Archive for the ‘St. Joseph’ Category

The Temptations of the First Christmas

December 22, 2015

If I were a demon prowling about the world for the discouragement, confusion, and ruin of souls, how might I have tried to tempt God’s beloved ones in the year leading up to the first Christmas?

If I were a demon, I would say to St. Elizabeth, “Did people imagine that Zechariah had a vision while he was serving in the temple? He simply had a stroke and he will never speak again. You’re feeling sick every day and your abdomen is expanding. You clearly have a cancer. You will soon be dead. There is no hope.

If I were a demon, I would say to St. Mary, “You think you saw an angel? That’s crazy! You’re imagining things. Who are you to be the mother of God’s son? Who do you think you are! Don’t even bother going to visit Elizabeth. You’ll feel foolish when you arrive and see that nothing has changed. None of your family, friends, or neighbors will believe you. Joseph will divorce you and you will be all alone.

And if I were a demon, I would say to St. Joseph, “Do you really believe Mary conceived by God’s Spirit? She’s obviously lying. Even if it’s true, who are you to be a father to the Messiah? Either way, it is best for you to just get a divorce. Whatever you imagined when you married her, now you can see that you were so very wrong.

Mary & Joseph

Even with the coming of Christmas, my diabolical efforts would not cease. I would advise Bethlehem’s shepherds to steer safely-clear of the holy child and to keep to watching their flocks. I would urge the Magi to dismiss the starry signs as meaningless coincidences and not to risk a long journey. I would encourage Joseph to ignore the warning dream to take his family into Egypt and I would encourage Mary not to trust in her loving husband’s lead: “Surely, God would have told you this before telling Joseph.” Thankfully for us, none of them were prevented from doing God’s will through being tripped-up by such traps.

Some people think of temptation strictly as a prompting toward pleasurable, immoral action. But temptation can come in other forms. It can also pull us toward inaction and negative experiences like fear, doubt, sadness, and despair.

Some people assume that the saints do not know temptation like the rest of us. But did Mary, Joseph, and Elizabeth live oblivious to the thoughts and unassailed by the feelings realistically described above? In truth, the saints come to understand temptation well as they discern and persevere through the trials of life.

Some people believe that God loves and watches over a few favored saints while having less concern for the rest of us. But this is also a temptation. Even if our life takes a shocking turn and we don’t know what to do, even if we have a stroke, or cancer, or our mind begins to fail, even if we seem betrayed or abandoned by everyone, each and all of us are his dearly beloved ones. (And we shouldn’t listen to anyone telling us otherwise, even if they speak to us in our own voice.)

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Mysteries of the Holy Family

December 26, 2014
  • Mary with Jesus in Swaddling ClothesThe Holy Family’s first Christmas was both stressful and joyful.
  • Jesus the Bread of Life was born in Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread.”
  • Jesus was born and laid to rest in caves. His body was wrapped, in birth and death.
  • Joseph taught carpentry to Him through whom all things were made.
  • Mary taught prayers to God.
  • St. Joseph, protector of the Holy Family, is now universal patron of the Church.
  • St. Mary, the bearer of one child, is now mother of all Christians.

Reflections on St. Joseph — March 19 — St. Joseph

March 19, 2014
  • Joseph was probably the first person Jesus Christ called “Abba.”
  • As a carpenter, Joseph created things by his mind and hand, imaging God the Father, Creator of the universe.
  • Joseph never gave a stone, a snake, or a scorpion to Jesus when asked for a loaf of bread, a fish, or an egg.
  • Like God the Father, Joseph can seem quiet, but he never ceases in his love and action.
  • As God loved ancient Israel purely, so Joseph loved Mary—the icon of perfected Israel.
  • Joseph was the protector and provider in the household of the Son of God. Now he is the patron of the universal Church.

Lost Children — Feast of the Holy Family—Year C

March 3, 2013

Joseph and Mary loved their faith. Every year they journeyed with family and friends to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. But one year, when the festivities had ended and they were heading for home, Jesus stayed behind.

It takes a day for them to realize He’s even missing, and then his parents hastily retrace their steps, with impassioned prayers on their lips for the safety of their Son. (Perhaps Mary wondered if these days would bring the sword that was to pierce her soul.) But then, on the third day, they find Jesus safe and sound, dialoguing ably with the religious teachers in the temple.

He seems surprised that his parents would be searching for Him, “Why were you looking for me?” Jesus still has some “advancing” to do in both wisdom and in the experience that comes with age. Not telling His parents where He was going to be was perhaps the boy Jesus’ honest mistake, and when Mom and Dad tell Him it’s time to come home He leaves with them and is obedient to them.

Today, on the Feast of the Holy Family, we recall Saints Mary and Joseph, the ideal parents, who lost track of their only Son in the big city; and we recall Jesus, the holy Child, the sinless Lamb, who wandered off from them. This episode goes to show that even perfect people sometimes make mistakes. Remember: not every personal failure is a personal sin.

Sometimes parents come to me with great sadness because their children have wandered from the Catholic Faith. They often blame themselves. Now it is possible to be negligent in not handing on the Faith, but the kind of parents who grieve over their children leaving the Church are probably ones who raised their children in the best way they knew how. These parents should not be so hard on themselves. Even Mary and Joseph had a child who wandered off on His own.

In this Year of Faith, who are the ones who have wandered from the Church that we should be seeking out? Pray for them and invite them back. Tell them, “It’s time to come home.”

Their First Christmas — Christmas Mass at Midnight

December 27, 2010

Christmas can be a hard time of year for a lot of people. Despite the pious, peaceful, and nostalgic scenes we see on the Christmas cards (like the one on the right,) many peoples’ Christmases are less than picture perfect. Today I would like to tell you the true story of two friends of mine, newlyweds whose first Christmas together was far from idyllic. (I’ll call them Chuck and Sue, though that’s not their real names.)  

In fact, Chuck and Sue’s first year together had been a rocky road. Chuck has always been a good and faithful man, but at one point in the beginning, he seriously thought about getting a divorce. He says that it was only by the grace of God that the serious tensions and misunderstandings between them were resolved and their marriage was saved.

After they tied the knot, the two picked-up and moved away from their closest family and friends to a small town down south where they had some distant relatives. Chuck worked hard as a blue-collar laborer, but after this transition, he found himself unemployed. And unfortunately, all of those distant relatives proved too distant to care about helping-out a struggling young couple in need. Their first Christmas together, Chuck and Sue were out of work, pregnant, and homeless.

How do you think Sue must have felt? Do you think she felt concerned about their circumstances and their family’s future? And how do you think Chuck must have felt when through no fault of his own he wasn’t able to provide better for his wife and child on the way? Had it not been for their deep faith in God and the consolation of their prayers, they would have been overcome by darkness, resentment, fear, and despair. But instead, their first Christmas together was the brightest and most joyful in history. You know Chuck and Sue’s story well, for theirs is the Christmas story. Chuck’s real name is Joseph and Sue’s real name is Mary.

Remember, the Christmas story is not a fairy tale from far, far away. It’s a real story in the real world, and for the real world. Our lives still have difficulties, but Jesus Christ has come, and that makes all the difference in the world. No matter what we’re going through, because of Christmas, we all have good reason to be merry.

And in closing, let me say one final word: I’m always pleased by how full the church is at Christmas. Please come back. Jesus Christ calls you back. He knows our world well and He knows how much you and those you love need His grace to get through it. The shepherds were called to find Jesus in a feed trough. Jesus invites you to find Him here.

Strengthening Your Family — Holy Family

December 29, 2009

Today we are going to try something unique. Close your eyes and let the Holy Spirit guide your imagination to show you what family life was like in the home of Joseph, Mary, and the boy Jesus…

Theirs is a small dwelling and you can see all of them there…

How old is Jesus as you see Him? What is He doing?

What are His parents up to? What are Joseph and Mary like as you see them interact with each other?

It comes to time to eat. What do you see the Holy Family doing?

As they relate to one other, what do you see expressed in their faces? It is now later in the evening and time for prayer. What do you see the members of the Holy Family doing?

You can return in your imagination to visit this house any time you wish, but now, let’s open our eyes and review our mediation.

What did you see as Joseph and Mary interacted with each other? Were they not tender and reverent towards each other? I bet you could see their great mutual love reflected in their smiles.

What happened in their house when it was time to eat? Who would imagine them not coming together to share their meal in each others’ company?

And later, when it was time for prayer, did the Holy Family do? Did you see them go off to their own corners, or did they come together, to pray as one family?

Did you see the Holy Family’s intimacy, their happiness, and their love for each other? Do you want your family to share a bond like theirs? Then take the Holy Family as your model: share your love, share your meals, and share your prayers.

First, on sharing your love. Let your spouse and children know every day that you love them. You can say it, you can show it, or you can do both. For instance, kids never tire of being hugged and told their loved each day.

As for married couples, don’t make the mistake of thinking that intimacy and love are only expressed physically. For St. Joseph had all sorts of simple, little ways to let Mary know that she was loved, and vice-versa. Be like the Holy Family in sharing your love.

A second way to model the Holy Family is to share your meals. The research of social scientists indicates that having frequent family meals together contributes many goods for one’s family: For starters, everyone eats healthier meals, and so kids are less likely to become overweight or obese. And kids who eat family meals are less likely to start smoking, to drink alcohol, or to try or to be addicted to drugs. These kids’ grades are better at school, and there is less stress in their homes. These things probably stem from the fact that families which eat together are bound to talk more, provided the TV is off.

These parents are more likely to know about their children’s lives and struggles and, just as importantly, their kids are more likely to know that their parents are proud of them and love them.

Jesus Christ thinks that the shared family meal is so important for us that He has instituted one for His Church and expects His entire family to be there; for to share in the Eucharist is to share in the life and communion of His family.

A third way to make your family more like the Holy Family is to share your prayers. Apart from dinner prayers or going to Church, most Catholic families do not pray together. I think that maybe we see the priest praying the Church’s prayers and think that we are not equipped to lead prayers of our own at home.

But it’s not true.  As fathers and mothers you have a spiritual authority within your families, what John Paul the Great called “the domestic Church.” Your spouse and your children need you to pray, not only for them, but with them. Right after the family meal might be the perfect time for this ritual of family prayer.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, “But we’ve never done this as a family before.” Remember this: as parents, you create what’s normal for you children. If you want it to be normal for your children to eat meals with you, then make it normal for them.

If you want it to be normal for your children to pray to God with you, then do it normally. As parents, you create what is normal for your children and through your gift of these traditions to them you can bless them for a lifetime.

Finally, husbands and wives, if you do not pray one-on-one with each other, then you do not yet share a perfect intimacy together.  It is in prayer that our most intimate selves are laid bare and we ask another person to help us with our heartfelt needs and concerns.

Maybe you’ve never prayed with your spouse before. Then perhaps you can begin like this:  hold each others’ hands, close you eyes, and pray to God for each other, for a little while, even if for just ten seconds, say, before you go out the door. 

Once this becomes comfortable you can begin to telling each other what you want to be prayed for. And, after this is comfortable, you can begin to pray for each other aloud.  Begin the process of praying like this and it will transform your intimacy together.

Perhaps you gave many gifts to your family members yesterday for Christmas, but the greatest gift you can give to each other is yourselves. So follow the way of the Holy Family: share your love, share your meals, and share your prayers.

Treasure the Gift — Christmas Mass at Midnight

December 26, 2009

It’s Christmas, and today we hear one of the most familiar passages in the Gospel, the nativity scene in Bethlehem.  Is there anything that we can learn out of such a familiar text?  Yes, very much indeed. For example, have you ever wondered: what are swaddling clothes anyways?  ‘Mary wrapped her Son in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.’

When I was young I thought swaddling clothes were just dirty pajamas, but in fact swaddling refers to an ancient custom. They would use tightly bound cloths to wrap-in an infants’ arms and legs to their bodies (they thought this was important for promoting proper posture.) This practice was called “swaddling.” Was it cruel to confine the babies like this? No, the babies liked this. It reminded them of their many months, warm and snug, within their mothers’ wombs. Another thing I’ve learned since the time I was a kid was what a manger really was.  A manger is not a stable. It’s a feeding trough.  Mary wrapped Jesus up in swaddling clothes and laid him in a feeding trough.

Even if you knew all that stuff before, there remains the question of why St. Luke included these details in his Gospel. Why is it important?  Not only does it show the poverty and humility of the Christ, it also points to Jesus’ future. This is not the last time that His mother would wrap Him in tight cloths and lay His body down. And baby Jesus is laid in a feeding trough because when He is grown He will say to His disciples, as you will her Him say to you here, “Take this, all of you, and eat it. This is my body which will be given up for you.” The swaddling cloths point to Jesus burial cloth, and laying in the manger points to His Eucharist, where which He offers us His whole self, His body, blood, soul, and divinity as food.

So you see, whether we are a talking about the Sacred Scriptures, prayer, the sacraments, the teachings of Christ’s Bride (our Mother, the Church,)  our Catholic faith is not a half-cut orange whose richness you can drain out with one or two squeezes and then toss away. A lifetime of discovery will not exhaust what all that our Catholic Faith contains.

When I was a kid I might have looked at this manger scene and though that some people were missing.  “Where are the Magi, the wise men (or astrologers) from the East?”  They’re over there, hiding among the poinsettias. Maybe they are journeying through the forests, or maybe they haven’t even left home yet, but one thing we do know is that they were not there on Christmas night.  When they arrive in Jerusalem they ask King Herod, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” Days, weeks, or even months have passed since Christmas, and when they do arrive in Bethlehem they do not find Jesus, Mary and Joseph living in a stable or a cave, but in a house.

So who was there that first Christmas night? The shepherds were there. The angel said to them in the fields, ‘I declare to you news of great joy! A savior who is Christ and Lord is born for you in Bethlehem.  You will find Him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” The shepherds look at each other and say, “Hey, we’ve gotta check this out.” Who wouldn’t turn out for that first Christmas after an angelic invitation like that?

The shepherds came to the stable and find the infant Christ just as the angel described. From there, Luke’s Gospel says, they returned rejoicing and spread the word about what had happened to all. The shepherds probably knew everybody from Bethlehem, since they were locals (“from that region”) and within walking distance from the stable.

Yet there is a question which I would like us to consider, a question which the Gospels do not answer, and it is this: After that first Christmas, did the shepherds ever come back to visit the Holy Family again? I doubt you could find two people more friendly and welcoming than Joseph and Mary, so I sure that any guest was welcome in their home, but did the shepherds ever take the opportunity to visit them again? The Magi had to travel hundreds of miles just to see Jesus once, but the shepherds were only a short distance away. 

Did the shepherds ever get to know Mary and Joseph better, these two holy saints of God? Did they ever take time come back to adore Jesus, to consider what the birth of this Child meant for their lives, and to praise and thank God for all the blessings they had received? If they had merely spent a single hour each week in the Christ child’s presence, imagine what difference it would have made for their relationships, their work, and their lives in general? We don’t know whether the shepherds ever came back again after that first Christmas, but if they didn’t, then they were foolish and they really missed out.

This Christmas Jesus Christ invites you come back and see Him again, to visit this house of Joseph and Mary, where He is always present to be adored. He wants to bless you through His saints, His teachings, His sacraments, and His Real Presence here, the whole year round. You may be receiving many gifts this Christmas, but make sure that you do not return this one.

3rd Sunday of Advent—Year C

December 14, 2009

Advent is a season for penance and conversion, for the confession of sins and the changing of lives, but this Sunday of Advent reminds us that it is also time for joy. Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, a name which comes from the Latin command “rejoice!” This command is heard from St. Paul in today’s second reading:

“Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again:  rejoice!”

But is it that why do we need to be reminded, even commanded, to rejoice? Why are we not a people of constant joy and peace, even though we have great reason to be? I think it is because our hearts and minds give in to fear.

God is near, but when we give in to fear we do not trust that He really cares about us and really provides for us. In fear we become anxious about our future. In our fear we feel too stressed-out to be thankful. And in fear we forget or refuse to pray. St. Paul seems to have realized all this, that may be why he followed his command to rejoice with these words, words that it would do a lifetime of good to know by heart:

“The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all,
but in everything,
by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God
that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Today I would like to share with you a true story about two friends of mine who had every seeming reason to afraid, but who kept God’s peace. Let’s call them Andrew and Christi. I have changed their names to conceal their identities, but I know they wouldn’t mind me sharing with you their story because it can teach us all a lot.

To say my friends had a difficult first year of marriage would be to understate it. Andrew, a hard-working man with rough hands and a good heart, became afraid that marrying Christi had been a mistake and he seriously considered getting a divorce. Christi, a beautiful woman inside and out, prayed fervently to God, for both Andrew and herself. She honestly did not know how God would provide for her, but God gave her a peace that surpassed her limited understanding of His plans. Then, as Andrew tells it, God intervened, giving him a sign that this marriage was indeed His will and that Andrew should not be afraid. This divine reassurance strengthened Andrew and he resolved to remain faithfully at Christi’s side no matter what.

A few months later, forces beyond their control forced Andrew and Christi to leave their hometown, away from all their family and friends, and to move down south to a town where Andrew had some distant relatives. But, once they got down there, all of these relatives proved to be too distant or too busy to care enough to lend this vulnerable couple a hand. Their first Advent season together, Andrew and Christi were jobless, homeless, and with child.

It would have been so easy for them to give in to despair that first Christmas Eve, for Andrew to feel like he had failed his wife as a husband, or for Christi to feel anxious and afraid about their future as a family. Yet, Andrew and Christi trusted that the Lord was near. They would pray together as a couple, and gain courage and strength, peace and even joy through their prayers.

Indeed the Lord was near them, through it all, and their first Christmas together turned out to be was the brightest and the most joyful that they, or the world, had ever seen. As I said, this is the true story of two friends of mine, but they’re also friends of yours and you knew their story even before I told it to you today. For Andrew’s real name is St. Joseph and Christi’s real name is St. Mary.

Today we rightly call them saints, not because they lived in a world free from difficulties, an imaginary world different from our own. Joseph and Mary are saints because they knew and practiced how to live in this world well; with joy, kindness, prayer, thanksgiving, and peace. And so brothers and sisters:

Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again:  rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all,
but in everything,
by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God
that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.