Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Friday, June 28, 2013

"Blessed Joseph Her Spouse"

RECENTLY POPE FRANCIS ASKED  the priests of the Latin Rite around the world to place Saint Joseph's name in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, after the name of Jesus' Mother, Mary. This news isn't as monumental as the pope's  initiating a probe into the Vatican Bank, but it has significance for the Church, especially if we can see the addition as more than just the pope sharing his devotion.

Mary and Joseph were married. But in the ancient biblical world, once the couple was married and before they lived together as husband and wife, they went apart separately to live with other married people to learn how to be good spouses to each other.

We shouldn't just assume that people know how to be good husbands and wives; mothers and fathers. Indeed, that so many marriages fail so often and so quickly, perhaps suggests that some practical teaching time might be a very good idea. Marriage failure isn't someone else's fault.  It takes a lot of hard work and self-forgetting to make marriages strong and enduring.

In the old ritual book used at weddings, the priest used to  read a long instruction to the young couple before the exchange of vows. The word sacrifice or sacrificial appears six times in those pages. Are most people ready for that?

Anyway, when Mary told Joseph she was pregnant and that he wasn't the father, Joseph was understandably confused and upset. But in a dream the angel told him to take Mary into his home as his wife. Then when the baby was born and Herod was angry at hearing there was a child around who was being called a king, Joseph was again summoned into action by a dream-angel and the little family fled to Egypt. Finally, when the coast was clear, Joseph took his wife and the child to Galilee, yet again directed by an angelic navigator, circumventing murderous trouble in Judea. This action packed story is found in Matthew 1:1 - 2:23.

It is a hard story, full of threats and fears, disrupted sleep, long and miserable travel, tiring obedience, disappointment in plans that didn't work out, twists and turns, enemies lurking, poverty and future unknowns. And in all of this, Joseph is the original action man of the New Testament. He doesn't get into a major fight with Mary,  leaving her and the child abandoned. In fact, he is so plugged in and receptive to God's purposes, only gradually unfolding, that we don't hear him speak at all throughout the story - he just listens and acts.

Isn't this refreshing in a world of incessant talking: commercials and infomercials, sitcoms with canned laughter after each spoken line, politicians who seem to be standing in front of microphones at every turn, radio talk show hosts who bloviate (talk much and say nothing). Even in the life of the Church it's a frequent complaint that the clerics who stand in the pulpit are taking a long time to say very little or that Church life is a series of endless meetings which bear little fruit.

Maybe we have Joseph, newly featured, to help quiet us down - if we will dare it. Saint Benedict begins his rule for monks with the word: Listen! I recently showed a forest waterfall to young Nicholas, who asked to climb to the top, to see where the water went over the cliff. As he took video of the falls from different and interesting angles, we didn't speak, but simply listened.. Then tracing the stream back away from the roar of the falls, he made a video of a mossy grove of ferns and trees where the only sound was that of the rain patting the leaves and the  quiet pools of water along the edges of the stream. At one point I simply put my finger to  my lips, and listening, he filmed the quiet.

But this fresh sense of listening has to invade our home and work lives too. In an article on the troubled state of marriage, a woman asks, "Why can't I find a man who can listen as long as I can talk?" Some men will roll their eyes or make fun of this woman, without even knowing who she is or what she's really asking. They will just assume she talks too much and that to listen to her would be burdensome. Maybe the woman is simply expressing what many women don't ever express: that they feel unheard by the men who say they love them. All throughout the story, it's Joseph the Listener.  Indeed, he listened to angels! What does that mean?

Brother Roger of Taize said that we should never engage in any kind of proposed dialogue until we are able to speak and understand the language of the other. He's not talking about German, Italian, African dialect, French. Roger means we shouldn't engage in dialogue until we understand the other person's sense of history, their conceptual life - where they're coming from. Instead, today so many people appraoch conversation with their minds already made up. Come hell or high water, they are going to get their agenda across.

Pope Benedict XVI suggested that the first project the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches might undertake towards unity would be to write a common history. What a marvelous idea! But were that ever to happen, I'd suggest, that the greatest gift given to the world, would not have been the volumes written, but the modeling of the great, mutual and humble listening that would have been required to produce those volumes in the first place.

Blessed Joseph, Husband of Mary...that we would be changed, and that our world would be changed through listening.

1 comment:

  1. You are correct in saying that marriages take a lot of work and self-forgetting, amongst other things. There are at least two problems today. 1)Since most marriages fail early on, there is a smaller and smaller pool of long time married couples to give advice to the less experienced. 2)People go into marriage thinking that it should always be like it is in the beginning. That feeling of excitement and discovery. Marriage is like a baseball glove. In the beginning you appreciate its perfect newness and learning how it will work out for you. Then as time goes on, you have to take care of it, make repairs, treat it gently. So that as the years pass, it becomes more comfortable and you just know how it is going to work for you without taking it for granted. And you couldn't imagine losing it or being without it. Yes, marriage is not always easy. How many couples stand at the altar and look down the road and think about how they will deal with the bad times. But we should. So let Joseph be an example for us. Listen!

    Married 20 years, 11 months and 17 days, but who's counting?