Monday, March 20, 2017

The Strong, Silent type

I can remember going out to my grandfather's house and walking around in the wood working shop with my dad, uncle, and granddad.   There were so many interesting machines with all these different blades, knobs, and pulleys.  The smell of fresh varnish, the warmth of recently cut oak, the occasional whiff of the wood burning tools.... All formed this intoxicating aroma of manliness to me.   I was always interested in doing things with my hands.  I followed my dad any time I could.   He was kind of the strong and silent type.  In the shop they'd talk a little, but for the most part they'd just work together in silence.   My dad had an amazing work ethic.  When we'd do things with him we would be reminded constantly how important it was to give good, honest work.  "Honest dirt" he'd call it.   It was OK to be dirty if you'd earned it.

CCC 564 By his obedience to Mary and Joseph, as well as by his humble work during the long years in Nazareth, Jesus gives us the example of holiness in the daily life of family and work.

We didn't spend a lot of time talking about God or philosophy.   That would come later.   What I remember though is dad could both make me puff my chest with pride or crush me till I hung my head in shame, all with a glance.  I often wonder about Joseph.   What was it like for Jesus with Joseph growing up.   Did he too walk through Josephs shop running his hand over the various projects and imagining what wonderous beast or household item could be made from the various unhewn blocks.  We don't know much about those years, but we do know one thing about Joseph... He was a man of God.   A man of integrity.   A man of mercy and kindness.

When Mary came to him pregnant he could have reacted in any way.    He could have flung her at the feet of the Sanhedrin and demanded her execution.   He could have publicly ridiculed her with a divorce.   He could have screamed at her and berated her, attempt to make her feel his pain, his fear, his shame.   Instead we are told that he was unwilling to expose her to shame.   He chose to love her in what he thought was her sin.  Then when an angel came and told him the truth of the situation, Joseph too chose to follow God's will.   He didn't listen to the advice of others who would have told him to kick her out, send her away, have nothing to do with this young virgin who showed up with a baby bump.   No he simply took her into his home and protected her and the child as his own.

We have a bad habit of doing the opposite.  We see someone who is different, someone who is doing something we disagree with, and we use the bible and God to shun them.   Some will say at least we aren't stoning people like they did long ago!   Well, that is true... but sometimes stoning seems more merciful than the shame and stigma we place on people who then have to hide who they are, or run away from the Church wanting nothing to do with it's judgment and anger.  "Hate the sin, love the sinner!" Many will proclaim that from the roof top and then meet someone who is different, someone who is struggling with same sex attraction or gender identity and instead of journeying with them and helping them find some sort of healing, they push them away.. declaring them unclean, an abomination, hating them.   They are just as human as we.  We did the same with adults with intellectual disabilities for decades, locking them into facilities behind fences and sound proof walls that we wouldn't hear their vocalizations and be disturbed.  Now we are doing the same with refugees, immigrants, and in many cases Muslims.

CCC 2304 Respect for and development of human life require peace. Peace is not merely the absence of war, and it is not limited to maintaining a balance of powers between adversaries. Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity. Peace is "the tranquility of order." Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity.

No, I am not advocating that we encourage others to sin.   Nor am I saying that I believe a person should allow sinful acts or spiritual acts contrary to our faith into their home.   I am saying that Jesus told us to love everyone as ourselves, even our enemy.   If I was making a decision that was so very hard on me that it tore my life apart.. I'd want people to be there for me.   I'd want them to love me anyway.  I'd want them to listen to me, not listen waiting to respond.. but listen to hear my story... hear why I am how I am.. I don't think we do a good job of that at all most of the time.  It has to start now.   In our own homes.  In our own hearts.  In our own work places.   Listening.   Loving.   Journeying with.   Sometimes the person you are journeying with goes down a road you can't follow... that's ok... remind them you'll be there when they come back this way.. and love them.   Like Joseph we must be a strong, reassuring presence.. one that listens for God to speak... and then does what God asks us to do.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, March 20th, 2017