Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Carpenter


Sleep, so angels may come to you in your dreams.

Christmas is coming, along with stories and myths and motion pictures involving the ancient known as Joseph of Nazareth, a carpenter who became the earthly father of Jesus. Regardless of the facts lost in antiquity including exact calendar dates, eyewitness accounts and the extent to which Joseph may or may not be a legend, scribes have painted a verbal picture of an everyman type of any-man:

You start with the Wikipedia entry on Joseph, for instance, who is described as "righteous" and some sort of craftsman ("carpenter" being the subject of debate about mistranslations from Hebrew to Greek).
Maybe you go to A.N. Wilson's Jesus: a Biography. Maybe you go even further to Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. And the simple act of applying what the Bible says in one place to what the Bible says in another deflates little balloons of belief,
one after the other.

Excerpts from "A Pastoral Letter for Advent" By CARDINAL JOHN J. O'CONNOR

My favorite in the Hemple and Marshall collection of "Children's Letters to God" is probably the shortest. "Dear God, I am doing the best I can. Frank." I reread young Frank's prayer this past week, then prayed it over and over through much of a night made sleepless by a depressing feeling of not accomplishing what it seems to me God wants me to accomplish, with time running out. Then I thought of Joseph...

...He was a man who always did his best, or, as Matthew puts it, "always did what he thought was right." It couldn't always have been easy...

...The more you think about Joseph, the less extraordinary a man he seems. A carpenter, working with his hands, presumably teaching Jesus the trade. No known great pronouncements. Not a columnist, a public speaker, a politician. An ordinary man, doing the best he could each day. Undoubtedly puzzled, but not a complainer. He even disappears from the Gospels without fanfare. Suddenly he is gone, and Mary is alone with a difficult Child, with a will of his own...

...This isn't much of a Pastoral Letter for Advent, good people of God, but it seems somehow right to me this year. If it encourages any one of you--whatever problems you may be facing, whatever sorrows or loneliness, or pain of loss over a loved one, or insecurity in your job or disappointment in your marriage--that will be grace enough...
More: It is probably at Nazareth that Joseph betrothed and married her who was to become the Mother of God. When the marriage took place, whether before or after the Incarnation, is no easy matter to settle, and on this point the masters of exegesis have at all times been at variance. Most modern commentators, following the footsteps of St. Thomas, understand that, at the epoch of the Annunciation, the Blessed Virgin was only affianced to Joseph; as St. Thomas notices, this interpretation suits better all the evangelical data.
It will not be without interest to recall here, unreliable though they are, the lengthy stories concerning St. Joseph's marriage contained in the
apocryphal writings. When forty years of age, Joseph married a woman called Melcha or Escha by some, Salome by others; they lived forty-nine years together and had six children, two daughters and four sons, the youngest of whom was James (the Less, "the Lord's brother"). A year after his wife's death, as the priests announced through Judea that they wished to find in the tribe of Juda a respectable man to espouse Mary, then twelve to fourteen years of age, Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph, and two years later the Annunciation took place. These dreams, as St. Jerome styles them, from which many a Christian artist has drawn his inspiration (see, for instance, Raphael's "Espousals of the Virgin"), are void of authority; they nevertheless acquired in the course of ages some popularity; in them some ecclesiastical writers sought the answer to the well-known difficulty arising from the mention in the Gospel of "the Lord's brothers"; from them also popular credulity has, contrary to all probability, as well as to the tradition witnessed by old works of art, retained the belief that St. Joseph was an old man at the time of marriage with the Mother of God.

"Beyond the river Euphrates lived the Magians. They were wise, could read the language of the stars, and they divined that a master soul had been born. They could see his star above Jerusalem."

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