Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention…

Joseph, the man, the myth, the legend, the reality.

There is so much tradition around St. Joseph, whether it be his particular patronages, to the myths that surround his intercession, that we tend to lose the reality of the man. The myth and legend sort of push out Joseph’s reality. So today, on the Solemnity dedicated to his role as the spouse of the Blessed Virgin, let us focus on his reality. That is where we, as followers of Jesus, can take instruction and improve in our discipleship. 

Let us look at those words found in today’s Gospel which focus on Joseph’s reality.

He decided.
He intended.

Don’t we all do that. The old saying, ‘The best laid plans…’ Like St. Joseph, we decide things, we intend things, yet in all those thoughts and plans we often find God taking us by surprise. St. Joseph certainly did. He found himself with a wife, and a soon to be born child. He found his life trajectory now subject to change.

His trajectory would be affected not just by God, but also by the political machinations of his day. Suddenly, off to Bethlehem of Judea for a census ordered by Caesar since he was of the house and lineage of David. Nathan’s communication of God’s promise to David would be fulfilled in that. David’s throne is now forever since his descendant, Jesus, the Christ, sits upon it and reigns from it.

From there, Joseph is to be affected by the murderous intents of Herod. Joseph, take your wife and the Child and go into Egypt. Well, that’s new. Then, Herod dies. Joseph, go back, but not to Judah, you have to move to Nazareth in Galilee. 

I do not think many of Joseph’s plans, aspirations, decisions, or intentions worked out the way he planned. On top of all that, he and Mary sort of existed in a constant state of wonderment – What did Simeon’s statement about Jesus mean? Why did Jesus say what He did after remaining behind in the temple?

In our discipleship journey, the best lesson we can take from St. Joseph is his complete trust in God’s plan, ears that listened to and accepted God’s word, and a willingness to go in a direction that was not in his personal game plan. St. Joseph teaches us to accept God’s plan with great patience and trust. His example calls us to live that patience and trust, to go God’s way, in an upright, virtuous, and moral manner.

One hundred years ago a group of people, right here in Schenectady, got thrown off kilter. Everything they thought would happen, everything they had planned for went away. They had already faced changes they might not have otherwise imagined, crossing the ocean, third-class steerage, and arriving in a new country, often without any resources other than hope. Once relatively established and in place the next challenge arose. They had to set off in a different direction so to honestly and forthrightly follow God’s Holy Word, the Gospel way. They had to trust in God Who was showing them the path to faithfulness. This they did, taking St. Joseph as the patron for this journey. How apropos! How right they were.

Like Joseph, the surprises kept coming, and the road was not easy or smooth for those people, yet they prevailed, and today we walk in the footsteps they first trod. How blessed we are to be Jesus’ disciples and heirs to holy St. Joseph’s beautiful legacy right here in Schenectady.

Certainly, St. Joseph will continue to intercede for each of us, as immigrants, caretakers, husbands, fathers, foster parents, expectant mothers, workers, and for a peaceful falling asleep in the Lord. Who knows, he may even intercede for the sale of our homes…

More importantly, as we continue our journey, let us be imitators of St. Joseph’s reality, ever ready to say yes to God’s promptings; to go in a direction we otherwise would not. Let us be ready to go and to build. May we trust in God’s way. So too, let us remain loyal to the Blessed Mother Mary by properly honoring her and most of all, let us love Jesus above all by walking as Joseph did. Amen.

In
advance.

Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume

Last week we reflected on God’s wake-up calls. God is diligent at wake-up calls. He gives us this opportunity of Advent in advance so that we may be prepared. He gave us the first coming of His Son, His life and word as model so we may live awake, active, and expectant for His return.

This week we reflect on His proclamation – proclamation of a truth people so often wish to avoid for God does things in vastly different ways.

Consider the words of Isaiah. Would anyone expect the wolf, lamb, leopard, kid, calf, and lion to live and eat together in peace, guided by a child. Would anyone expect a baby to play together with snakes. Could we believe that a day will dawn where there is no ruin or harm? That’s the thing. It sounds all so great, and fanciful, and maybe someday – but you’ve got to be kidding me. Look at the world today!

God isn’t fooling! Those pretty words from Isaiah that begin in justice for the oppressed and right judgment for the afflicted, the casting down of the wicked and ruthless are God’s design and proclamation. He has told us, His faithful, that this is the way it shall be. This is what we must endeavor to bring about. This is the Kingdom life!

Paul tells us this was: written for our instruction, endurance, and encouragement so that we might have hope. This was written down as our instruction manual so that we might break down artificial barriers and preconceived notions. Who would think that the gentiles might be co-heirs? God did. Thus we rejoice for the gift we have been given in Jesus.

Each of the characters of Christmas brought a part of God’s proclamation. The prophets gave the wake-up call. The angels exceedingly rejoiced in God’s gift of His Son, Jesus. John, the Forerunner, proclaimed the way it must be by God’s design. John came in advance. He picked up sinners (lions, leopards, wolves) so they could eat and rest together with the lambs, kids, calves, and children. Those who confessed were freed. John held out the truth to those who wanted to pretend that things wouldn’t change. Who warned you, he said. He called them to change.

God’s proclamation is God’s reality, His truth. He provided it in advance. Advent gives us the chance to live up to His vastly different way.

In or out of
the cave?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you

Imagine living our lives in a cave. We can see nothing but images projected on wall in front of us. We are prevented from knowing their true nature. To us, these shadows are our reality. We may name and define the shadows. We may create and entire understanding based on these shadows. But what, if suddenly, we were able to break free from this perceived reality to see things as they really are?

On this Low Sunday let us return to the cave where Jesus had been buried.

In all the encounters in and around that cave, from the burial of Jesus to just after his resurrection, we find people deciding how they would live.

The Jewish leaders had asked for a guard for the tomb. They knew Jesus’ claims. They asked Pilate for soldiers. “You have a guard,” Pilate said. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

The guards who had been there the morning of the resurrection ran off to Jerusalem to report what had happened. A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you so you won’t get in trouble.” So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say.

The elders and the guards decided they would live in the cave, to stay there in a world of shadows, refusing to acknowledge the truth.

Peter and John went into the tomb, as did the women who arrived first. They saw the reality. Perhaps not understanding it fully, they still accepted and witnessed by leaving the cave behind.

St. Peter praises God today for a new birth to a living hope. He recognizes the fact that the tomb – Jesus’ tomb and in fact his and our tombs, those caves, are to be left behind. We have reality, understanding – and best of all an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us.

Jesus works to lift us up out of our caves. When we are stubborn like St. Thomas was, He will confront us. He will ask us to see reality and to hope – not just a hope of desire, or of wanting things to be a certain way – but hope that is evident. Let us set forth into the sunlight of Jesus, leaving caves behind.

Expectations.
Realities.

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, He found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is He, sir, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him, the One speaking with you is He.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped Him. Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”

This Lent we continue our focus on conviction and its outcome. Today we are presented with two amazing sets of events.

The Lord speaks to Samuel and sets him off to anoint the new king of Israel. “Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way.” Samuel heads to Jesse’s house to carry out this important and solemn deed. We can imagine his sense of excitement coupled with his nervousness. He imagines this strong, sturdy, handsome man, the oil pouring down over his dark hair, his face and beard. Jesse’s oldest comes forward. Eliab – this must be him. A man of lofty stature. God reminds Samuel – “man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”

Samuel is confronted, as we are, with the unexpected. None of these men are chosen. It will be the youngest, just a boy.

More powerfully, the Pharisees could not believe what had happened. This dreadful Jesus cured a man on the Sabbath.

They try every which way to discredit Jesus. ‘This man wasn’t really blind.’ They were early conspiracy theorists. ‘Jesus is a sinner – just deny Him.’ If we discredit this ‘holy man’ people will stop believing. They were early politicians. Finally, they ridicule and throw out the man born blind. ‘Mock the believers and no one else will believe.’ They were early manipulators.

Samuel, Jesse, and the Pharisees were much like us, people of expectation. What they expected was what they though they should expect. They failed to perceive God’s promise or His will. They only thought, ‘Surely it must be.’

This is how it was before we recognized and accepted our conviction and before we acted on it. We can hear echoes of our words, ‘Surely I must be…” Fill it in: unworthy, good enough, rich enough, too poor, addicted, sick, male, female, too young or old. Whatever our excuse for missing God’s will for us might have been, once we accepted conviction, and moved to admit it and accept Jesus as our one and only Savior, we moved to reality.

Jesus missed the part where we lifted ourselves above Him or thought we were unworthy of Him. He ignores our expectations to bring us to reality. Through the Spirit He prompts us by conviction to be: His children of light. The reality that matters.

Time for a gut
check, really.

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Gut check: an evaluation or test of a person’s resolve, commitment, or priorities, typically with respect to a particular course of action.

Today we enter the Pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima. This is prime time to do a gut check. What do we believe and why do we believe it?

St. Paul confronted this with the people of Corinth.

Some people in the Church at Corinth claimed there was no resurrection from the dead. They could not reason or see how dead people could possibly come back.

They were seeing with worldly eyes and were thinking with worldly reasoning.

Paul pointed out the fact that the faith they accepted was in the Jesus that was preached to them. Eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus preached to them. They were lucky enough to get a first-hand account from those who witnessed the resurrection; the resurrection of the One who also raised Lazarus, the widow’s son, and Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Logically, if Christ rose from the dead, so shall we. If resurrection was impossible then Christ did not rise from the dead. If He did not rise, what’s the point of our belief? We are not saved, Jesus was nothing more than a common man, and dead is dead.

The very foundation of Christianity – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – is make believe and we are wasting our time believing in Him, worshipping Him, and following His good news.

St. Paul emphatically states: in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. What we believe is true as seen and reported and worthy of belief. Not just that, but what we believe is also our destiny. It is the promise we hold onto.

As we begin the Pre-Lenten season let us also do a ‘gut check.’ When we kneel, what is that about? When we receive, Who do we receive? Who gave us the promises we hold onto? Our gut should tell us God made real in our lives.

We have this chance to check in, to reflect, and to see with heavenly eyes. Getting back to basics will make our Lenten journey more fruitful. Our ‘gut check’ brings us back to the most basic message of all. Jesus is real and all He said and did is real. His reality, His victory, His joy, like the resurrection is ours too – really!

walking-the-walk

And You are
Who?

When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Do we mimic Jesus’ encounter with the people from His native region by failing to recollect His reality and how very important and essential He is to us?

Of course, very few people would say they hate Jesus. Where they fail is in seeing the reality of Jesus. Like the people of His native village, the world wants Jesus to be who they want Him to be. They neither expect nor want God to walk among them, to enter into their lives, or to challenge them to go His way.

The gospel shows us that the people of Jesus’ native place expected a carpenter. They pigeonholed Jesus. When He upset their apple cart and challenged them to see differently, they were offended rather than changed.

What do we expect to find when we meet Jesus? Was He only a man, a philosopher who said nice and helpful things that we can choose to accept or ignore? Is He the god of our own making who exists merely to confirm and accept whatever we wish confirmed and accepted? Is He the god of magic blessings and cures? Is He a ‘plumber,’ on call in case of emergency? Do we keep Him safely on a refrigerator magnet, the bookshelf, or the Rolodex just in case? Is He the god of unchallenging love?

Jesus upset the expectations of those in His native place and He should upset our expectations.

The most challenging aspect of being a Christian is whether we will pigeonhole Jesus or if we will accept Him in the fullness of His godhead. If He is a mere shadow of what He truly is then He is not God. He had worked as a carpenter – and that is all His community members saw – that one side. As a result of their expectations they took offense and limited Him.

Jesus proclaimed marvelous words and a life affirming philosophy – but He is not just a philosopher. He healed and is there in a pinch, but He is more than an on-call fixer. He is never a god of our making. His message of love and way of love is always a challenge. It is a challenge to complacency and to our expectations.

Will we limit Him in our lives? Will we fail to recognize Him and how important He is? Will He be more important than anything to us? Will he offend us or will we be set free by His reality? Accepting Him and taking up His challenges sets us free. It makes us amazing in Jesus’ eyes.