Christmas comes in a week! I’ve been reflecting on the Eve of the King’s birth.
As a member of the Culture of Life, I recall and humbly ask you, dear reader, also to remember that the birth of Jesus sanctifies every human life and reminds us to not only be concerned with babies and their mothers. We must care about every human life at each stage because we believe that every person is made “in the image and likeness of God.” And the Incarnation, God in humanity, understands our mortal life very well.
Each of us are loved and willed into being by a God who beholds each one in His loving gaze all along life’s journey. And He is a God who wanted to bring us to Himself so badly that He came to be one of us. As a little child, first growing in His mother’s womb.
Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich, a 19th century nun, had visions of Mary the mother of Jesus in moments no one could have known unless they’d been present at the time. There’s a particular scene the visionary described that involved Mary and Joseph trying to find a place for her to labor and deliver the child Jesus. It’s moving and is such a realistic description of what occurred.
One of the striking details was that Mary had been waiting for “so long” while Joseph went down the busy streets trying to find lodging for his bride who was “great with child.” I’ve been there. Not exactly, not in Bethlehem 9 months pregnant, standing next to a donkey while my husband desperately tried to find a warm, dry, and possibly clean place for the baby to be delivered. But I have been “great with child.”
Anne Emmerich says that, at first, Mary stood upright, leaning against a tree, while she waited. But then, because it took so long, she sat down. She was in a white woolen dress that “hung around her in folds.” She had a white veil over her head. Finally, she was so fatigued that Mary sat down on a rug Joseph had thoughtfully provided her. With head bowed, sitting on the hard ground (I can’t imagine), she waited.
Oh, the misery, oh the fatigue, oh the anxiety of where to go for this momentous event in any human life. The good nun says that, so distraught was Joseph when he could not find a suitable spot for Mary that he came back to his wife in tears. She was depending on him, and he failed her. My heart breaks, my eyes well up with tears. Poor, sweet Mary and Joseph.
And I think it’s fair to wonder, Where was God at this time? His Son is about to be born and He can’t even provide a clean bed and some warmth? Not just the warmth of a fire and some clean blankets, but the warmth of human kindness. Finally, Joseph finds a stable and some hay…
As with so much of the life of Jesus, it begins in humble fashion, to say the least,and it is lacking in the dignity owed Him (and His parents) just as a human person, never mind as the King of the Universe. And this, along with His passion and death, allow us to see that Jesus can understand our humiliations, our disappointments, our pain. He too knows suffering and degradation.
After Jesus is born and tenderly placed in the manger, an angel of the Lord appears to shepherds so they have the honor of being the First to know of the glorious birth of the Savior of the world.
Shepherds were considered as next to nothing in their society at that time. It’s the “great reversal” that Luke, the Gospel writer, likes to come back to again and again. Jesus comes to the sinners, the poor, the lepers. God comes to the lame, the blind, the deaf, even some who have died, because He wants us to know we are all loved, we are all remembered, we are all worthy of His loving gaze; all are in need of the mercy and grace He provides.
At the time when Jesus was born, the general belief was that only the wealthy and the healthy were acceptable to God.
Jesus came and showed the world that it’s exactly the opposite! Oh, sure, the wealthy and the healthy are lovable, as well. But the poor and the lame, the sinner and the leper, the ‘unlovable’ in society are more than acceptable to God. He believes they’re priceless. God made us, and it’s complicated, but throughout history, women and men have been the ones who displaced too many members of the human race to the ‘lowest place’ when they never deserved to be there. It is not where God wants any of us to be.
Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical Patris Corde that Joseph has helped us see more clearly the importance of “ordinary” people who, though far from the limelight, exercise patience and offer hope every day. Saint Joseph, “the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence,” nonetheless played “an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”
In him, “Jesus saw the tender love of God,” the one that helps us accept our weakness, because “it is through” and despite “our fears, our frailties, and our weakness” that most divine designs are realized.
Joseph’s spiritual path “is not one that explains but accepts” — which does not mean that he is “resigned.” Instead, he is “courageously and firmly proactive,” because with “Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude,” and full of hope, he is able “to accept life as it is, with all its contradictions, frustrations and disappointments.”
“Faith gives meaning to every event, however happy or sad,” and makes us aware that “God can make flowers spring up from stony ground.” Joseph “did not look for shortcuts but confronted reality with open eyes and accepted personal responsibility for it.” For this reason, “he encourages us to accept and welcome others as they are, without exception, and to show special concern for the weak.”
Tradition says that Joseph died in the presence of Jesus and Mary. And that’s why Catholics view him as the patron saint of a “happy death.” I would humbly suggest, for those who are involved with end of life issues, that you ask St. Joseph’s intercession so that for those who are nearing their final days on earth, natural death will be peaceful and the persons you’re caring for will die in a state of grace, reconciled to the Lord before they depart their mortal bodies.
And just like Joseph at his transition from this world to eternity, they can be accompanied on the journey Home by Jesus and the Blessed Mother Mary.
We must remember that there are individuals (maybe you?) who can accompany women and babies, and the sick and dying on their journeys, whether it is in the continuation of their earthly life or to help them transition to eternity.
No one has to walk a difficult road alone. God walks with us. And, when there are loving, compassionate people alongside persons in need, the sanctity of every human life will be honored and we have the honor of acting as the hands and feet of Jesus.
Those who are “pro-life” reverence and seek to protect every human life. Each one matters to God. And each one matters to us.