The Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Feast day reflection; daily reflection follows).
Readings: Micah 5:1-4 or Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 1:18-23.
Responsorial (Psalm 13): “With delight I rejoice in the Lord.”
A true story.
There was a young couple, deeply in love, engaged to be married. But before the wedding date the bride-to-be learned of a job offering that had just become available.
As soon as she heard of it, she knew it was the perfect job for her. She felt that everything she was made her the perfect person to do it; that everything in her life had prepared her for it. And it was a job in which she could do great good for the world.
There were two conditions attached: first, you had to be married. No problem, she would be married before it was time to start. Second, you could not have children if you took the job; the work precluded them. That was a huge problem. In Catholic theology, a marriage is not valid if one or both of the parties does not accept to have children, ever.
She prayed deeply over the offer. Finally she went to her fiancé and told him about it.
“I think I need to apply,” she said. “I just feel in my heart that God made me for this work and is calling me to it. I have to apply.
“When I do I will tell them I am engaged. But since we can’t get married without being open to children, if they accept me I will tell them that I had to call off the engagement. I can see that having children is ruled out by the nature of the work. But I will ask them to make an exception about the marriage requirement and let me take the job as a single woman.”
She knew what this meant — both for her and for her fiancé. It would crush him. It was already crushing her. But she felt she had to do it.
“It won’t work,” her fiancé said. “They will never accept you.”
“I think you are right,” she answered. “But I have to try.”
He agreed. He didn’t have much choice. When he left her he went off by himself to pray. As he did, he realized he was praying that they would reject her; that they would not make an exception about the marriage clause. Then she would be his.
As he prayed, it dawned on him that he was being selfish. He knew she was perfect for the job. He knew that she could and would do more good for people through it than anyone could possibly imagine. But he wanted her for himself. Even if it meant she would never do the work they both felt sure she was called to do.
He felt he should pray that they would accept her after all.
“But it’s crazy,” he thought. “No single woman could possibly survive in the situations she will be in. There is no way they can make an exception.”
Then the thought struck him: “What if I marry her, but agree that we will never have sexual relations!” Illogical or not, the Church recognizes that as a valid marriage. There are even precedents for it in Church history: the so-called “white marriages” in which for spiritual reasons, ill-advised though they may have been, a married couple committed themselves to life-long sexual abstinence.
He made up his mind. And although it broke his heart, he was a peace with it. He went back to his fiancée and said, “Let’s get married. We will be husband and wife, but we will live together as brother and sister. No one will ever know it. And you will get the job.”
She said, “Do you think we can do this? You love me, and I love you. We are going to be traveling together, sometimes sleeping in the same bed. Do you think this is possible? For either of us?”
“No,” he said. “It is not humanly possible. But if this job is what God is calling you to, and this is the only way we can do it, he will make it possible. To say we can’t do it would be a cop-out. The only question is, are we willing to do it?”
They got married. They lived together for years, until he died. And they never had sex together. That is the Gospel truth.
It is today’s Gospel.
Insight: Do I understand the story? Why Mary had to be married? Why she and Joseph could never have children together? (Joseph was calling off the marriage, not because he suspected Mary — she told him the truth — but out of awe and respect for God. If God had chosen his bride to be the Mother of God’s own Son, there was nothing any devout Jew could do but withdraw. God told him not to fear. God wanted Joseph to be Mary’s husband; just not the father of her unique child. Jesus, as “only Son of the Father,” also had to be the “only Son” of Mary).
Action: Be like Joseph, the “faithful and prudent manager whom the Lord has put in charge of his household” (see Luke 12:42, applied to Joseph in the Entrance Antiphon for March 19, feast of Joseph, Husband of Mary). Be a faithful steward: Don’t let any fear hold you back from doing anything God wants you to do.
Same Day: September 8, 2017: Friday, Week Twenty-Two
The Responsorial (Psalm 100) invites us: “Come with joy into the presence of the Lord.” This is an invitation to Mass!
We all know that in Communion we receive the “body and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord.” But do we have any idea of what that really means?
Our first answer might be, “Of course not! Jesus is God. How can we have any idea of what God really is?” And that is a fair answer.
But in Colossians 1:15-20 Paul gives us some help. He “zooms in” on twelve truths included in “Jesus is God” that we can at least wrap our minds around. He makes more concrete and vivid the “presence of the Lord” into which we are invited to “come with joy.” This is the presence we experience in Communion.
He is the image of the invisible God;
the firstborn of all creation.
In him all things in heaven and on earth were created…
All things have been created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things;
and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church;
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
so that he might come to have first place in everything.
In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,
by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Is that awesome or not? This is the Jesus who comes to us, who gives himself to us under the form of bread, who enters into us and remains within us. Is that a reason to “Come with joy into the presence of the Lord”?
There is no way to give a simple (or not-so-simple) explanation here of each of Paul’s statements about Jesus. They are mysteries that invite—and reward—“endless exploration.” Bon appetit.
In Luke 5:3-39 Jesus himself provides an image that is down-to-earth. A human image of the divine. Affective, but filled with practical significance. He is responding to the Pharisees, who saw interaction with God more in terms of religion than relationship. For them, people were more or less religious according to how many religious things they did—and fasting, along with prayer and almsgiving, was one of the three major things. Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast, so the Pharisees didn’t think they could be very religious.
Jesus said the important thing is not what you do, but what kind of relationship with God you express through it. The image he gave us was that of spousal love. The value of fasting is to express longing for union with him as Bridegroom. What does this say about Communion?
Action: Ask before every religious act: What am I expressing by this?