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JMJ

The Readings for the 4th Thursday of Advent (A1)

He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.

Luke 1:53 (KJV21)

THE ANGELUS IS A favorite devotion of mine. (If you are not familiar with it I have included it at the end of this post.) I’ve used nearly daily since I first realized it was a prayer to be said outside of Church. (It was usually prayed before the Sunda service at my Episcopal parish when I was growing up, but only in college did I find it could be prayed in other places. It’s prayed three times a day, theoretically at Sunrise, Noon, and Sunset. I was taught it was a “reminder of the Incarnation.” This was the “point” it’s had for the last 40 years or so.

Listening to the most recent Poco A Poco podcast last night, the CFR friars changed my mind. For the first time in 40 years I heard the prayer differently. The prayer is not (only) a memorial of an historical event (or, worse, just a theological doctrine) but rather an active prayer for our transformation in Christ. Mary said “yes” to God – and so we should all be saying yes. It’s a continual submission in faith to what God wants. It’s an ongoing Act of Faith: you have to stay open to God as Jesus and Mary were, never turning away, never closing a part off. I do this all the time. We all do, but I never thought of the Angelus as a thrice-daily prayer to struggle against this closing-off.

But once you open yourself up to that, once you say yes, what are you left with in the world? Nothing. You become like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: promised a land, even living on the very land itself, but owning none of it. Like Moses, seeing the land, but not allowed to enter it. Like David wanting to do something for God and being asked “who are you to imagine I want this to happen?” Everything in this relationship is “now but not yet”. Everything in this relationship is full trust and openness and, yet, nothing like the world imagines those things to be. You have a fully trusting relationship with the all-powerful creator of the universe, which makes you a nothing in the world.

Lift up the lowly
Send away the rich
Tear down the mighty
Give the whole thing to the meek
Who no nothing about it anyway

Saying yes to God makes you the Mother of the LIving Creator of all Things, a condemned criminal dying on a post in the ground. Saying yes to God means the Lord of the Universe nurses at your breast and dies before your eyes. Saying yes to God means all the pain of your life. Anyway.

Why say yes to such a God?

Because that God is love.
And love has no place in this world
Therefore it’s impossible for it not to hurt you
Once you, yourself, become love.
But your love, God’s love, Love.
Is healing the world.
Say yes to God.
Reject the world.
Because you will heal the world
And you can only love your neighbor
(at all)
By loving God.
You cannot say yes to your neighbor
in anyway that will actually help him
unless you say yes to God.

Who will then send the rich away, destroy the thrones, powers, and principalities that stand in the way of the only good that there can be in this world fallen away from God: reunion.

Praying the Angelus three times a day means becoming the Mother of God who wants to redeem the world by letting the world kill him because he loves it so much that he would die to bring it all back home.

The Angelus

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to thy word.

Hail, Mary...

V. And the Word was made flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.

Hail, Mary...

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray. Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Urbi et Orbi

JMJ

The Readings for the 4th Wednesday of Advent (A1)

The voice of the man I love! Here he comes, bounding over the mountains, skipping over the hills!

Song of Songs 2:8 (CJB)

DURING THE GLOBAL PANIC in March of 2020, watching bodies pile up, morgues overrun, hospitals sealing off units, the Holy Father did an Urbi et Orbi blessing with the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, praying and blessing the entire world as only the Vicar of the Messiah can do, has the authority to do. No matter who you were or where you were that night, you were blessed, even if you do not know it: the sign of the Saviour’s Victory was traced over you by the Pope. We will never know what course the Pandemic could have taken without that blessing. In my heart, by faith, I know the world was changed that night.

The world’s beloved came over the mountains to her and spoke in his humble silence that night.

I took a couple of hours off work to watch. I want to say it was about noon here? 11 AM? It was dark and cold and rainy in Rome, watching the Pope walk all by himself up the steps to the Basilica like Christ walking to Gethsemane. And the whole world watching. At the Benediction, all the sirens and church bells of Rome rang out. Weeping I reached to touch the screen of my computer. The whole thing, live-streamed, was palpable. It was real. Most of the world could not go to Mass or confession, but the Pope gave an indulgence.

And there we were.

In the arms of our lover, absolved, and – eventually – victorious. But Victory here means something other than what the world means.

We do not find victory like Messi in more goals and the defeat of our enemies, but rather in the messiness that arises from love and forgiveness. In the end, even the pandemic was for our salvation: walking the path through to the end means that God has dirty diapers and dies on a post stuck in the ground.

And loves us all the more.

Our lover is no longer coming to us but now is with us. This is the Messianic age. And yet it is not. We have work to do – or rather he has work to do and only waits for us to get out of the way.

God is with us, ripping open the heavens and coming among us, ripping the veil of the Temple and revealing it to be empty. God dwells in our hearts. This victory is his.

Ite ad Ioseph

JMJ

The Readings for Sunday 4 Advent (Year 2):

Vade, et loquere ad servum meum David: Hæc dicit Dominus: Numquid tu ædificabis mihi domum ad habitandum? Quare non ædificastis mihi domum cedrinam?
Go, and say to my servant David: Thus saith the Lord: Shalt thou build me a house to dwell in? Whereas I have not dwelt in a house from the day that I brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt even to this day: but have walked in a tabernacle, and in a tent. In all the places that I have gone through with all the children of Israel, did ever I speak a word to any one of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying: Why have you not built me a house of cedar?

What God did not give to David, he gave to David’s son: for Joseph built a house for God. I was wrestling with these readings, with the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Christmas Eve Sermon, if you will. Then the painting at the head of this post was shared in a Catholic Men’s Group to which I belong. It’s on the cover of an Advent and Christmas book by the late Henri Nouwen. Right now I can’t find anything else about this image: is it just a random artist’s cover design? If so… wow.

And Joseph worked every day to keep God clothed and fed, to keep the family together. Was he a carpenter in Egypt? Or did he find the Egyptians hard on immigrants? Did Joseph struggle with fear and surprise at all the responsibility he had? Did he know that, leaving that day for Bethlehem, he would not be back for five or six or ten years? When he got to Bethlehem did he set up a shop and do odd jobs?

Regardless of his age (some would say 50, others 20), Joseph was part of an arranged marriage, be that between himself and Mary’s parents (at 50) or between his parents and hers (when he was a boy). Leave all idea of romance out of this story. The Holy Family was put together – in God’s full providence – following the cultural desires and needs of their own families. Mary’s parents needed a married daughter so they could be provided for in their old age. Church tradition says they were already very elderly, so they wouldn’t have had time to wait for a boy to grow up. Joseph married into a set of needs that he was expected to meet.

Did Joseph know what he was getting into (before the Angel showed up in a dream, anyway)? Did Joseph know this was God’s Mother? The tradition of Mary as a mystical child would say she was very odd and everyone knew it. But did Joachim and Anna sit down and say, “Here’s what we knew…” Did they know?

God’s grace is enough.

One way to look at Joseph is to imagine a great saint who knew all this stuff and squared his shoulders and said, “OK, God. Hit me: I’m ready.” We want to imagine that, I think, because we want Joseph to be something more. We want Mary and Joseph to be more than they are just so we can imagine the story making any sense at all. But God doesn’t work like that.

Joseph’s namesake and ancestor, who also had dreams, was not only a member of a wandering tribe in the waistlines of the fertile crescent, he was also annoying as all get out. He was a teenager who offended his parents and brethren (despite their love for him) so much that his brothers sold him into slavery. And in slavery, even there, he nearly got raped by his owner, and thrown into prison for not playing along.

God uses broken things.

The idea that Joseph was a widower, looking for someone to manage the house and cook and clean makes sense. He would get a wife, yes, but he would also get Anna and her famous stews, Joachim’s business sense, and the kids of his first wife would get “step grandparents”. His household would be enlarged and his bed warmed. And there would be many good things, right?

But then it all fell apart and here she was with child.

But this was different. And even though his friends noticed and everyone could count and everyone wondered who the father was… he said, No, I will do this. And then that night in Bethlehem. And all that followed. What God did not give to David, he gave to David’s son: for Joseph built a house for God.

God’s grace is enough, but Joseph still has to say yes – over and over and over. God didn’t pick any man for this Job. He picked Joseph. Joseph who would die in 15 or 20 years, but who would defend this little family, this first Church. Joseph who would provide and care, defend, lead and build up. Joseph who would teach Jesus how to be a man in a world where men raped and pillaged to get strong. Joseph who would show Jesus how to pray and meet his obligations as a pious Jew. Joseph who would show Jesus how to saw, hammer, measure, and build. Joseph who would be “Daddy” for all time to this Man who was God.

God did not pick just any man.

But Joseph. Fear does not mean that one backs down. Fear is an offer to back down. Courage, the strength of heart needed to say yes, God gives. But it must be a gift accepted. It must be a gift used. Joseph accepted it over and over as we all must, and used God’s grace to protect this little family, this holy household. And when, in stunned silence, he watch first the poor, and then the very wealthy, come and do homage to his child, Daddy manned up and took care of everything with God’s grace.

Joseph.

Jesus learned about being a man in this world from this man. God picked this man to teach him.

In later years, Joseph died. And Jesus and Mary and the rest of the household mourned. Then in the Resurrection when Jesus harrowed Hell and opened wide Paradise, there was one man, right? There was one man would have been greeted with a hug, and that word, “Daddy”. And how could he not have been so greeted?

What God did not give to David, he gave to David’s son: for Joseph built a house for God. And who now still cares for this little family, this Church. Who still builds a house for God if we but let him build it in our hearts.

Go to Joseph. He will help. He will build up. He will protect. He will watch and guard. It’s his job and he says yes.