A family like yours or mine…


JMJ

The Readings for TuesdayToday is  in the 5th Week of Easter (B2)
St Joseph the Worker

Quoniam per multas tribulationes oportet nos intrare in regnum Dei. 
Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God. 

Today is the Memorial of St Joseph the Worker. I think Joseph knew tribulations: there was the mystery of his not-yet-wife who was with child, the trip to Bethlehem that became a three year sojourn in Egypt, Herod’s soldiers, snoopy neighbors, and a business to run.

Today’s feast is one of the most powerful reminders that the Holy Family was a normal, every-day family. Filled with the presence of God and the actions of God, yes; like your family or mine is supposed to be.

Today’s feast is a reminder of the dignity of human labor. Pope St John Paul the Great said that work is one thing we share, as humans, with God the Creator: 

THROUGH WORK man must earn his daily bread and contribute to the continual advance of science and technology and, above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong to the same family. And work means any activity by man, whether manual or intellectual, whatever its nature or circumstances; it means any human activity that can and must be recognized as work, in the midst of all the many activities of which man is capable and to which he is predisposed by his very nature, by virtue of humanity itself. Man is made to be in the visible universe an image and likeness of God himself, and he is placed in it in order to subdue the earth. From the beginning therefore he is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.

We forget this thing: this mark of a person acting within a community. For many of us it is a struggle: we don’t have work, or we want different work, or we think we should be getting paid more, or we can’t earn enough to care for our families. More and more, today, the idea that work at all can be honored is giving rise to multiple layers of class within our society. The “elite” and the “blue color” spurn each other. Within tech companies engineers and operations folks can be seen on opposite sides of a huge divide. In San Francisco, in the wee hours of the morning, it’s interesting to me that the buses heading west bound on their routes are filled with blue color labor, while across the street and headed easterly, are white color folks earning many times more than the blue color folks. They want very little to do with each other, engaged in each their own struggle.

A friend of mine spends her day working with the Homeless of SF. Many of the Homeless lost their apartments because a greedy landlord took advantage of a loophole in the law. The newly rich move into the building, the newly homeless end up on the street. But then the newly rich complain about the newly homeless on the streets and the cycle begins again. My own industry seems to spawn folks who are both afraid of the homeless and quick to call the police. According to Christian Teaching. we have an obligation to bring the Gospel to everyone, rich and poor We have an obligation to heal the wounds in our society as well. We are called  to unite the broken bits into one. This is not an easy task when the sides are not only alienated, but are also made to be at odds with each other.

This is where the Church is needed, I’m convinced, and perhaps not only in SF.  She needs to be an advocate for Justice, and a salve on the societal wounds. St Joseph, as the universal patron of the Church, is needed: respecter of the poor, advocate for the laborer – even one who is unemployed, model of protective care for the family and for the Church, his intercession as we work to resolve these issues in our world is needed. 

Some random trivia: the Main Feast of St Joseph is 19 March, the traditional day (and Pre-schism, for what it’s worth). But that is always in Lent – and sometimes in Holy Week. So it often gets played down and, sometimes, transferred to another period after Easter. In a desire to give St Joseph a proper feast… (quoth the wiki):

Between 1870 and 1955, an additional feast was celebrated in honor of Saint Joseph as Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Patron of the Universal Church, the latter title having been given to him by Pope Pius IX. Originally celebrated on the third Sunday after Easter with an octave, after Divino Afflatu of Saint Pius X (see Reform of the Roman Breviary by Pope Pius X), it was moved to the preceding Wednesday (because Wednesday was the day of the week specifically dedicated to St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist and local patrons). The feast was also retitled The Solemnity of Saint Joseph. This celebration and its accompanying octave were abolished during the modernisation and simplification of rubrics under Pope Pius XII in 1955.
At the same time, Pope Pius XII established an additional Feast of “St. Joseph the Worker”, to be celebrated on 1 May, in order to coincide with the celebration of International Workers’ Day (May Day) in many countries.

This extra feast was a First Class Feast among the Dominicans at least in 1962 (as it is in the Extraordinary Form, still)… not sure what it is now. In the General Roman Calendar, this is an Optional Memorial which means it hasn’t any readings assigned to it. So it takes the readings of the day.

Through many tribulations… Joseph had those. But St Joseph embodies two other virtues that make him difficult to swallow for those who might otherwise celebrate 1 May: silence and patience. The walk to justice is not achieved by stealing from either side to give to the other, but rather by coming together to work for a resolution. Repentance and forgiveness are needed for healing. St Joseph’s patience, prayer, and labor, make a difficult model for us to follow. But he is no different than any other Christian saint in this respect. 

A blessed feast!

The Strong, Silent Type.

JMJ

The Readings for the Solemnity of St Joseph

Monday in Passion Week (B2)

For this Just Man was given by you a spouse to the Virgin Mother of God and set a s a wise and faithful servant in charge of your household and to watch like a father over your Only Begotten Son. – From the Preface for this Feast

Following the advice of a wise Benedictine Prior to “preach the propers”, I’ll write about one today: even the non-scriptural propers such as the collects and prefaces are the condensed teachings of the Church and, so, inspired by God. 

Joseph is entirely silent in the Scriptures. This is important: his words are implied in a few places, but never recorded. Jesus’ Father speaks a few times in the New Testament, but Joseph never once.

When Mary was too weak after giving birth to do much of anything, it was Joseph who held the Baby, looking into his face, kissed his forehead, and looked heavenword saying “What now?” And yet, when the Child Jesus first learned to speak it was Joseph that was called Abba. When Jesus came running home crying Abba, it was Joseph that helped.  When Jesus was 13 and was Bar Mitzvahed, it was Joseph who stood by him. When Jesus learned to work with his hands it was Joseph who taught him. When Jesus learned all the things a Jewish man learns – into which mysteries a woman is not initiated – he, God in the Flesh, who taught these mysteries to men in the first place, learned them from Joseph. And when Joseph died it was Jesus who comforted his mother, and his half brother, James, at the loss of the only father that family had other than God. 

So when we say a Child learns about God the Father from her Father, Joseph is the model. 

And yet Joseph – who is named the Pillar of Families and Protector of Holy Church – is entirely silent. That silence is one not of speechlessness, but of contemplation. He is daily in the presence of God, and is a true model for an ascetic, contemplative man living in the world.

My birth father left when I was 1. I never knew him. Mom’s second husband was an ass who physically abused kids. Mom left him when he threw a candy dish at my head. Mom’s third husband, whom I call Dad, learned about being a father as we all do – by suddenly having kids. He’s done a good job. In my early years the father I knew was my grandfather who was, himself, a bit of a scoundrel and a rogue, although not abusive in any way.  

So once, when leaving a confessional, as the priest called me back (You’re not in trouble… don’t worry…) it was with some trepidation that I followed his advice:  just, go to Joseph he said. Fathers have not been a very good experience in my life.

What is true of Jesus is true of you if you are a member of his Body. Joseph is your Foster Father as well, as Mary is our Mother. Joseph is the head of the house, the breadwinner, the protector; all the things our Fathers were intended to be albeit with varying degrees of success. St Joseph is that for us as Members of Christ’s Body, the Church.

When I struggle with Vocation, Joseph is my model, for he was not of a priestly tribe or family. He was a laborer and yet he lived a priestly life in the service of the Church as it was then: the holy household of Nazareth. If ordained ministry is not for me, let me at least have this life of working for and providing for the Church, of daily seeing Jesus, of hearing the wise counsel of Mary, of living and dying in that service.

Increasingly I find in Joseph great comfort, blessing, and strength.  My Daily Offering to the Holy Family, in part, says:

Chaste Heart of Joseph, I beg thy prayers. Like thee may I be chaste and stable. May my work be done with all due speed and diligence; ever be ordered only to the provision, safety, and advance of God’s Kingdom, the Church. Bless my skills and talents that, like thee, I may ever use them to God’s glory and not my own. By thy prayers, may my work be crowned with the virtues of fortitude, prudence, and temperance. Let me be neither greedy nor sloth; let not the noonday demon find me ready to make a mockery of God’s labor or my own. Fix me in chastity in action, word, and thought.

Pray for me, St Joseph, together with thy Most Immaculate Spouse, that I may work out my salvation in fear and trembling; that having thee as my father and Mary as my mother, I may truly have Jesus as my brother and may be a devoted servant of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

As an ascetic, contemplative living in the world, and yet daily in the presence of God, Joseph is our model, our leader, even. The first fruit of this way of life in the world.

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.

We wanna go back to Egypt.

+
JMJ

Today’s readings:

Cur eduxisti nos de Ægypto, ut moreremur in solitudine? deest panis, non sunt aquæ: anima nostra jam nauseat super cibo isto levissimo.
Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!
Number 21:5b
We would never raise our voices against the Lord and against Lord’s anointed like they did in Moses’ day!
Certainly not.
You can’t count complaining about the current president.
Or the congress.
Nor the economy.
These are not the same thing
You can’t count our complaining about the weather.
About the state of the culture.
You can’t count our complaining about the Bishops.
Or about what the Pope may or may not do when he’s on an airplane.
This has nothing to do with whining about crime
Or about persecution of Catholics.
Surely we should be ok moaning about the healthcare system
or the state of sexual morals and murdered babies.
We would never
Then again, we might.
And God calls us to look at the Cross and be healed.
But, you will say, such contemplative action cannot fix healthcare or the climate.
It will never stop monks who murder in hospitals
Or bishops who want to juggle at mass.
It cannot heal the racial divide or wound to death our sexual pride.
We must do something.
Yes: look at the Cross and be healed.
Have you even tried?
Do you even contemplate, bro?
Be quiet before the Cross
As Mary and John were
As time stands still and opens up across all dimensions at every liturgy.
Behold the wood on which hung the price of the world’s salvation.
Just there, the eye of the storm of all time and space.
There.
Silence and stillness.
It is finished.
Have you even tried this?
Really.
It’s the answer.

Making Up for Whatever is Lacking

+J+M+J+


Today’s readings:

Adimpleo ea quæ desunt passionum Christi, in carne mea pro corpore ejus, quod est Ecclesia.
In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church…
Colossians 1:24b
You have to admit that’s a shocker.
Paul, who is not God, saying his pains somehow complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? The Greek word rendered in Latin as “desunt” is ὑστέρημα, husteréma, meaning “lacking” but also “a defect”. It’s a strong word here.
The Anglicans, contra St Paul’s divinely inspired teaching, underscore what most of us modern folks (I dare say, many Catholics as well) would understand as the truth, that Christ on Calvary, made “by his one oblation of himself once offered a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world”. We’ll get into the daily, omnipresent Eucharistic Oblation at another time, but today let’s let the Anglican formulary (and what I presume is the understanding of most modern folks about Jesus’ actions) wrestle with St Paul’s idea that he can add something to Jesus’ sufferings.
Follow me here.
Jesus says: Whatever you do to the least of these, my brethren, you do to me.
Paul says: For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ…and are made one in Christ.
Jesus goes further and says: As the Father has loved me (which love we understand to be the Holy Spirit) so have I loved you; and we are also to love one another.
Even Cramner says that in the Eucharist we are made “very members incorporate in the mystical body of” Jesus.
By Baptism and Eucharist, by our incorporation into the Body of Christ, we participate fully in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We do not thereby exhaust the power of God in those actions (which is infinite) but rather make those actions present in place and time. Our simple somatic presence in this world is replaced by God’s divine Zoe, the life of Christ. 
What happens to us – in that state of Grace – is part of the Passion of Christ.
And all of our lives, if properly offered to God, can partake of that divine transaction. 
Thus our suffering – our back pains, our arthraticky, our lumbago, our agony over the place of America in the world, our wrestling with the ideas of the current political climate, our pain at feeling rejected for our faith, our humility in submitting to an unjust boss or landlord, our willingness to go without so that our children might not go hungry, our setting aside a former life, our chastity, our abstention from meat or any other thing that is good by itself, our pains of withdrawals, our doing without an extra vacation or winter coat so that others might have one winter coat… these are now all become the action of Christ in his redemption of the World if they are offered up in that way, apud Josephum per Mariam ad Jesum

Dearest Jesus, after the example of the Chaste Heart of Joseph and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer thee all of my plans, dreams, and intentions, all of my thoughts, words, and deeds, all of my joys and sufferings, my hopes and fears, all of my crosses and crowns of this day and all of my life, all for the intentions of thy Sacred heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians, and the intentions of our Holy Father, the Pope.

Work? What Work?


Today’s Readings:

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. 
Joseph, fili David, noli timere accipere Mariam conjugem tuam.
Matthew 1:20

You’ll admit that Joseph was brave.
What would people say?
And goodness knows that Jesus would never look like him.
Genetics just don’t work that way.
But God does.

Is it conceivable, pardon the pun, that God would craft it so that Jesus looks like Joseph’s son, so that he blends in with the sons and daughters of Joseph? Why would you say no to that? Why would God say no to that?The (otherwise excellent) TV show, “Jesus of Nazareth” has a blond boy child being raised by to really rather Jewish looking parents. No, I think not: standing out like that makes no sense at all. I bet God would fix it.

Jesus was also left by his Father under this man’s tutelage. Jesus was God in the Flesh, knowing all things and having all wisdom, but his flesh went through all the stages of development you and I – and all humans – did. His brain was void and formless, and although he may have had that eternal connection to God the Father always present, it was the schooling of Joseph that gave it shape, that taught it words, that gave sense to “Father”. Joseph was “Daddy” (Abba) to the unschooled, developing brain of Jesus.

And so this man, Joseph the Just, Joseph the Most Chaste, Joseph the most loyal, the most devoted, the most patient, the most faithful: this man shows Jesus, first, what “God the Father” really means.

This man is the Patron and Protector of the Universal Church, why? because the Church is the Body of Christ, brought forth from the womb of the Virgin Mary, but fed, housed, clothed, protected, educated, and trained up in manhood by this man, this mortal.

It is a lame joke to point out that between Jesus the Son of God and Mary, the most Immaculate Virgin, if something was wrong in that house it was Joseph’s fault. But he was there, and he still prays for us.

Since leaving the Monastery, I’ve discovered a great devotion to this man, not least in my work, itself. Joseph is, to me, the model of devoting my work to God: because as he did his work, manfully, devotedly, fully, so he was protecting God, himself, on earth. Carpentry is not sacred, per se, but Joseph made his carpentry a sacrifice to God.

And so how can we do the same?

I wrestle with this because I don’t work. In fact, no one I know works except a few friends in Buffalo. Work means labor, moving stuff. Work is measured best in “Horsepower”: how many horses moving how much weight in how much time? That’s not typing, writing, or, let’s be honest, moving papers. Most of us reading this would be lost if we had to lift stuff.

Jesus “hired” fishermen and he told them they’d be “fishers of men”. Paul was a tentmaker up until he got arrested. The only people Jesus ever freed from their work (to do better things) were people who didn’t do actual work: tax collectors, rabbis, and prostitutes. I think this is important. What work would I be doing if I actually had to, you know, work? Even St Benedict had his entirely contemplative monks do work. The motto of his order is, after all, Ora et Labora: “Prayer and work”.  Can a Christian who doesn’t work (ie, do actual manual labor) be devoting his work to his salvation and the salvation of the world? How?