Because God Became Man (Despite His Flawed Human Ancestors)

This day is just beginning, but I can’t let it go forward without mentioning yesterdays’ Gospel reading. It is from Chapter 1 in Matthew and it is the genealogy of Jesus. Here the gospel writer goes to great pains to show that Our Lord and Savior is indeed descended from the line of King David.

Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling with portraits of Our Lord’s earthly ancestors. After reading this post, you may think that earthy is a better description of them.

I work in an archive and many of our patrons come to our repository in order to research their family history and genealogy. It is a fun hobby for many, and though some pursue it in order to prove they are related to famous founding fathers or so they can join patriotic groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the Revolution, etc., most just want to know where their families came from.

Who are my forefathers? Were they like me? In this land of immigrants, when did my family arrive here? Were they good people? Were they famous, or rich, or generous? Am I descended from royalty, or from scoundrels? The riddle of how you came about waits to be solved, because the cast of characters in your background is both deep and wide. Interestingly, many lose heart when nothing special turns up, or they discover their great-grandfather was a horse thief and they are repulsed. Oops!

Our Lord’s genealogy has it’s share of wonderful peculiarities. Jesus is fully God and fully human, and his human line has some very interesting characters, let me tell you. Some have even called Our Lord’s human ancestors a veritable rogues gallery. Forget horse thieves, how about some liars (Abraham, Isaac), adulterers (David), murderers (Manassah), fornicators (Judah), polygamists (Solomon), and harlots? They are all here.

Let’s look at Manassah for example. This is from the Encyclopedia Britannica,

Manasseh, also spelled Manasses, king of Judah (reigned c. 686 to 642 bce). During his long and peaceful reign, Judah was a submissive ally of Assyria. In the course of his reign there occurred a revival of pagan rites, including astral cults in the very forecourts of the temple of Yahweh, child sacrifice, and temple prostitution; hence, he is usually portrayed as the most wicked of the kings of Judah.

Sheesh, that’s right! He even sacrificed his kids to Moloch. And you thought it was bad nowadays? Good news though. By the grace of God, Manassah repented and turned things around. Whew! You can read all about it right there in 2 Chronicles, chapter 33.

And how about the ladies in the line, huh? Strange enough that women are included at all, given the patriarchal society of the Hebrews. Maybe the gospel writer hopes to clean up the reputation of this line a little bit with a brace of impeccable women? Not hardly. First up, we get the Gentile woman named Tamar, who seduced her father-in-law in order to get pregnant. Whaat?! That sounds like something out of an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful, doesn’t it?

See, that was after her first husband, a fellow by the name of Er, “greatly offended the Lord; so the Lord took his life.” Gulp! So Judah (see list above) orders Er’s brother Onan to do his duty and “unite” with Tamar so she could have children. Onan, “spilled his seed on the ground”, offending the Lord and he lost his life too. Which led her to dress up like a hooker, get Judah drunk and seduce him. I can’t make this stuff up, folks. Go check out the story in Genesis, chapter 38.

Next up, we have Rahab the harlot, so you know what she did for a living. Did I mention she was into espionage as well? And she too was a Gentile, a Caananite. So much for the racial purity aspect of Christ’s human lineage. Now, Rahab aided Joshua and his men when they spied on Jericho. So she was a hooker and a traitor? Yep. Picture Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, hiding a couple of spies on her roof and you get the picture right. When the ruler of Jericho asked her to send out the men, she lied and said they were already gone. They didn’t bother to go in and check (they probably didn’t want to be seen in Rahab’s digs). Again, go read about this episode in Joshua Chapter 2. She too is in the cloud of witnesses though due to her faith. You don’t believe me? See Hebrews chapter 11.

And then there is Ruth, the impeccable woman out of this bunch. And again, not Jewish (how can this be?!) Anyway, she married a nice Jewish fellow name Boaz, and lived happily ever after. She had children and had a son who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David, so she is David’s great-grandmother. There is a tiny book all about her in the Old Testament, and you should take a look at it. The filial piety practiced by Ruth is the kind that Wu Li, SJ, and my other Chinese Catholic friends, are very comfortable with. And that goes for me too.

Last, but certainly not least, we round out this list of femme fatales with “the wife of Uriah”, you know, Uriah the Hittite? That was the good soldier whose wife David slept with, which makes this next lady none other than Bathsheba. All kinds of wreck and ruin came about as a result of her and David getting together. She gave birth to Solomon, who I mentioned earlier as the future polygamist and polytheist.  Get all the details on David and Bathsheba in good ol’ 2 Samuel, chapter 11.

I don’t think you need any more examples from me regarding the incontrovertible fact that God works His Will through us flawed human beings whether we see the big picture or not. God promised a Messiah, and I would wager that many of the people on this family tree had no idea that all along God’s Will was working through their lives to bring about the Incarnation. Is it any wonder that Mary, would exclaim, “how can this be?” Because aside from being a virgin, she knew her family line was a train wreck. Maybe even more so than yours or mine.

In my favorite Old Testament book, Qoheleth put it best when he writes,

God made everything fitting in it’s time; but He also set eternity in our hearts, though we are not able to embrace the work of God from beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

And Our Lord speaks volumes when He says,

Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.(Matthew 9:13)

Maranatha, Lord Come!

For the Love of Saint Andrew: A Christmas Novena, Day 16

I tend to pray this Novena while commuting to work. Something about driving highways makes me meditative. I have been trying, as I pray, to offer up my suffering to ease someone else’s and I have been picking a different person each day.

I discovered, however, that what I consider suffering many would consider blessings. Take my annoyance at driving behind a slow-moving truck. It’s a bother, yes. But another way to look at it is – hey at least I have a working car and a job to drive too. So many people don’t.

I was feeling kind of inadequate about what I consider suffering until a wise, young friend from School of Community suggested it’s pretty easy to be noble in the face of supreme suffering. She pointed out that it can be tough, really tough, to seek Christ as we labor through our daily discontentments.

I remember putting on a brave face when my husband and I lost two children before birth. So too when we nearly lost a third – our firstborn son – a day after his birth when he stopped breathing several times in the hospital and had to be resuscitated. My obstetrician told me with a gentle smile, “You were a mess until you had something real to deal with. Now you are doing a magnificent job coping with this.”

The conversation with my friend led me to thinking about the church calendar. Ordinary Time is called that because the time is numbered. But I also think of it as ordinary time, regular, day-to-day living. Sixty percent of the Church year is spent in ordinary time, just as most of our lives – God willing – do not consist of dramatic suffering and crises, but rather the living out of our destinies through our vocations.

Sure it’s Advent and yes we are awaiting the Lord, but I still have to put dishes in the dishwasher before bed, rise before dawn so I can commute to a job that helps feed our sons and try to fold laundry before heading out the door. This is a drag but it can be a source of delight if I can pray while I do this. I can offer up my early-morning moodiness to someone who need my prayers. I found this beautiful prayer under the heading “Ordinary Prayers” that speaks to my heart.

Heavenly Father
Your call never comes to us in a vacuum;
It comes to us in the circumstances
of our ordinary lives.
Therefore our response cannot be given
only in the privacy of our own minds;
it must overflow into our daily lives.
You call us through our family,
through our community of Church,
and through the world.

Help me to see that when I say no
to the legitimate requests of my family,
my community, or my world,
I say no to You.
You have ordained that
whatever advances the true progress
of self
of the Church
and of the world,
is my way of saying yes to your call.
May I take advantage of the daily opportunities
that You place at my disposal
to answer your call affirmatively.

Thanks to St. John of the Cross, Master of Paradoxes

In the past, I have shared my affinity for both the writings of John C.H. Wu (the Chinese Chesterton, here with his family and Pope Pius XII) and St. John of the Cross. Do you remember when I shared my friend John’s thoughts on Thérèse of Lisieux? He compared her to Lao Tzu and Confucius.

As this is the feast day of St. John of the Cross, I would like to share with you some of John Wu’s thoughts about this Doctor of the Church as well as this diagram of St. John’s Ascent of Mt. Carmel. [Read more…]

Because Catholics Can Have Fun: The Nativity via Social Networks circa 2010

Father James Martin, SJ, author of My Life With the Saints, posted this on his Facebook account a few minutes ago.  I predict it will be going viral, but as of this posting, the following video only has 360 views.

Let’s ramp that number up, shall we? But just remember that Herod the Great might be on-line too. We will need to jam his access to the web for a couple of hours. I know some people.

Don’t you dare smile!

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Update! Another version with a hat-tip to Tom Peters and Brandon Vogt.

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It’s a Snow Day! (Music for Mondays)

I’ve got to tell you folks that it snowed in my little town last night. The schools closed, the courts closed, basically the whole world closed down. My kids are home, and I’m home, so we are playing in the snow.

Make fun of us Southerners all you want. But since snow days rarely come around, we’re going to make the most of it. My family just put up our Christmas tree last night too, so we’ll be decorating all day long, in between snow ball fights, hot cocoa, and such.

Here’s a good music video for the day. Enjoy!

Ticket to Ride, the Beatles.

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Because of Francisco De Osuna and a Minor Miracle

During the Summer of 2007 I read an awful lot of books that led me to join my parish RCIA program in the Fall of that same year. I’ve written about most of my reading program in earlier posts in this series, and I continued reading great Catholic books once my RCIA class started too.

For example, I read Mirabai Starrs’ translation of The Book of My Life by St. Teresa of Avila. It is a fascinating book about prayer by a fascinating woman. By reading Big Terry’s book, I discovered the work of another obscure author I had never heard of who had a big impact on this Doctor of the Church and on me. Here is what St. Teresa says on page 20 of her book that peaked my interest,

On the way to my sister’s village, we stopped in to see my Uncle Pedro. He gave me a copy of The Third Spiritual Alphabet by Francisco de Osuna. This is a book all about the Prayer of Recollection. In the past year, I had realized what harm my appetite for romance novels had done to my soul, and I had begun to develop a tremendous appreciation for spiritual books. Since I did not know a thing about the practice of contemplative prayer, or how to go about recollecting my senses and my thoughts, I was thrilled to find a book that told me exactly what to do.

I remember thinking to myself, I don’t know what St. Teresa is talking about (contemplative prayer? What’s that?), but if she liked de Osuna’s book enough to give it such a ringing endorsement, then I need to get a copy of it too, post haste! [Read more…]

Because We Must “Be Patient. . .Until the coming of the Lord”

Third Sunday of Advent,
Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

In School of Community Tuesday night, we gave ourselves an assignment: Each day this week, we are to pick a person to whom we offer up our suffering so we might ease theirs. This discipline has led me to examine exactly what I think constitutes suffering. I’m an employed, happily married mother of two healthy, happy sons. We own a cozy, well-heated home in a safe community. We have full cupboards and stomachs. We are surrounded by wonderful friends.

And so I have come to realize this week how ungrateful I can be for all the blessings God offers. My “suffering” this week has included: driving behind a slow-moving truck on my way to work, or having to forage in the car for lunch in boxes of crackers and clementines because I forgot my lunch money. By Friday night, a friend was telling me that every time I spoke with him this week I’d seemed deeply irritated.

How far I am from the sentiment of this reading for the third Sunday of Advent. How much I need to hear these words.

Be patient, brothers and sisters,
until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another,
that you may not be judged.
Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates.
Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters,
the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

For the Love of Saint Andrew: A Christmas Novena, Day 12

Guest post by Julie Cragon

Last Christmas, I watched a young couple holding a newborn and playing with young children at a Christmas party. I knew the couple wanted children and was having a difficult time. They have seen doctors and talked to many people and even thought about adoption. I have stayed out of the conversation because they and their family have “thought of and tried everything.”

But she has been pregnant once and miscarried so I believe in the possibility. As the end of November was approaching, I could not get the young woman off my mind. I stayed awake at night and composed words in my head to share with this couple. Then, I saw on the internet from Sarah Harkins at Clay Rosaries, a cool set of beads she’d crafted just for the Saint Andrew Novena. I decided to buy two and give one to my mom and keep one and dedicate this year’s novena for the young couple.

Even though I had prayed this Novena for twenty years, I never knew it had anything to do with conception. I know that is crazy but when I was introduced to the Novena and on all the cards I have of the prayer, they all say “it is piously believed that whoever recites the above prayer 15 times a day from the feast of St. Andrew until Christmas will obtain what is asked.”

So, I’ve made up my mind to keep my mouth shut and I received the chaplets from Sarah and they are wonderful and then… My daughter is sitting at my desk and asks what the boxes are and I tell her they are mine and she’s welcome to look at them. She opens them and asks, “Mom, are you trying to conceive?” “I’m 50, of course not.” “Well, this card says that the Saint Andrew Novena can also be used for women trying to conceive.”

I’ve never in the 20 something years of praying this novena have ever heard that and neither had my mother. That day, I sat and wrote the young couple a letter and explained all that the Holy Spirit had sent me in the way of messages and included the chaplet with the card enclosed. I told them I expected nothing to be said. I expected they already knew it all. The day the girl received the package, I got a call. I froze. I expected words to stay out of their business. I just listened. “I received the package and I have to tell you that strangely enough we had just had a long talk yesterday, and I mean just yesterday, about trying again to start our family.” She went on to explain possibilities, staying within the Church teaching. I just listened.

May Saint Andrew intercede for them to our gracious God and may they be blessed in every way. May good Saint Andrew lead us all to follow Jesus.

Because We Don’t Need Another Hero

I loved the Mad Max film series. My favorite was the second film in the franchise, The Road Warrior. But by the time Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome came around, the story was pretty stale to me.

But for some reason, the song sung by Tina Turner from that last film is stuck in my head. I think I need to share it with you. Maybe it’s because Thomas Merton died today, back in 1968. Maybe he is pointing out the truth of our fallen world to me, and suggesting this song.

I believe from watching the video and following along with the lyrics, this pop culture hit is a kind of modern day lamentation for Advent (or for Lent). My buddy Father Louis was on to something, I know that for a fact.

Or maybe it’s just me. But the scenes that unfold below look a lot like what Father Louis was writing about with these thoughts in The Seven Storey Mountain,

Free by nature, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born… loving God and yet hating him, living instead in fear and hopeless self-contradictory hungers.

Have a look and listen,

We Don’t Need Another Hero
Songwriters:Terry Britten & Graham Hamilton Lyle

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Out of the ruins
Out from the wreckage
Can’t make the same mistake this time
We are the children
The last generation
We are the ones they left behind
And I wonder when we are ever gonna change it
Living under the fear ’till nothing else remains

We don’t need another hero
We don’t need to know the way home
All we want is life beyond,
the Thunderdome.

Looking for something we can rely on
There’s got to be something better out there:
Love and compassion
Their day is coming
All else are castles built in the air
And I wonder when we are ever gonna change it
Living under the fear ’till nothing else remains

All the children say:
We don’t need another hero
We don’t need to know the way home
All we want is life beyond,
the Thunderdome.

So, what do we do with our lives?
We leave only a mark!
Will our story shine like a light?
Or end in the dark?
Give it all or nothing
We don’t need another hero…

For unto us, a savior is born.

Thus says the LORD, your redeemer,
the Holy One of Israel:
I, the LORD, your God,
teach you what is for your good,
and lead you on the way you should go.
If you would hearken to my commandments,
your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea;
Your descendants would be like the sand,
and those born of your stock like its grains,
Their name never cut off
or blotted out from my presence. (Isaiah 48: 17-19)

Thanks be to God.

Update: Deacon Greg’s Quote of the Day from Father Louis.

For the Love of Saint Andrew: A Christmas Novena, Day 11

Guest Post by Julie Cragon

I was first introduced to the Christmas Novena to Saint Andrew in 1987. After a couple of years of trying to conceive, my husband and I found out we were pregnant early in the year. Along with my two sisters and a sister-in-law, I would have a new baby in November. Unfortunately, we lost our child in late April. By October and November, when the other new little ones were born I was beginning to wonder if we would ever have children.

At the end of November, my mother gave me a copy of the Christmas Novena and said to pray it fervently for anything I really wanted. Well, that was a no-brainer. That summer I found out again that we were blessed with a child. Again, during Christmas, I dedicated my Novena to the birth of a healthy child. Catherine Elizabeth was born in March of 1989. The elderly doctor showed us and five pre-med students (nice audience for my first full-term birth) the true knot in my newborn’s umbilical cord. Normally a cause of still-birth or complications, the doctor remarked that in his 40-something years of delivering babies, he’d only seen two babies live who were delivered with such a knot. Our prayers are answered in amazing ways.

Now my husband used the Novena one year to unload an old truck he owned that had become a true burden on our finances. He has been a true believer ever since that truck drove out of our driveway in January of the same year. It seems Saint Andrew is constantly bringing us to Christ, to faith in our prayer life, to belief in so much more.

I began speaking to mom’s groups about Advent and Lent preparation with small children shortly after the birth of our second child. I always share the power of the Saint Andrew Novena. One morning, I received a tap on my shoulder before Mass. A young man wanted to thank me for introducing the Christmas Novena to his wife. After years of trying to have another child, they were pregnant. I see both girls now and then and I must say, they are beautiful and the pride of both parents.

As I see it, Saint Andrew has brought more true believers to the power of prayer.