Friday Flotsam: The Feast of St. Joseph

1. A blessed Feast of St. Joseph to you all! May the foster father of Our Lord Jesus intercede on behalf of everyone who reads this and for the Church and our nation as a whole.

2. A thought occurred to me this morning, listening to a sermon on St. Joseph (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OXUfeFFjXg). The priest points out that the Holy Family was the seed of the Church, the Church in miniature. That made me wonder: do we have an image of the two swords in Mary and Joseph?

Probably need to explain that. The two swords come from Luke 22:38: “But they said: ‘Lord, behold here are two swords.’ And He said to them, ‘It is enough.'” Traditionally, this has been understood, especially in the Medieval period, as referring to the spiritual and temporal elements in the Church: the spiritual sword of the clergy and the temporal sword of the laity, embodied in the monarchy. One exists to defend against error and sin, the other against persecution, injustice, and invasion.

See, our idea of separation of Church and State would have made no sense at all to the Medievals for the simple reason that the King is himself part of the Church, being one of the lay faithful. We today (rather ironically given the stated goals of the 20th century reforms) tend to think of ‘the Church’ primarily as the clergy and religious, with the laity as a kind of external attachment. The Medievals would have thought of ‘the Church’ as comprising the whole of society, with only Jews, infidels, heretics, etc. being outside of it (and thus outside of society: essentially foreigners). The clergy had their particular duties, which were recognized as being the higher and more excellent ones of administering the Sacraments and defending against error, but the laity had their duties as well, including supporting and guarding the clergy and managing society; the ‘day-to-day’ affairs.

In fact, analogously very similar to the duties of a husband and wife: the husband’s duties being to support the family materially, to guard it, to set family policy and deal with the outside world, and to provide instruction and discipline. The mother’s duty being to keep the domestic, interior side in order, to be the chief nurturer, educator, and caregiver to the children, and to advise and assist the husband in his duties.

Focusing closer in on that very unique family, it was Mary who brought for Christ into the world, just a the clergy administers the Sacraments. Joseph’s duty was to guard her and the child and to care for them, while at the same time being their head and guide: it was he who received the messages to flee into Egypt and then to return, and he who made the judgment call to avoid Jerusalem and settle in Nazareth. Like how the lay rulers are the ones who set the general policy of their kingdoms, ideally for the good of those in their care, including the clergy.

3. The idea in all of this, you see, is that the Earthly is not simply overridden by or separate from the Spiritual: the two are part of the same whole, just as the soul and the body of a man are part of the same whole. This, it seems to me, is one of if not the core ideas of Christianity. We believe in the resurrection of the body, which is to say that the body – the earthly, material, created element of reality – will form an essential part of our eternal life. The flesh by itself availeth nothing, but the flesh enlivened by the spirit is made a vehicle for grace.

This pattern repeats itself over and over: the laity and the clergy, the grace-giving nature of the Sacraments, the two swords, the Incarnation itself. Even beyond the doctrines of the Christian worldview, we experience it in our own lives: just the simple act of reading or speaking repeats the pattern. For the letters or sounds themselves are material things, but they convey ideas, which are immaterial.

This, I believe, is one of the most important philosophical ideas to get down: human beings crave the transcendent, but we only experience the concrete. Therefore, the transcendent must come to us in concrete form. It must become incarnate as it were for us to experience it. This elevates and ennobles the material thing itself as it becomes an essential part of the transcendent thing that it is conveying.

4. Kind of drifted into deep waters there. The point of all this is that it seems to me that pattern of the Church as it was understood for most of its history and in its most vibrant ages fits the pattern of the Holy Family. The image of the two swords, and indeed of the clergy and laity in general shows itself in the image of Mary and Joseph, the parents of Christ. Christ Himself, of course, is the central figure in both arrangements, the reason both exist.

It is always encouraging – and slightly eerie – when the patterns found in doctrine and philosophy repeat themselves across seemingly disparate aspects of reality.

https://serpentsden.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/7fc8f-iu.jpg

St. Joseph, most chaste guardian of the Virgin, foster father of Our Lord Jesus, pray for us.

Sunday Thoughts: 1-5-20

Feast of the Epiphany

Reading 1: Isaiah 60: 1-6

Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thy eyes round about, and see: all these are gathered together, they are come to thee: thy sons shall come from afar, and thy daughters shall rise up at thy side. Then shalt thou see, and abound, and thy heart shall wonder and be enlarged, when the multitude of the sea shall be converted to thee, the strength of the Gentiles shall come to thee.

The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Madian and Epha: all they from Saba shall come, bringing gold and frankincense: and shewing forth praise to the Lord.

Reading 2: Ephesians 3: 2-3A, 5-6

If yet you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me towards you: How that, according to revelation, the mystery has been made known to me… Which in other generations was not known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit: That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and co-partners of his promise in Christ Jesus, by the gospel:

Gospel: Matthew 2: 1-12

When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. Saying, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to adore him. And king Herod hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And assembling together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born. But they said to him: In Bethlehem of Juda. For so it is written by the prophet:

And thou Bethlehem the land of Juda art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, privately calling the wise men, learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them; And sending them into Bethlehem, said: Go and diligently inquire after the child, and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I also may come to adore him. Who having heard the king, went their way; and behold the star which they had seen in the east, went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was. And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they adored him; and opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country.

Thoughts:

With the Epiphany, we have ‘wise men from the East’ coming to Jerusalem in search of the newborn King of the Jews, bearing suitable gifts to offer in homage. That is to say, pagan scholars from a distant land – probably Persia – have learned, by their own arts, that Christ the Messiah is come, and they have undertaken a long, arduous journey to behold Him and pay Him honor. Indeed, it is said that they are guided there by “the star,” and through counsels in dreams.

What does all this mean?

Consider these three men; scholars of a distant land. They are educated men, brought up to be philosophers, astrologers, masters of knowledge and the keepers of lore. They are, presumably, literate men. We can imagine them, in their homes or workshops or libraries, pouring through scrolls and manuscripts, committing vast reams of words to memory, even from boyhood. They were relatively wealthy men, as they could travel and bear gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

In the course of their research, perhaps, they found a pattern, or a prophecy. They saw “His star at its rising.” One can picture them looking over their work in awed wonder as they realized what these signs meant; one can imagine them telling their colleagues, trying to convince them of what they had found. Perhaps one or more of them needed convincing from the others. On the strength of their studies, they had faith enough to understand what that “Star” meant and to follow it for perhaps hundreds of miles to a little village in a backwater province of the Roman Empire, where they found a peasant couple and their newborn baby.

The timeline of the Gospels is a little ambiguous. The shepherds around Bethlehem, we know, were the first to hear of His birth and pay Christ homage in the flesh. My own understanding is that the second were Simeon and Anna in the Temple. Then third come these wealthy, educated pagans out of the East, bearing rich gifts and guided by the combined work of an angel of God and their own scholarship.

In so doing, these three eastern scholars unknowingly stand in the place of the entire non-Jewish world. Their presence so near Christ’s birth, and their attendance on him, shows that He will not only be a prophet and king to the Jews, but to all mankind.

They also reveal something else, which shall be crucial for the future of the Church, once it is established. They are a vindication of pagan wisdom, and a pledge that God has not abandoned the gentiles, but has been working through them as well as through the Jews, though in a different fashion. Their studies, their own lore led them to recognize Christ; therefore let no one condemn pagan knowledge or wisdom again. They don’t just bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh; they bring Aristotle and Cicero, Homer and Virgil, Confucius and Lau Tzu, the Ramayana and the Book of Five Rings. The three wise men come to say that there is truth in paganism, or at least the way to truth, and therefore these things are to be cherished and studied, for there can be nothing good but what comes of God and leads to Him. “The strength of the Gentiles shall come to thee.”

Consider, finally, the humility of these men; here, surely, is that pure love of knowledge that is the mark of the true philosopher. Their lore tells them that Christ, the King of the Jews, is to be born in a distant land, the Messiah of a faith they do not practice, and of a people who, ostensibly, are of no account. Seeing that it is so, they undergo great hardships and dangers to bear costly gifts for His honor. They followed His star wherever it went; that is to say, they followed the truth wherever it went, not only in abstract thought, but in concrete action.

This was, indeed, the purpose of all ancient thought, and of all knowledge up until the end of the Middle Ages; we learn things, not that we may change them or manipulate them, but that we may better submit to them. We learn what the world is really like so that we might live accordingly. The purpose was to change ourselves; not the world. The three wise men following the star were following the path of the true man of knowledge: to conform our lives to the truth, wherever it leads.

This is the one common feature among all those who recognize Christ: humility, the willingness to recognize things higher than oneself and conform to them. It is present in the poor shepherds living in and around a tiny hamlet in the middle of nowhere, and it is present in rich scholars from Persia. The chief question we have to ask is, is it present in us? Do we seek to follow that star, wherever it leads? Is our main concern, “how can we change our lives to better conform them to the truth?”

Or do we greet the knowledge that something may disrupt our own ideas, our own plans, and our own comfort by being “troubled” by the idea and seeking to silence it at all costs? Is our main concern how we can interpret and use the world to suit our needs and wishes? Do we regard that star, not as primarily true or false, but convenient or inconvenient?

AMDG