Friday, March 19, 2021

Honoring St. Joseph

Pope Francis declared 2021 to be the year of St. Joseph and that is a most appropriate thing during a time when so many men are struggling with their masculinity as well as identity in this world.

As men we are not told that it is okay to struggle, to be afraid as well as to express our emotions. And in many cases, it takes our own wives years to get through these walls that we and our environment create for us. Yes, there are certainly times when men have to play a certain role when it comes to their interactions with other men. At times it is simply to be professional while at other times it is to stand our ground in a challenging world. Joseph certainly would know this since he was charged with the idea of having to provide for his family in the first century. Still, there was a side of him that we can see based on the evidence that has been before us since the beginning of the Church. 

We will not focus on Joseph's background as a carpenter or his daily religious life for that matter because I covered both of these in a recent blog on the Incarnation. Here is the link to that blog and I highly encourage you all to read it, as it allows us to see the influence Joseph had on the life of Jesus.

Instead, we will take a deeper look at many of the stories that we are most familiar with in order to see the man who, along with our Blessed Mother, raised our Savior to be the devout Jew that God the Father would expect His Son to be while living on earth among His people. This will also help us see how a devotion to St. Joseph will lead us to become not only better Christians but Christians with the courage to walk by faith.

The Annunciation 

Our Blessed Mother is the reason why we have a Church. Her fiat was the gateway to salvation as the Lord has always honored the freewill that he gifted to humanity. Even though our Blessed Mother was raised by Joachim and Anne to be a great woman of faith she still had great courage to accept the task given to her by angel Gabriel (Luke 1:38). 

This was certainly a moment of great joy for our Blessed Mother. Being a Jewish woman she knew of the Covenant that God made with her people, which included the promise to send a Savior. Her joy was expressed in the Magnificat as she was aware of the fact that this moment was about to occur (Luke 1:54-55). She had also learned that she would be the vessel that would deliver the Messiah to the world (Luke 1:46-48). 

Meanwhile, she still had to speak to Joseph on this matter after she had departed in haste to see her relative Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-40) who would affirm Mary's encounter with the angel (Luke 1:41-45). This certainly gave our Blessed Mother the courage to share her miraculous encounter with her betrothed.   

A betrothal differed from engagements in today's world because it included a ceremony where the man and woman were required to commit to getting married on a certain date. In today's world a couple announces their intention to marry, usually after they have made that decision in private. This is why for Joseph to end the relationship he had to divorce her and not just, as we see in our world today, break the engagement. 

In Matthew 1:19 we see that Joseph had the intention to divorce Mary quietly in order to spare her the shame of adultery. This short verse leads to so many questions. Why would he show consideration for the woman that many would see as someone who shamed him? Why would he want to spare her from what he knew was the rightful punishment for her sin (Ezekiel 16:40)? Was he in fact convinced that Mary had committed adultery because after all, she certainly told him of the circumstances of her conception (Matthew 1:18). 

The Gospel tells us that he had such an intention before he encountered the angel in his dream (Matthew 1:20). That tells us that he was far from just having a marital arrangement with Mary. He truly knew the character of this woman and had to feel a sense of truth in what she told him. Being a righteous man (Matthew 1:19) he would not have lived in a way that went against the Law. However, to spare Mary the public shame of adultery his righteousness to protect her served as a preview of the Gospel, which would of course be delivered by the Child in her womb. In other words, Joseph's understanding of righteousness surpassed what was commonly known by his people (Matthew 5:20), what it meant to hold a grudge against one's neighbor (Matthew 5:22-24) as well as what it meant to keep one's word (Matthew 5:37). Of course his word would not be broken once he encountered the angel who would confirm all that our Blessed Mother surely told him (Matthew 1:21-24).

Matthew 1:24 states that Joseph did as the angel commanded and took Mary into his home. With the two of them being betrothed we know that part of that ceremony included the citing of a specific date when they would fulfill their marital union. Did this encounter happen near the date that he was supposed to bring her into his home or, did Joseph act as such because he had great faith in the divine encounter he had with the angel in his dream? 

Either way, if we look at Joseph's willingness to take Mary into his home, which included raising a child who was not of his own flesh and blood he had to believe both in the woman that he married as well as his encounter with God. The fact that Joseph both had a divine encounter and was described as a man of righteousness actually leads us to compare him to one of the bible's most famous patriarchs, Abraham.

It is said that Abraham's faith was reckoned to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6) and he too would be greatly tested by God (Genesis 22:1-19). Both he (Genesis 22:11-12) and Joseph encountered the divine and in doing so did not hesitate to do what was asked of them. Therefore, it would not be a stretch to compare the two when it came to their level of righteousness. 

Interestingly enough, one could also refer to Abraham in terms of why we honor our Blessed Mother. In Genesis 12:2 we hear God say I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing while in Genesis 12:3 God says all the families of the earth will find a blessing in you. And for how many generations have Jews, Christians and Muslims honored their common father Abraham? Meanwhile, in Luke 1:48, while our Blessed Mother recites The Magnificat she says behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

It is safe to say that Lord chose well when it came to His earthly parents. 


Faith Rewarded 

Joseph's response to God's will is not without the graces to provide all that he and his family would need. While scripture does not cite specifically the internal struggle of either man we can gather from our own human experiences the fear they must have encountered. All husbands and fathers struggle with such realities even if we live in a culture that does not allow us to express such things. 

Sadly, many husbands fail to recognize that their greatest confidant is before them, their wives! While we are told that Joseph took Mary into his home do we really reflect on what that meant? Our Blessed Mother had already experienced rejection when she learned of his intention to divorce here quietly. How that must have challenged her faith as she reflected on not only her encounter with the divine but also the child that she now carried. Can we imagine though when she would speak with Joseph again when he would share with her now only his decision to take her into his home but the reasons? The same God who blessed her had reached out to her betrothed and now he brought her into his home. That along would be a pillar of their faith life as a married couple, which they would need once Jesus was born.

The Hebrew word for male is Zakar, which means to remember. Today's world is greatly wounded because of the men who fail to remember their obligations. Thankfully, Joseph was not one of those men but his commitment to his family along with being blessed by God did not spare him the fears and struggles that come with having a family. The bigger question is, was he and his family truly alone when they encountered such challenges? 

The couple's first moment with Jesus may not have been what they would expect. We know that Jesus was born in a manger but Joseph certainly would have wanted more for Mary and their son (Luke 2:7). Of course it would not take long before they would face great danger. In Matthew 2:13-14 Joseph was ordered in another dream to flee to Egypt in order to avoid what would is now known as The Massacre of the Innocents (King Herod's order to kill all boys under the age of two). In Matthew 2:19-20 he was ordered in another dream to return to the land of Israel since all who sought the life of the child had now died. In Matthew 19:22 we see that both Joseph's fear and another dream guided him to the region of Galilee instead of Judea since Herod's son Archelaus was now ruling over that region.

The final dream that we are told of is the only place where it speaks of Joseph being afraid but as we can see, the fact that he had dreams to direct shows how God remained with him while he remembered his obligation to protect his family. In scripture, dreams were one of the ways that one encountered the divine so this gives the reader an immediate glimpse of the source of what caused Joseph to trust what he had to do in order to care for Mary and Jesus. This is something we too can experience if we live our lives in the same way that Joseph did when it came to being such people of righteousness while putting our trust in the same God who gave us the precepts for living such a righteous life. 

This is something we too can encounter in our own lives with the the child in Mary's womb telling us later in life why it would happen. As stated in John 14:18: I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. The Lord did this for Joseph and Mary and He will certainly do the same for all of us. In order to respond to that we are not only called to live a life that is pleasing to God but also a life that will allow us to see God's will as our sins are the thing that can blind us to what God has placed before us. 

Now let's take a look at out more human experiences in order to have a deeper understand of how Joseph impacted the life of his family. The Hebrew word for female is Negba, which means to open. The fact that Joseph took Mary into his home already demonstrated his faith in God as well as in what she had told him in terms of the origin of the child she was carrying. He would have to continue to communicate his divine encounters with his wife when it was time for them to travel to the destinations that God prepared for them. How would Mary react in seeing Joseph's trust in the Lord? How much closer would she feel to him while she was carrying the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32)? More than that, how would this impact her faith in the Lord as she sees how much her Fiat is now impacting the life of her husband? 

Aside from that, it is entirely possible that Mary not only saw the fear and concern on her husband's face but also heard such words from his own mouth. While scripture does not tell us such things we can almost assume such a thing would happen as this is indeed the man who went back to her to take her into his home after having to tell her of his first encounter with the angel. Again, how much closer would she feel towards him and, how much more would she open up to him? 

On the other hand, how would our Blessed Mother respond to Joseph? Knowing her faith and character she would have been supportive and obedient since she knew that Joseph was obeying the will of God. More than that, how would her support and willingness to follow her husband impact him knowing that she did these things while he not only communicated the message of his dreams but also his fears? There is great comfort for a man when he can be vulnerable before his wife knowing that she will not use that against him, especially when it comes to challenging his masculinity. 

The Holy Family was rooted in the true friendship of Joseph and Mary as they certainly lived out the values that the Lord calls us all to take on as our own. One being a man of righteousness and the other being the Immaculate Conception (Luke 1:28).   This friendship is best stated by Pope St. John Paul II when he says that, friendship has two dimensions, the first of which involves a turning toward one another in a recognition and affirmation of the good of one another—which establishes the structural dimension of friendship—and the second, a turning toward a common good together with one another, a good that they seek together and for one another—which establishes the content-based dimension of friendship.

In looking at all that Joseph and Mary endured both at the beginning of their marriage as well as the at the moment of Jesus' birth we see why it was so important for them to have what we can see is a deep friendship. While many of us search for true love in our lives we tend to forget that to make this love last we must establish a true and authentic friendship. The Lord not only chose Joseph and Mary to raise His Son but also gave two wonderful and holy people as the God Man needed to be loved as much as any human child. We should take this to heart knowing that our children are in need of the same thing. 

The Righteous Father 

In conclusion, let us reflect on a number of passages from the Book of Proverbs that Joseph certainly would have known from his years of attending synagogue services. Further, such passages would also be read while he took Our Lord with him to synagogue services during His upbringing.

Proverbs 20:7 - The just walk in integrity; happy are their children after them. In thinking of the role Joseph had in raising Our Lord it is hard not to think of the impact he had on the life of Jesus in the same way that other good fathers have always had on their sons. Jesus would have not only received good instruction but would also be loved without question.

Proverbs 22:6 - Train the young in the way they should go; and even when old, they will not swerve from it. Joseph was no longer around when Jesus began His earthly ministry and yet He certainly maintained all that He had learned from His earthly father.

Proverbs 23:22: Listen to your father who begot you. No, Joseph did not have a physical role in the conception of Jesus but a true father does much more than assist with the conception of a child. Further, by taking a pregnant Mary into his home he took on the role he not only kept his promise made during their betrothal but did so knowing all that would be required from him when it came to the Holy Child she was carrying.

Proverbs 4:1 - Hear, O children, a father's instruction, be attentive, that you might gain understanding. The same God who inspired this passage also led Paul the Apostle to write the following passage in Romans 8:32 - He who did not spare His own Son but handed Him over for us all (God will do whatever it takes to save us), how will He not also give us everything else along with him? Would that not also include Joseph, the one that the Gospels refers to as a righteous man? Would He offer Joseph the necessary graces that would make Jesus want to be attentive to His earthly father's instruction? Would God deprive other fathers the same gift who also want to raise their children in the same way? 

So as it is our custom to honor our Blessed Mother for all that she did for Our Lord as well as all that she does for us we should also take this time to honor St. Joseph for all that he did for the Holy Family along with all that he continues to do for the Church. Perhaps we can begin with this devotion to St. Joseph while we continue to mediate and learn more about the one who was charged to take on a task that challenged both his manhood as well as his faith. 

St. Joseph, pray for us. 


Carlos Solorzano
BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach
Certified Through the Theology of the Body Institute
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate


Sunday, March 14, 2021

Unblinding Faith (Reading Reflections 4th Sunday of Lent 2021, Year A)

Reading Reflections 4th Sunday of Lent 2021, Year A (1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41)

All of us have been plagued by false accusations and rumors at one point in our lives.  Our abilities or our characters have been judged, or misjudged, sometimes unfairly or maybe even overestimated.  Regardless, when we look at someone at the surface, we are missing something.  The misconceptions have been even more skewed by social media.  We only get to see a glimpse of someone's life, and often the life they want us to see.  But in the end, God knows.  As God said to Samuel "Do not judge from his appearance... Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart."

Even if we show others that we pray, we go to Church, we do everything according to the book, God knows the sincerity in which we do things.  He also knows who we are in our own hearts.  He knows who lives as children of the light.  And that light can shine forth from us.  How can that light come alive?  By our belief in Christ.

Both the first reading and the second reading come together in the Gospel, where Jesus heals the blind man.  The beginning of this Gospel struck me.  It was assumed that either the blind man or his parents were sinners because of the congenital blindness he suffered.  But when Jesus was questioned as to who was the sinner, Jesus answered them "Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him."

First of all, Jesus was putting an age-old belief to rest.  That it is no one's fault that he was blind, but that is how he was created.   But just because he was born with what could be considered a handicap, it does not mean that he could not be destined for something greater.  In his case, it was to show the healing power of our Lord.  Whatever could be considered a weakness to others, God can use it for goodness.

Carlos and I had once spoken of this part of the Gospel because each of us our eldest sons are on the Autism spectrum.  When my son was going through the process of diagnosis, there was a lot of self-doubt and self-blame.  I start to question why this is happening, and what I or any of us could have done to cause it.  It was a blessing to have Carlos there because I was able to ask him questions having had gone through it before.  What is more, although they are very different and have very different personalities, they also have similar traits and manifestations.  But if there is one thing both of us have seen, it is what a joy and a blessing each of our sons are.  And although there are some challenges, there is a pureness to their hearts.  They challenge us to be better as people and as parents.  Both of them are always trying to do good, do the right thing.  They love rules and go by the rules, keeping us in line and keeping us honest.  They helped us to see the world in ways we never would have seen otherwise, removing our blindness. What man will see one's as weakness, God can use as one's strength.

The second thing is that we as Christians will constantly be challenged because of our faith.  When the Pharisees questioned him, the blind man challenged their claims saying:

"This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes... It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.  If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything."

For this he was thrown out.  Now, more than ever, our faith is being challenged. Church teachings have always been scrutinized, but they do not go along with the current "rules" of society.  But Jesus heard of what the Pharisees did to him and went back to him.  Jesus asked him, and he professed his own faith in our Lord.  His faith helped him to see.  His faith helped him to understand.  Jesus saw the sincerity in his heart.  And in that belief, in that sincerity, the blindman enlightened the world to the mercy and power of God.

Instead of our "knowledge" blinding us by the current rules set by the times, let us look for the truth in our Lord Jesus Christ, to give us a the abstract understanding.  Let us open our eyes to the love of God, allowing Him to enrich and enlighten us. In turn, let us be that light to the world that is so necessary, especially in the darkness of times.

Between the Light and the Dark (Readings 4th Sunday of Lent, Year B)

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2021 (Cycle B): 2 Chronicles 36:14-16; 19-23; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

    There is something I have always said when it comes to helping others "You can throw a drowning person the lifesaving ring but it's up to them to grab it."  How many times have we seen someone in trouble and we've done our best to help them, yet they refuse to accept help, often tuning us out, maybe even cutting communication with us?  How often, when our efforts are underappreciated, do we feel let down, underappreciated and ignored? And how often do we just give up. "Forget it, they don't want my help. I've done all I could. I give up."

    But have we done all we could?  Really?  Jesus, Himself, gave us His life.  He sacrificed Himself in order to save us.  God gave us His only Son.  The light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.  How many of us know that what we are doing is not right, yet we choose to do it anyway?  How many of us turn away from God because we want to continue satisfying the desires of our flesh?  If we feel discouraged from continuing to try and help those who do not want our help, what more did/does our Lord feel?  And don't forget, He gave up His life knowing that the sins of humankind would continue.

    Our Lord did not give up on us, He gave Himself up for us so we could have faith in Him.  As St. Paul said to the Ephesians God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ... For by grace you have been saved through faith.  Even when we are deep in sin, our merciful God is willing to forgive us.  Turn to God, choose the Light of Christ, and by His power, His grace will come over us, and save us.  But there is always something that we have:  a choice.  It is up to us to choose between the darkness and the light.  Jesus gave up His life for us.  Are we willing to give up our sinful ways in order to show Him how much we believe in Him, and that we love Him for the love that He showed us on that cross?

Sunday, March 7, 2021

It's not about "What" but "Why" (Mass Reading Reflections 3rd Sunday of Lent Year B 2021)

 Mass Reading Reflections 3rd Sunday of Lent Year B: Ex 20:1-17; 1 Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25

There are times we get so caught up in the "what" we do without any thought on the "why" we do them.  When a someone once asked me if we did any "Easter" stuff and my response was that "Yes, I took the kids to Church and we read the Gospel stories" I was given an incredulous look, a side-eye as though I was crazy, or maybe being scrutinized that the Easter traditions I was trying to instill in my children did not involve painting eggs, eating chocolate bunnies, or photos with a giant rabbit in a costume.  No, I do not deprive my children of these commercialized activities as they do participate in them, but they were not my emphasis. This particular conversation occurred on Easter Sunday, when we had gathered as our large family and gave our children free reign to run around the yard looking for colorful eggs filled with tasty treats.  It was that day, however, that it really hit me how profitable our "religious celebrations" have become, that a "non-religious" person would seem almost offended that the traditions I am trying to instill in my children are so they do not forget the reason we are celebrating Easter: Jesus died for our sins.

But as we see in the Gospel, this way of taking advantage of those with faith in God as they profit from the willingness to show reverence to God our creator and Father.   When Jesus was going to the temple because it was getting close to Passover, just as we all should during this time,, to spend time with God, His Father.  But instead of finding a reverent temple in preparation for the Passover tradition, he found street vendors and money changes, turning the house of His Father into a marketplace, capitalizing on the traditional rituals that are supposed to symbolize remembrance and gratitude of the Jews to God for rescuing their ancestors from slavery.

We are reminded of this moment in the First Reading, that even before giving His Commandments said "I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery."  Two things come to mind as I read this.  First, the literal exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt as they were rescued from slavery. The other is that God is trying to rescue us from being enslaved by our own desires.  In a discussion, someone once pointed out "God's laws are not there to deprive us, but to save us from pain."

God, our Father and our Creator, is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent.  In the Second Reading, St. Paul tells the Corinthians For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.  In our flawed, human, mortal capacity, we will never know what God knows.  We are constantly looking for fulfillment in the physical world that becomes false idolatry.  Our focus on power, on money, on politics, on physical pleasure takes over our minds and our heart, turning us away from God and what God wants from us.

By the same token, we seek traditions and rituals that remove us from the true meaning of what we are supposed to be celebrating. It is not surprising as we are physical beings, seeking tactile comforts experienced through our senses.  As St. Paul said again Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom.  In so many ways we are always looking for something, but we are looking in the wrong place.  To continue in St. Paul's words but we proclaim Christ crucified.

Jesus Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God that we seek. Jesus' life was the example of how we should live.  He gave us wisdom in His teachings, guiding us through love and understanding.  He showed us righteousness with compassion.  He showed us how to each through example. He showed us how to love unconditionally.  He was that sign from God, through His ultimate sacrifice.  He showed us the love God has for us and the power He has even over death.  He is our symbol of life, our ultimate fulfillment.

So as He showed us by overturning the tables, what we do is nothing if we do not seek to understand the deeper meanings.  We can perform every ritual of remembrance and still be unfulfilled.  As the Gospel said Jesus answered them "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up"... But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

As this pandemic has shown us, the physical church can be taken away.  There was a feeling of devastation not being physically surrounded by my spiritual home.  There was no smell of incense, the faces of the Saints not looking at me from their pedestals arms open.  There was no Crucifix that I could look at seeing the wounds of Jesus, the sadness in His face reminding me of His pain and suffering.  More importantly, there was no Eucharist that I could taste.  But for the first time I understood that what we do means nothing if we do not seek God in all of it.  Jesus IS our Church and the reason we go to Mass.  His Incarnation is the reason we celebrate Christmas.  His death and rising is the reason we celebrate Easter, and the center for us celebrating Mass every Sunday.

So as you sit there in Mass, whether in-person or not, as you sit around the table with your family, as your children excited hunt for treat-filled eggs, remember why. Because the love and wisdom we have always sought, the fulfillment we continue to seek, we already have in Jesus Christ.  We must keep God in the center of all that we do.  Because the "what" will never fulfill us if we do not seek the "why"... Our why is Jesus Christ.