"Zeal for your house will consume me" (Ps 69:9)

Thoughts of a parish priest…


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St Joseph and the 4th Sunday of Advent

Throughout the past couple of weeks leading up to Christmas we heard quite a bit about the Blessed Virgin Mary and John the Baptist, but one of the often forgotten figures of Advent is the earthly father of our Lord, St. Joseph.

Someone recently asked me about why we hear so little about St. Joseph nowadays, especially about seeking his intercession. I couldn’t agree more! It seems that the only time we hear anything about praying to St. Joseph anymore is when one is trying to sell their house by burying a statue of him in their yard.

There is so much that St. Joseph teaches us about how we are to respond to the will of God in our own lives. Joseph is the virtuous man that was chosen to be most chaste spouse of Mary and the earthly father of God’s only Son.

In the Biblical passage about the conception of our Lord in the womb of the Virgin Mary we hear that Joseph, upon finding that Mary was pregnant, decided to leave her quietly, that is, until the Angel of God comes to him and a dream and reveals God’s plan to him. Joseph abandoned the thought of leaving Mary to do what was right – trusting to God’s divine plan.

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Pope Benedict XVI explained that St. Joseph is “certain of doing the right thing.” In following the directives of God, said the Pope, “Joseph joins the ranks of the humble and faithful servants, like the angels, prophets, martyrs and apostles.”

I think that St. Joseph could be portrayed as one of those “behind the scenes” sort of guys. He is one of those biblical figures that doesn’t get much praise or acknowledgement, but one who is essential and irreplaceable in God’s plan. His entire role in the Gospel is to protect and watch over God’s only Son and his mother, Mary.

A recent article I read pointed out three things that we can learn from St. Joseph. The first is the “Treasure of Silence.” How many words of St. Joseph, the man closest to Jesus, are there recorded in the bible? Not a single one! But it is in his silence that God speaks to us. We hear in the psalms, “be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). We are all busy and know how much noise there is in our lives. St. Joseph teaches us to be quiet and listen to God in the silence of our hearts.

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The second point is that “actions speak louder than words. When God wanted to communicate something to St. Joseph, he spoke to him in his dreams. Most of us would say that there is only so much credibility that one can place on dreams, but for St. Joseph, he was certain that it was God’s will. Sacred Scripture tells us that when he awoke, “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Matt 1:24). God wasn’t just asking him to be a better person, to pray more or to do random acts of kindness, but was asking for total trust. St. Joseph doesn’t question or ponder how to respond, he just does it. Here we see St. Joseph embracing what Jesus would teach many years later “not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven (Matt 7:21).

The final thing that St. Joseph teaches us is how to embrace “grace under pressure.” If we think about the stressful situations that St. Joseph finds himself – his betrothed wife is found to be pregnant and he knows that he is not the father; as his wife is about to give birth they are called to travel a long distance to Bethlehem; early in Jesus’ life, they are told to flee to Egypt; and let’s not forget that he and Mary lost God’s only Son for three whole days when he was only twelve years old. In all of these situations, we see that Joseph, a simple carpenter, relied on God’s grace to handle difficulty and challenges with firm trust and faith in God.

As we prepare for Christmas, let us look to St. Joseph as a model of how we are to be faithful to Christ and how we are to live out that faith, trusting in God’s will for our lives and always being open to his grace.

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Pope Benedict XVI explained that “In Joseph, faith is not separated from action. His faith had a decisive effect on his actions. The life of Saint Joseph, lived in obedience to God’s word, is an eloquent sign for all the disciples of Jesus. His example helps us to understand that it is only by complete submission to the will of God that we become effective workers in the service of his plan to gather together all mankind into one family” (March 18, 2009).

In 1889, Pope Leo XIII explained that “It is fitting and most worthy of Joseph’s dignity that, in the same way that he once kept unceasing watch over the holy family of Nazareth, so now does he protect and defend with his heavenly patronage the Church of Christ.” We look to St. Joseph, a simple and ordinary man, and from his saintly example we learn how to virtuously respond in faith to the many challenges that we face in our everyday lives.

Through God’s grace and the intercession of St. Joseph, may we all strive to live holy and virtuous lives!

 

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What child is this?

The celebration of the Holy Mass on Christmas usually begins with the incensing of the Christmas crèche – the sacred image of the birth of Christ. The incensing of the baby Jesus and the Holy Family surrounded by shepherds and animals serves to remind us of the sacredness of what the nativity scene represents, the greatest Christmas gift ever given – God’s gift of himself to the whole world, the birth of Emmanuel – God with us!

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A number of years ago, I had the great privilege of being able to spend two weeks in the Holy Land. Although not on Christmas day itself, our group was able to visit Bethlehem and the very spot where the baby Jesus was born and where God himself was first gazed upon by human eyes.

I vividly remember kneeling there with such amazement, with such a clear awareness that each Christmas after that, as I would knee before and incense a parish nativity scene, I would be brought back to that very spot where this actually happened, knowing that this is not a fairy tale story, that it is not some myth made up to quench our thirst for meaning, but that this actually happened and this was the spot where it happened.

Not being able to be in Bethlehem that Holy Night, our group spent the night in Galilee where Christ so often taught his many disciples. We spent the night in a cave that archeologists say has been there since the time of Christ. We spent the night surrounded by the light of only a few small candles, singing carols, reading the passages in sacred scripture that recalled the Lord’s coming.

On that night, thinking of the great mystery of the Lord’s incarnation and of his dwelling among us, the reality was, that gathered in the Jewish town – Advent came to an end. I mean to say here that not only the advent season that we celebrate each year, but the true advent, the waiting and expectation of the Jewish people for God to send a redeemer, to send the one promised by Moses and the prophets, the descendant of King David.

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The Jewish people were waiting with eager expectation for this single event. For the day when God would fulfill his plan by sending the Messiah that he promised generations earlier.

It is sort of weird thinking that Christmas makes me think of something Jewish, but it does, and quite frankly for a very good reason. The four week period of preparation for Christmas that we Catholics call Advent is meant to remind us of Israel’s long wait for a Savior, it is meant to provide us an opportunity to relive Israel’s journey of faith in which generations awaited the coming of the promised savior, the Christ, the one who would be sent by God to save them from their sins.

The great gift of Christmas is the profound reality that God has come to dwell among us, that he has robed himself not with royal garments, but with our humanity. He came to be one of us. But that great gift, the gift of God himself, was not recognized and in many cases is still not recognized even today. Perhaps a question for us to ask ourselves is this, “do we really understand Christmas? Do we really understand what it means that God himself came into the world as one like us?

Many of us have never or may never experience a radical form of poverty, but I think what the true message of Christmas reveals to us is our spiritual poverty, our total dependence upon Almighty God. He responds to that total dependence by lavishing upon us the greatest spiritual gift – He sends His only Son to redeem and sanctify us, to show us the way of truth and life, He gives us the gift of Himself to fulfill that total and utter dependence upon Him.

adoratioA question that we are faced with this Christmas then is this: Are we able to appreciate what it is that we have been given? Are we able to understand what the gift of Christmas truly is? It is more than the baby Jesus in the manger, it is more than that sacred image of what we gaze upon in the nativity scene – it is the greatest gift ever given!

The figure of the innocent and humble Christ child symbolizes that God does not send his son to judge, but to offer his forgiveness and love, and to invite us to participate in a relationship with him, to have him be a part of our lives, not only on Christmas and Easter, but every day and for all of eternity.

What is it about this child that is so tremendous and spectacular? Not even his mother, blessed of all mothers as she was, could entirely comprehend what our heavenly Father was going to do in the life of this child. Within just a few decades, this child, now wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, surrounded by shepherds, worshiped by angels and adored by kings will stand at the center of the conflict between good and evil. He will bear all the sins of the world upon his shoulders as he carries the cross to the place where he will be crucified to show us the depths of his love. It is for this reason that he came into the world.