Saint Joseph — Our Model for Perseverance

Poor Saint Joseph. Even on his feast day, which we celebrated earlier this week, the news was all about Mary and Jesus. The Gospel reading was either the story of Joseph almost divorcing Mary or the Finding of Jesus in the Temple which is the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the rosary. He’s not exactly cast in the best light in either story. It would be like your friends coming to celebrate your birthday by telling everyone that story about the time when you almost left your wife over some marital problems or that time when you left your child in a large city coming back from a vacation.

Flash forward to the Nativity which we celebrate when we pray the Third Joyful Mystery of the rosary. Again, Joseph is a side character in those events. While he makes up 1/3 of the Holy Family, in most accounts he’s a background character.

But God teaches us a valuable lesson in the person of Saint Joseph. There is the lesson of remaining faithful even when life does not turn out exactly how you envision. I’m sure Saint Joseph did not anticipate telling people a story that stretched credibility about how his wife-to-be become pregnant. Nor did he probably want his son born in a stable so far away from his home. And he probably wasn’t too happy learning that they needed to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod‘s wrath. I’m sure, like many of us, Saint Joseph probably wanted a “normal” life but it just never seemed to be in the cards for him.

And yet, Saint Joseph did whatever he was asked to do or what needed to be done given the circumstances. He did not question, complain, or rebel. He is the example of following God’s Will no matter where it may take you because of the intrinsic happiness that comes from serving God. At many times, Saint Joseph could have acted in a way that would have made his life easier and happier.  He could have divorced Mary and found himself a more normal life as a carpenter. But that would have been a shallow, temporary happiness because nothing outside of God’s grace can be anything but that.

We too often find ourselves in a situation that is far different than what we expect or want.  Maybe we have a hard time finding a job or hate the job we have.  Maybe we dream about and desire a lot of nice things that we cannot afford.  Maybe our family life is challenging or feels unfilling.  Maybe we have illnesses or limitations that prevent us from leading a “normal” life.  But all of us, no matter who we are or what are circumstances may be, have one ability we can exercise if we choose — to follow God’s plan for us.  It may not lead to the easiest life or the one you have always envisioned, but it’s the one most aligned with God’s Will.  And ultimately, that’s the best life to lead.

If there was ever a patron saint of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” it would be Saint Joseph. When you find yourself in difficult times or if your life just hasn’t worked out the way you thought it would, pray to Saint Joseph for strength and guidance.  Think of him as your spiritual drinking buddy who can sympathize with your problems and can give you advice even if it’s just, “be strong, stay the course.”

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What Rosary Prayer Teaches us About Initiative

This Sunday’s Gospel (10/30/16) comes from Luke:

At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”

What I find most interesting is how St. Luke makes specific mention of Zacchaeus’ short stature and how he climbed a tree to see Jesus.  He could have just as easily started this story with “Jesus encountered a tax collector named Zacchaeus.”  Why the inclusion of the tree climb?

Zacchaeus being called down from the tree. Fro...
Zacchaeus being called down from the tree. From book: The Life of Jesus of Nazareth. Eighty Pictures. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zacchaeus did not let his short height dissuade him from seeing Jesus.  Instead, he did whatever he could because seeing Jesus was important to him.  And because of his conviction and conversion, Jesus gives Zacchaeus the gift of salvation.  Zacchaeus’ introduction shows us that we all have our limitations and hardships in this life.  And yet, we must find a way to “see” Jesus in our lives despite life’s challenges and distractions.  When seen through this lens, Zacchaeus’ story sounds more like this popular teaching from Jesus:

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Might as well add, “Climb and you will be seen.”

I think many times we let our situation dissuade us from truly embracing and practicing out faith.  I know I often fall into the thinking of, “well, I’m not a priest,” to justify times when I have not tried hard enough to further my relationship with Jesus.  It is so easy to blame work, health, family, or financial difficulties for not praying more often, not going to Mass, not receiving the sacraments, and not being charitable.  But as Zacchaeus’ story indicates, those are excuses and not very good ones at that.  We need to make our relationship with Jesus a priority and do whatever it takes to receive His grace.  Sometimes the road will be easy but other times we need to be like Zacchaeus and think outside the box.

Zacchaeus’ story ties nicely with the Third Joyful Mystery of the rosary — The Nativity.  The shepherds in the fields dropped what they were doing to go praise the newborn savior.  I previously wrote about how risky it was for shepherds to leave their flock.  But they understood the importance of seeing Jesus much like Zacchaeus.  They did not allow doubt or concern over their jobs dissuade them from encountering Christ.

English: Nativity scene on the Buenos Aires Me...
English: Nativity scene on the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral. Español: Portal de Belén en la Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires Français : Crèche de Noël dans la Cathédrale métropolitaine de Buenos-Aires (Argentine) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we pray and meditate on the Third Joyful rosary mystery, let us ask God for strength and maybe even a little knowledge to break out of our routines and doubts so that we can truly encounter Jesus.  He’s there; always waiting for us and will welcome us into communion with Him.  But maybe we just need to get over our worries and maybe put a little more effort to go to Him.

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“Let’s go to Bethlehem” — The Shepherds’ Tale

I wanted to write one more post before Christmas.  I really thought I would be able to get something out last week but two small boys really just suck up all available time and energy.  I don’t have a lot of time and I’m sure many of you are already in party mode.  But I would appreciate it if you could just entertain one more rosary insight before diving into the egg nog.

Gerard van Honthorst Adoration of the Shepherd...
Gerard van Honthorst Adoration of the Shepherds, still influenced by St. Bridget (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The rosary mystery that relates to Christmas is an obvious one — The Third Joyful Mystery, The Nativity.  I want to focus on a group of people in this mystery that I don’t think get a lot of mention in Christmas homilies — the shepherds.  To recap from Luke’s Gospel:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.

Remember, being a shepherd nearly 2000 years ago wasn’t an easy job.  A shepherd spent day and night taking care of sheep in all sorts of environments.  You couldn’t just run off and leave the sheep unattended or else some wolves would have a very grand feast.  While they worked in groups, I’m sure a few shepherds leaving created a huge burden on the others.  So you have to picture the sense of awe they felt when they saw that great company of the heavenly host in the sky and how deeply the spirit moved them to go and seek out the baby Jesus.  They risked their livelihood to catch a glimpse of Jesus, the newborn king.  After all, I’m sure the “angel excuse” wasn’t going to hold up very well with their employers if the sheep were eaten by wolves.  But they were filled with a sense that seeing Jesus was something unique and important.  Their jobs, while important as well, could wait for a bit.

Georges de La Tour: Adoration of the shepherds...
Georges de La Tour: Adoration of the shepherds (1644) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s learn from the Gospel’s shepherds this Christmas.  For just a few moments, whether it is a week, day, or just a few hours, cast aside your fears and worries in your life to just bask in Jesus’ presence.  Just trust in the Lord that the world won’t come crashing down because you stopped and took a few minutes to pray.  Like the shepherds, you don’t need to come bearing great gifts.  You just need to give your time and attention and most importantly, show a little faith.  Christmas is chaotic, I get that.  It’s not always easy to escape our responsibilities of work and family.  But I hope we can all just take a few moments to just be with Jesus in prayer and allow Him to remind us what’s truly important — God’s love and a sense of hope for a peace, both inner peace in our souls and an exterior peace with each other.

Merry Christmas!

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What is the Solemnity of Mary?

We celebrate the feast of the Solemnity of Mary on New Year‘s day, January 1st. But what exactly is the solemnity of Mary? In plain speak, we celebrate Mary’s motherhood to God made man in Jesus Christ. It is one of the oldest feast days in the Catholic Church dating back to the 5th century. The feast started when early Christians were still debating Jesus’ divinity. When the Church decreed that Christ was both God and man, it followed that Mary was the “Mother of God” and that is what we celebrate on this feast.

Georges de La Tour: Adoration of the shepherds...

The Gospel reading for this feast day continues the nativity story revolving around the shepherds praising the newborn king in the manger. And so it is fitting to remember the Third Joyful Mystery, the Nativity, not only on Christmas, but on this day too. We are like the shepherds — doing our work and going about our business. But when the Lord calls us and reveals Himself to us in our lives, we should make “with haste” like the shepherds did in the Gospel to praise and honour Him.

I know that on January 1st I want to curl up in a warm house and watch college football (go Stanford in the Rose Bowl!). I wouldn’t say I’m particularly excited about getting up early, getting dressed, and heading to Mass for an hour. But then I remember the shepherds from the Gospel. When the angel of the Lord appeared to them, they immediately dropped what they were doing and went to the manger to praise Jesus. Luke’s Gospel said that they went “with haste.” They didn’t ignore the angel or take their time getting to the manger. No one said, “I’m set for the night and pretty comfortable; I’ll just stay where I am.” Similarly, God calls us to come and celebrate the Nativity, the Holy Family, and pray for peace. And can you think of a better way of starting the year than in Mass? Here we not only honour Mary and Jesus, but can also give thanksgiving to God for last year while laying down before Him our intentions for the next.

Oh, did I mention that the Solemnity of Mary is also a holy day of obligation? It is no different from our obligation to attend Mass on Sunday. That means skipping Mass without a valid reason is a sin. And sorry, your hang over from New Year’s Eve is not a valid reason. Sinning on the first day of the year isn’t exactly the best start is it? However, make the most of this holy day of obligation and don’t go to Mass simply because you have to. Think of Mass as your spiritual new year’s celebration. Embrace the Eucharist, pray for peace, and celebrate the gift of faith.

Happy New Year!

Update: As with many other feast days, the Solemnity of Mary isn’t a holy day of obligation in some dioceses and countries.  Please check with your parish.  As an editorial, I find it odd that skipping Mass on January 1st will be a sin for some, but not for others depending on your address.

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Remembering the True Gift of Christmas

I would like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas! All through human existence people have been searching for meaning; to make sense of everything in this world. In other words, we have been searching for God and trying to know His ways. On Christmas, God answered that eternal question through the birth of Jesus Christ.

img_2639I would like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas!  All through human existence people have been searching for meaning; to make sense of everything in this world.  In other words, we have been searching for God and trying to know His ways.  On Christmas, God answered that eternal question through the birth of Jesus Christ.  He became flesh so that we could try to comprehend His incomprehensible nature.  And we find that God is not distant, petty, or power-hungry like the false gods people worshiped in ages past, but is as innocent and humble as a newborn baby.  May we embrace this great gift from God by increasing our faith and love for Jesus.

On the practical side, let us remember to take advantage of Christmas Mass whether that be on Christmas eve, midnight, or Christmas day.  I know all too often Christmas Mass is seen as something to “get out of the way” if we even go at all.  And often we spend our time at Mass thinking, “I wonder what is in that big box under the tree?”  Or, “I need to get home and start on that turkey!”  I know sometimes I just “zone out” and start scanning the congregation for friends I have not seen in a long time.  I just want to remind you that the Mass is the high point of this holiday.  As I mentioned in my Third Joyful Mystery Meditation, let us not be consumed by the “trappings” of Christmas even if it can only be for that one hour during Mass (hey, it’s a start).  Really take in the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament and reflect on the greatest gift humanity has ever received — a personal and loving relationship with God.

Merry Christmas!

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