Thursday, November 29, 2012

What About Joseph?

At this time of year, the spotlight rightly shines on Mary.  Wives and mothers can easily relate to her story, especially to the feeling of having a tiny, beautiful, heaven-scented newborn and to the conviction that they would readily lay down their very lives for him or her.  Mary also had something else I can relate to -- or someone else, I should say: Joseph! As my husband often laments, what about Joseph?   

Popular magazines, “chick-lit” novels, and television shows often paint men (fathers in particular) as clueless, in dire need of being improved upon or changed, and only good for handing over cash or credit cards.  I have been blessed in real life, however, as God gifted me with an awesome father and then with a wonderful husband and subsequent father-in-law.  I often cite my hubby as being a saint 95% of the time.  But, I’m guilty of still complaining about the other 5% which mostly is comprised of absent mindedness, zero appreciation for The Notebook and what I believe to be feigned incompetence in loading the dishwasher.  I do try very hard to be his helpmate and number one cheerleader, but even so, he often and willingly takes a backseat to everything that goes on in the life our little family.

Similarly, Good St. Joseph, unfortunately, seems to fade into the background of the Holy Family.  We hear year after year about Mary’s, “Yes” to the Angel Gabriel, but what about Joseph’s answers? If we take a close look at Joseph, there is much to learn from his trust, patience, and whole-hearted submission to God’s plan for him.  Joseph -- the quintessential “strong, silent type” -- does not speak at all in the Gospels.  I would have to argue with my hubby that Joseph doesn’t need us to talk about him; he wouldn’t care for all the hoopla.  But, the Gospel of Matthew does tell us a lot about Joseph and just how much he did indeed submit to.  

Joseph receives multiple angelic messages telling him to accept this, do that, go here, now go there, now do this.  He follows all of these instructions, without fail and without question.  He follows through with God’s plan for him often under dire circumstances and at times completely against everything he had come to know thus far in his lifetime.  Joseph seems satisfied with being told just one step to take, and then simply trusting that he’d be told the next one in due time.  In the meantime, he fulfills his duty of loving husband and father, all the while raising the Savior of the World without complaint, well none that were documented apparently.  He just does the right thing and he’s fine with it.

Most, if not all, of the meaningful men in our lives are much like Joseph.  We frazzled, stressed out, perfection–seeking, what’s next on the to-do list, wives and mothers could learn a lot from the St. Joseph’s in our midst.   Amid the secular Christmas craziness, I ask the Lord for the faith and patience of Joseph (or my husband, or my Dad, or my other Dad).  To have just a bit of Joseph’s ability to take on one task and to wait patiently for the next one (and the next one) would ease my mind not only at Christmas, but all year round.  If I had the ability to filter out the clutter and patiently wait for instruction – would I listen to it? Would I say yes to whatever was asked of me?

I often pray to be more like Mary; perhaps I need to start praying to be more like Joseph as well.

Friday, November 9, 2012

‘Tis the Season for… Confession?

Confession!  Oh boy, the very mention of the Sacrament of Confession spurs heated debate among friends and family, Catholics, non-Catholics, whomever. Personally, I was never really a big fan.  It definitely needed a new name. Torture chamber?  Hot seat?  The confessionals of my youth were of the dark wooden box variety and the Act of Contrition was definitely not taped to the wall inside. I used to write it on my hand for fear that Father Meenan would hear any paper crinkling. Looking back with my now 20/20 vision, Father Meenan hardly cared about that.  He was most likely just happy I was there. I’ve heard more than a few of our good priests remark how Confession is their most favorite Sacrament to celebrate.  Seems like loads of pressure to me, standing in the place of Christ, one on one, heart to heart. But, if you consider the task at hand at the moment of Confession, to hand out mercy and forgiveness to all who come and ask with a contrite heart…what an awesome job! 

The confessional offers time and space for good shepherds to bring about peace of mind, offer advice or perhaps some direction.  I’m sure they hear their fair share of tears being shed; maybe share a muffled laugh through the screen, but most of all they impart His endless and all consuming tender love and infinite mercy upon us. A lot happens in that little box sometimes with lots of words, sometimes with the bare minimum. Either way, we little sheep hurry back to the flock completely reconciled with our Lord. Why would we ever hesitate to go and get that whenever possible?

Since Sr. MM began her education at HGA, my own “adult” spiritual formation has been an awesome and unexpected side effect, even if I feel like a little child in a classroom most of the time. I didn’t have the benefit of a Catholic education and my CCD classes left me woefully unprepared for a spiritually mature Catholic adulthood, but I’m learning at a rapid pace now. I’m like one of those adult college students, the annoying one who asks a question a minute before class is over and $1 beer night is about to start.

I want to know everything about the Church. I want to experience everything again, catch up on what I missed out on and make up for time lost while I was a Christmas/Easter Catholic. I’ve tossed out what used to be my list of items that I would pick and chose from as far as what I believed or practiced as a Catholic. I’m all in.

Confession has been a highlight of my rejuvenated faith. I have found that fighting the gentle, but persistent internal nudging to go to confession was futile. Apparently it’s true - the heart wants what the heart wants. For a very long time, my heart was full with love, marriage, children and seemingly everything I needed, save one thing – the One who gave it all to me. I was frolicking along in my own personal fairy tale and neglecting my role in this heavenly deal. I had conditions to adhere to and promises to uphold to make my part in it at least somewhat comparable with what I had so generously been blessed with. I was going to Mass, but was avoiding confession. Why?  It’s darn scary. It sounds easy enough, wait in line (or make an appointment!) confess my sins in number and kind, receive absolution and resolve to sin no more. How does that work when you get cut off trying to leave the parking lot and, “@#$@#!”  Do I turn around and go right back in?

Usually, confession is a hot topic during Lent, but I find the upcoming Holiday season (that seems to begin earlier and earlier every year) to be a little less intimidating as far as mustering up the courage to actually go. We begin with thanksgiving and then prepare for a joyous event and what better inspiration than a new tiny baby to make you want to make the world a better place starting with your own little soul.

So as the season gets hastily underway and your to-do list is giving you hives, remember the one thing that you could do to approach the season at peace…be not afraid and go to confession!  This is not the confession of your childhood or of the stories you’ve heard with priests who scold and nuns outside the door pointing you toward your penance seat. Our kids do it – we can do it. Of course their sins (hopefully) are very tiny and we may feel that ours are far too big or, worse, embarrassing. But, no matter how big or small, or embarrassing – go. Get rid of it all. Make this the one present you wrap up, however messy, and hand it over to your Lord and let him carry it away from you. He’s happy to do so and is just so happy to see (or hear) you. I promise you’ll feel fantastic when you are through… until you try to leave the parking lot.