Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday word, 22 Dec 2013

Key to Action
Advent Sunday 4 A (22 December 2013)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Dreams. We use the word in various ways. We identify sleeping dreams and waking ones. Sleeping ones vary from pleasant to nightmares. Some waking dreams can fuel our lives. Others may be unrealistic; if we are not careful they can delude us. At times we use the word to describe someone who is unaware with the phrase, ‘walking around in dream.’

Dreams play large in scripture. Dreams are privileged moments in which God communicated to humans. As people grew more sophisticated many considered dreams quaint. Even now some feel that way and think those in the past naïve. Naïve means a lack of judgment, wisdom or experience. Would God choose such people to cooperate with God’s desires? It is a fair question because God has chosen us and graces us. All of us have our flaws, weaknesses and limitations. We may, to use Isaiah’s phrases, weary people and may even weary God. God, though, never wearies of us. The heart of our triune God eternally longs to save us from our flaws, weaknesses, limitations and more. We celebrate each year the Incarnation, God with our humanity, as the beginning of our salvation.1

Naïve has another, positive connotation: it describes a person who is innocent; one who is natural and unassuming. So our tradition remembers and venerates Joseph: the righteous or just man. Throughout the Scriptures the word named a primary quality of God. Those named righteous participated in God’s compassion.2 We meet Joseph as such a man, a man open to God. We also meet him after he heard news about Mary.

News of Mary’s pregnancy made action difficult. In Joseph’s world betrothal began the marriage bond. Compassionate and godly Joseph shamed no one let alone Mary. We can imagine an ocean of feelings unsettled him. In its depths God met Joseph. God reassured Joseph in his dream.

Where was Joseph when he had that dream of his? From my youth I placed Joseph in his home. He need not have been there. He could have been at his workshop repairing, designing and constructing out of wood and stone things people used in daily living.

What were his thoughts before he dreamed? Had he been pondering the house of David from which he traced his descent? He may have considered his roots as he gazed forward into his future with his betrothed Mary.

What sort of dream was it? Was it a waking dream? a sleeping one? Surely the news of Mary affected both his waking and sleeping. His openness to God, the reason he is revered as just, made it likely that even upset Joseph was alert to God. That leads us to ask how alert and attentive we are to the ways God desires to communicate to us. Are we puffed up, or are we natural and unassuming? Do we desire to be natural and unassuming? Or are we seduced to be other than who God creates us to be?

God created Joseph as another partner in the Incarnation. He was charged to name Jesus. That may have been key for him to take action. Joseph protected his expectant wife; found her a place to give birth and overcame its wretched conditions; guided Mary and Jesus to safety when a ruthless king sought the child’s life; when it was safe he established their home in Israel.3

Joseph’s silence and Scripture’s few words about him cause some to think he may have been joyless spouse of Mary and protector of Jesus. Joseph was joyful for he participated in God’s compassion. A non-scriptural note closes my reflection. Our word dream is rooted in an Old English word meaning music and joy.4 We can be joyful that Joseph dreamed and freely acted. God did not manipulate Joseph or Mary. They freely chose in their ways to join God in saving us. God desires us to join in giving birth to Jesus by our deeds and words.5 Each time we do we embody the grace of God-with-us. We attune ourselves to the music of God’s salvation. The more in tune with God we are, we affect more than ourselves: we bless our world with Holy Spirit’s power.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Place yourself in the presence of our saving, triune God.
  • Ask St. Joseph to present you to Jesus and to accompany your prayer. 
  • Compose yourself with them and ask Joseph what it’s like to be a partner in the Incarnation with the Trinity and with Mary. Let your spirit’s imagination wander freely.
  • Ask Joseph to intercede and help you welcome the grace to renew your partnership with the Incarnation and to renew your joyful trust that the Trinity invites you to give birth to Messiah Jesus where you live and work.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Smiling as you say it can help you welcome divine joy into your waking life.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. Catholic worship preserves this early church teaching. At the Vigil Mass of Christmas the Prayer Over the Offerings concludes, “[God] you make manifest the beginnings of our redemption.” Today’s Prayer after Communion anticipates “the feast day of our salvation.” The Prayer Over the Offerings on the Octave Day of Christmas affirms  “we glory in the beginnings of your grace” [Roman Missal].
  2. For example, in telling the story of Jesus Luke named Simeon as righteous. Both he and Joseph demonstrated that it registered as being open to God and God’s desires for them.
  3. Chapter 2 of Matthew enumerates these save for Jesus’ birth. That is based on what Luke recalled (2.4 and 2.16).
  4. The word is akin to an Old Saxon word that meant mirth and dream.
  5. The first pastors of the church expressed this. One example is St. Ambrose: “Christ has only one mother in the flesh, but we all bring forth Christ in faith.” His words are from his commentary on the Gospel of Luke. The Office of Readings on 21 December includes an excerpt with his words.


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