Let us go to Bethlehem

“Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.

(Luke 2:8)

Suddenly the shepherds hear the voice of an angel. Struck with awe they listen to the angel say, “Behold, I proclaim to you good news”. 

“For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

(Luke 2: 11-12)

The shepherds turn to each other and said, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15)

The shepherds make their way to the little town of Bethlehem. Days before their journey, Mary and St. Joseph travel to this place to take part in the census, even though the timing was not convenient for the expectant mother. The time for her to have her child was drawing near. 

The Virgin consented to the impossible. An angel had visited her too. She gave her “fiat” to be the “handmaid of the Lord” and so the savior of the world was conceived. “The most sublime work of God’s mercy was accomplished: one Person of the Blessed Trinity, the second, came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Behold the Word, God’s only-begotten Son, “who for us men and for our salvation, descended from heaven and became incarnate” (Credo).” (Divine Intimacy #26, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdelen)

The shepherds hurry along prodding the sheep with them. What will they see? 

Joseph and Mary arrive in the village, swarming with other pilgrims. It is night, cold and the time for the child’s birth is fast approaching. Joseph’s poverty as the head of the family is palpable. He must trust in God. St. Joseph trusts with “creative courage”. He arrived “in Bethlehem and finding no lodging where Mary could give birth, Joseph took a stable at hand, as best he could, turned it into a welcoming home for the Son of God come into the world.” (Patris Corde, Pope Francis)

With tender care and attention, Mary wrapped the infant Jesus tightly in cloth as any loving mother would do. Swaddling Him in strips of cloth so that He would be warm, snug and safely protected from the outside world now that He has left the womb. Swaddling infants is still something mothers do today. In past years, narrow stripes of cloth wrapped around a newborn helped to restrain a baby’s movement and quieten him to sleep more contently and prevent him from accidentally scratching his soft, fine skin.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem reminds us that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger, and was poor, vulnerable, dependent, and cold. The swaddling cloths foreshadowed the burial cloths. However, at His next coming, Jesus will be glorious – wrapped in light! 

“For with you is the fountain of life, and in your light we see light.”

(Ps36:10)

The Lord’s binding as an infant was one of love. He submitted to Mary’s love and attention to his tender, fragile needs as an infant. As a matter of fact, all of His bindings were bonds of love. He was bound and taken by his enemies as His hands were tied and He was led away from the Garden of Gethsemane out of love for us. He was wrapped in bands of cloth for His funeral, but at the resurrection – glorified, He removed the cloths that bound Him.

Now the shepherds have their personal encounter with Jesus, led to this encounter by the Star to a poor manger with a little baby. A baby who will “bring peace on earth”. They behold the infant, a poor infant lying in the poverty of a manger, sleeping, resting. Together with the shepherds, we move from this sight of Jesus with faith to follow Him along His way of sorrows with the Cross. 

This Christmas may we welcome the Savior. May Jesus find our hearts empty and poor with the poverty of the manger where He can come and find his rest. Seeing that only a poor heart can truly receive God, let us make room for Grace. 

Feast of St. Joseph

Those who practice prayer should have a special affection for him always. I do not know how anyone can think of the Queen of the Angels, during the time that she suffered so much with the Child Jesus, without giving thanks to Saint Joseph for the way he helped them. If anyone cannot find a master to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious saint as his master and he will not go astray.

– St. Teresa of Avila

Joy in Finding Jesus

When meditating on the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, I cannot help but think about how there is something ordinary about this family. They are living out their daily lives, doing everyday things together, and in this passage they are traveling. So much of this is reminiscent of our own family life, doing unremarkable things together day in and day out, even taking a trip once in a while together. 

One thing I often contemplate, when reading this passage from the Gospel of Luke, is how Mary and Joseph noticed that Jesus is missing. In all this living, even though we strive to be holy and live our lives as God wants us to do, it may happen that we do not notice when Jesus is missing from our lives.

I would like to think that when this happens and we do notice that He is missing, that we would, like Mary and Joseph, go searching for Him. Searching for Him with the hope of experiencing His presence once again. My prayer even finds me asking for those in my family that have lost faith to notice that Jesus is missing, hoping that they, too, will go in search of Him.

For three days Joseph and Mary went searching for Jesus. Sometimes our life’s present circumstances are buried in endless activities and filled with various worries. However we should not let these challenges prevent us from continuing our search. Mary was afraid that her Son had disappeared. Overwhelmed with anxiety, she and Joseph continued their search with the hope that they would be reunited with Him again.

Then they experienced such joy at finding Jesus! There He was, among the teachers, captivating them all with His wisdom. May His wisdom captivate us once we have rediscovered Him and renewed our efforts to listening to Him teach us through His word and sacraments.

Once they found Him, they returned to their home in Nazareth to resume their lives and daily living with Jesus. The life of this holy family was unseen and filled with love and work.  Mary lovingly contemplates all the events that happen in her Son’s life, pondering them in her heart.

If it should happen that Jesus seems to be missing, let us strive to remove the obstacles that may be preventing us from truly knowing Jesus and His presence in our lives. And when we have found Jesus again, let us wonder once more at the mystery of our life in and with Christ.

“Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” Luke 2:41-52

 

 

St. Joseph

Next to Mary St. Joseph is the second greatest saint. He is a saint we can imitate. Through our devotion to this great saint we can renew our desires to be faithful. What was St. Joseph like? What is there to imitate?

St. Joseph, according to what we know of him in Scripture, never said anything. He is a man of great silence. Instead we see him simply doing the Lord’s commands. The angel told him to take Mary as his wife and to not be afraid. This is what this just man did. He loved Mary and was self-sacrificing and generous.

He was also obedient. In Matthew’s Gospel we are told that “when Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” and took Mary as his wife. Joseph was also obedient to the commands of the legitimate secular authorities. Luke chapter 2 says, “ That a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.” “And Joseph also went up from Galilee… to Judea, to the city of David… to be enrolled with Mary.” He was also familiar with poor and lowly conditions as he witnessed the birth of Jesus that took place in Bethlehem where Mary “gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2: 1-7)

St. Joseph spoke the holy name of Jesus. Luke 2:21 tells us that at his circumcision, “ he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived”. By doing this St. Joseph proclaimed the mission of his foster son as Savior! Jesus will save us from our sins. We too can speak His name like St. Joseph remembering that “there is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved”. (Acts 4:12)

Like St. Joseph and Mary we can marvel at what was said about Jesus and at what He says when we read the sacred scriptures and hear Him preached. St. Joseph, along with Mary, most certainly did this. When they took the infant Jesus up to the Temple, Simeon referred to the child as the salvation which God had “prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of the people of Israel”. (Luke 2:31-32) The child was also to be a “sign that is spoken against.” (verse 34)  It is God’s will that all be saved and have access to the Father through His son, Jesus Christ, and to become sharers in the Divine nature. It is at this moment that St. Joseph was reminded of his mission to be the first guardian of this mystery. Later when Jesus was twelve years old and “ supposing him to be in their company… they sought him.” (Lk 2: 43-44) Then after much searching they found him in the temple. Mary speaks. Again Joseph is silent. “Your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” (verse 48)  Mary’s concern is for St. Joseph. Jesus reminds St. Joseph once again, as he contemplates the situation, that he is the guardian of that mystery foretold by Simeon – that Jesus is to save people and to be that “light to the Gentiles” – when Jesus replies that he “must be in my Father’s house.” We too, like St. Joseph, are guardians of this Divine mystery.

St. Joseph was the head of the Holy Family, and it was his job to protect his family by fleeing from dangerous situations. When Herod was searching for the child to destroy him, St. Joseph rose and took the infant Jesus and his mother to Egypt. As a father it was St. Joseph’s mission to protect, lead and head the family. Later when things had calmed down with Herod, he took the child and his mother back to Nazareth.  “The child grew and become strong, filled with wisdom: and the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2: 40) During these hidden years the whole family lived the hidden human virtues we are all called to live. Simple, humble virtues like: work, religion, family life and activities. These virtues are ways to sanctify our daily lives. There is nothing great here, just ordinary things done daily and lived authentically. St. Joseph can help us with his intercession to live our ordinary family days with devotion and growth in the human virtues, especially the virtue of work.

We can imitate St. Joseph and renew our desires to be faithful. We can strive to be obedient, generous and self-sacrificing. We can be devoted to our family by protecting them and growing daily in the human virtues. We can be silent and marvel at all that Jesus has said and done and is still doing for the salvation of souls. Finally we can guard the mission of Jesus by proclaiming his holy name and praying for the salvation of souls.

The Queen of Angels

On the Feast of the Assumption the Lord showed St. Teresa in a rapture the Queen of Angels in her ascent into heaven and how she was received there with all solemnity and great joy. The effects St. Teresa received were “a deeper desire to undergo difficult trials” and she was also “left with a longing to serve our Lady”. (The Book of Her Life, Chap 39:26)

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Following all the many trials and persecutions St. Teresa received in setting up the first foundation, she fell into a rapture on the Feast of the Assumption. This time she was reflecting upon her many sins when the rapture occurred. In it she saw herself “vested in a white robe of shining brightness” but at first didn’t see who was clothing her in it. Later she saw that it was the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph that were putting this robe on her.

St. Teresa goes on to explain, “I was given to understand that I was now cleansed of my sins. After being clothed and while experiencing the most marvelous delight and glory, it seemed to me than that our Lady took me by the hands. She told me I made her very happy in serving the glorious St. Joseph, that I should believe that what I was striving for in regard to the monastery would be accomplished, that the Lord and those two would be greatly served in it, that I shouldn’t fear there would ever be any failure in this matter even though the obedience which was to be give was not to my liking, because they would watch over us, and that her Son had already promised us He would be with us, that as a sign that this was true she was giving me a jewel. It seemed to me she placed around my neck a very beautiful golden necklace to which was attached a highly valuable cross.” (The Book of Her Life, Chap 33:14)

Because of St. Teresa’s work and devotion, Carmelites strive to serve Our Lady and St. Joseph and to foster personal devotion to both of them. In a previous post, I mentioned how St. Teresa set St. Joseph at one door and Our Lady at the other in each of the foundations that she set up. She had great trust in their protection and intercession and we should too.

St. Teresa’s Devotion to St. Joseph

During St. Teresa’s younger years she was quite ill and even crippled. After seeing how helpless the doctors were, she began to seek help from the saints in heaven that they might cure her. She writes in her autobiography that she took for her advocate and lord St. Joseph recommending herself to him with all earnest. It is to St. Joseph’s intercession that she was able to walk once again. She writes:

“I saw clearly that as in this need so in other greater ones concerning honor and loss of soul this father and lord of mine came to my rescue in better ways than I know how to ask for. I don’t recall up to this day ever having petitioned him for anything that he failed to grant. It is an amazing thing the great many favors God has granted me through the mediation of this blessed saint, the dangers I was freed from both of body and soul. For with other saints it seems the Lord has given them grace to be of help in one need, whereas with this glorious saint I have experience that he helps in all our needs and that the Lord wants us to understand that just as He was subject to St. Joseph on earth .  .  .  so in heaven God does whatever he commands.”  (The Book of Her Life)

Once she was in need when setting up a new monastery and did not know how she would pay the workmen. St. Joseph assured her that she “would not be lacking”. She hired the workers even though she did not have any money. The “Lord in ways that amazed those who heard about it provided for me.” Her brother, who was living in South America, sent her the money that she needed. In her letter to him on December 23, 1561, she acknowledges his gift and expresses her gratitude. (The Collected Letters of St. Teresa, Vol 1)

On another occasion she writes about the protection she received from this wonderful saint. In the midst of conflicts and exhausted, St. Teresa didn’t worry. Instead she “prayed to the Lord to protect me and to my father St. Joseph to bring me to his house, and I offered God what I would have to undergo.” 

She always celebrated his feast day with as much solemnity as possible. Since she has experienced so much good from this saint, she has done much in promoting devotion to him. “I have not known anyone truly devoted to him and rendering him special service who has not advanced more in virtue.” And who wouldn’t want to advance in virtue? St. Teresa is convinced that he will benefit souls in a powerful way – all they have to do is to recommend themselves to him. “For some years now I have asked him for something on his feast day, and my petition is always granted.”

St. Teresa also says that St. Joseph is someone who persons of prayer should attach themselves. Since he was so good and assisted the Blessed Mother and the Infant Jesus, she is convinced through her own experience that he will not fail to assist anyone who is devoted to him and entrusts themselves to him.

 “Those who cannot find a master to teach them prayer should take this glorious saint for their master, and they will not go astray.” 

Ask St. Joseph to help you pray and recommend all your cares and concerns to him. Perhaps there is a virtue that you need. If so, ask St. Joseph for this, today on his feast day.

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The Hidden Life at Nazareth

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Jesus spent most of his life hidden living within the context of a family. Today is the Feast of the Holy Family and the lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph provide us with some important lessons. Their home life at Nazareth is a school:

The home of Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus – the school of the Gospel. First, then, a lesson of silence. May esteem for silence, that admirable and indispensable condition of mind, revive in us. . . A lesson on family life. May Nazareth teach us what family life is, its communion of love, its austere and simple beauty, and its sacred and inviolable character. . . A lesson of work. Nazareth, home of the “Carpenter’s Son”, in you I would choose to understand and proclaim the severe and redeeming law of human work. . . To conclude, I want to greet all the workers of the world, holding up to them their great pattern their brother who is God. (CCC 533)

This quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church was taken from a beautiful address given by Pope Paul VI at Nazareth, 5 January 1964, on the occasion of the Feast of the Holy Family. Read more of that address here.

St. Joseph at one door and Our Lady at the other

When founding the monastery of St. Joseph’s, St. Teresa writes in The Book of Her Life that one day after Communion the Lord told her to strive for this new monastery with all her powers and promised that He would be highly served in it. “He said it would be called St. Joseph and that this saint would keep watch over us at one door, and our Lady at the other”. Our Lord further told St. Teresa that Christ would remain with them and that the new foundation would be a “star shining with great splendor.” (The Book of Her Life, 32:11)

With the waves of our current culture tossing us about on this stormy sea, it would be good to remember that the whole Church is under the patronage of St. Joseph, one of the first acts as pope of Pius IX. Recently, the present Holy Father, Pope Francis, issued the decree Paternas vices (Fatherly care) adding St. Joseph’s name to all the main Eucharistic Prayers. Until this decree was issued in May, St. Joseph had only been included in the first Eucharistic Prayer. It was Pope John XXIII that inserted St. Joseph’s name in that prayer in 1962. St. Joseph will now be included in Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV.

Our Lady is know by many titles one of them is appropriately fitting for the present times: The Star of the Sea or Stella Maris. This is an ancient title for our Blessed Mother. In the ancient Aramaic language the phrase “Our Lady” meant pilot, leader or guide. At sea, or in the desert, someone was needed to lead the people safely and to guide them. In ancient times, more so than today, the stars were used as a guide to safety and new life.

With this in mind, let us keep these two saints watching over us, asking for their help and intercession as we make our journey in this life, remembering that St. Joseph is keeping watch over us at one door, and our Lady at the other.

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