to add hope to that. Samuel tells David God “will raise up your offspring after you... and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
In spite of David’s sins, God kept his promise to him — and will keep the promise he made implicitly to us when he called us to be parents: that if we remain conscious in faith and steadfast in hope, “blessed is the fruit of your womb.... “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”
We don’t always see God’s grace reigning in our children. Romans 4:13-22 shows us Abraham “hoping against hope” when it seemed his son, Isaac, was lost to him forever. Hope is based, not on what we see, but on what we hear. We find it in God’s word. Whose child have we? “The Son of David will live forever” (Responsorial, Psalm 89).
Initiative: Believe in what is. Hope in what can be. Work for it with love.
Same Day March 20, 2017
Monday, Lent Week Three
“My soul is thirsting for the living God. When shall I see him face to face?”
(Responsorial Psalms 42 and 43)
In Kings 5:1-15 the mistake Naaman made was that he had some prior expectations about how a “prophet” would act. When Elisha did not “come out, invoke the Lord and move his hand over the spot” where his leprosy was, he lost whatever faith he had in his ability to help him. He wouldn’t even follow the simple direction, “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan.”
Fortunately, he let his servants talk sense to him. “If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? So what do you lose?” Naaman did what he was told, and was cured. But we don’t and aren’t.
On the Ninth Sunday of the Year (March 6 above) you read:
Being a disciple means doing something; down-to-earth and daily, like putting a Bible on the pillow where we will have to pick it up at least once a day, and beginning to actually read it.
Did you do that? The same suggestion was made last year, for this same day: To be a disciple, begin small:
Get a copy of the Bible, a cheap one you are not afraid to write in and underline. Don’t put it on a table. Put it on your pillow.... And tell God you will read one line every night before you go to bed.
If you didn’t do that (and assuming you are not reading the Bible every day already), was your reason the same as Naaman’s? No “signs and wonders” accompanied the suggestion? It didn’t sound exotic or “mystical” enough to promise any significant effect on your life? So you treated it as unimportant?
What might you have gained if you had done it? So why not do it now?
People make this same mistake all the time. They even made it with Jesus! In Luke 4: 24-30 the people he grew up with wouldn’t believe this “hometown boy” could be the Messiah. He wasn’t “different” enough — at least, not in the way they expected him to be.
Have we made our churches places people are too much “at home” in? Should we make them less comfortable? More intimidating? Forbid laity to enter the sanctuary? Require fasting, even from water, for twelve hours before Communion? Insist people dress up for Mass? Put everything into a language nobody understands? Make children afraid to open their mouths in church?
It might “work.” But would it be Christian? Jesus could have acted so divine no one would believe he was human. Instead, he acted so human they found it hard to believe he was divine.
Maybe the answer is to stop depending on appearances and learn to see with the eyes of faith. Let faith tell us what we see instead of letting what we see determine what we believe. Isn’t that the core experience of Eucharist?
“My soul is thirsting for the living God. When shall I see him face to face?” The answer is, “Whenever you accept to find him where he is.
Initiative: Do something unimpressive. For starters, put the Bible on your pillow!