Joseph, The Worker

Instead, because of a warning he received in a dream,
Joseph took them to the region of Galilee.
There he settled in a town called Nazareth.

From Matthew 2:22-23

It seems appropriate to acknowledge Saint Joseph in these Lent 2020 reflections. After all, he joined Mary in providing the family life and home where Jesus prepared for his work among us…

On this Feast of St. Joseph, my thoughts return to one of two references made to Joseph during our visit to Israel. While in Nazareth, we viewed Mary’s home and another dwelling carved out of stone. Our guide remarked that the people lived in stone homes. Even shelves and seating areas inside where hewn from rock. “If you look around,” Yossi observed, “there aren’t many trees here. No one could have made a living as a carpenter.” Archaeologists and historians agree that Joseph was more likely a stonemason and a versatile handyman of sorts who could handle a variety of tasks. Yossi agreed that Jesus likely followed in Joseph’s footsteps which would make him a very-much-in-demand artisan as well. “This was very respectable work,” Yossi added.

In the midst of this commentary, I imagined Joseph looking more like the Israeli soldiers I’d seen than the sedate statuary which adorns many churches. There is nothing easy about carving into stone and Joseph certainly built strong muscles in the process. There was nothing easy about Joseph’s lot in life. When Mary agreed to be the mother of Jesus, she pulled Joseph into impossible circumstances. Her out-of-wedlock pregnancy could have caused Mary to be stoned to death. To protect her, Joseph intended to divorce Mary quietly until an angel explained the circumstances. So it was that Joseph took Mary into his home as his wife. They were barely settled when a census forced them to travel to Bethlehem. After Jesus was born, Joseph packed up his family once again to flee to Egypt. To avoid further danger, Joseph finally settled his family in Nazareth where Jesus grew into manhood.

We celebrate the Good Saint Joseph because he gave up everything to provide for Mary and Jesus.

Dear God, give us the courage to emulate Joseph’s generosity and selflessness as we care for those we have been given to love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Build The Moment At Hand

Just minutes after I sat at my keyboard to begin this writing, I was tempted to retreat to my recliner for a nap. My dear husband and I had returned from the Holy Land two days earlier. In spite of my fatigue, I’d convinced myself that inspiration would come quickly and that my jet-lag would morph into a distant memory. Much to my dismay, I was wrong on both counts. Though I’d slept well the night before, I was ready for a nap before noon. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give in to my fatigue. This reflection needed to be posted in short order and I had to take advantage of the small window of writing time at hand. In the end, I turned away from my keyboard to peruse the journal I’d carried across Israel. Perhaps it held the inspiration I longed for…

I wasn’t disappointed. As I read through my hurriedly scribbled notes, every phrase elicited a precious memory. Halfway through that little notebook, I saw Nazareth written at the top of a list. I’d noted the towns Jesus visited throughout his ministry. As I read Nazareth, images of the ruins of that tiny town filled me up. Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth before they married and it was there that Mary agreed to be Jesus’ mother. The scriptures tell us that Mary and Joseph left Nazareth early on to comply with a census. While they were away, Jesus was born. After the Magi’s visit, the couple fled to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath. When Herod died not long afterward, they returned to Nazareth to raise Jesus. Most visitors to Nazareth see the portion of Mary’s childhood home displayed in The Church of the Annunciation. This tiny cave-like room is connected to the remainder of Mary’s house as well as to her neighborhood. Much to our good fortune, our tour leader knows the site’s curator. This welcoming gentleman proudly ushered us toward additional unearthed homes which border the church’s exterior. It was there that I caught a glimpse of life as Joseph, Mary and Jesus knew it…

Today’s feast of The Presentation of the Lord acknowledges the journey Mary and Joseph made from their home to the temple in Jerusalem. Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:22-40) tells us that the couple did so because The Law required them to present Jesus to the Lord when he was forty days old. Though the trip from Nazareth to the temple was only six miles, traveling on foot with an infant through desert-like conditions certainly complicated that endeavor. We can only hope that Little Jesus cooperated by sleeping between feedings along the way. When they finally arrived, Joseph and Mary likely breathed a sigh of relief. They probably expected an uneventful experience until Simeon approached them. Simeon was a devout man who had prayed unceasingly for peace in Israel. As soon as he saw the young family before him, Simeon embraced Jesus. He’d waited a lifetime to see the one who would bring salvation to his people. With that, Simeon told Mary, “…this child is destined to be the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce.” I can only imagine what Mary and Joseph were thinking…

As I consider that tiny neighborhood hewn from rock back in Nazareth, I appreciate the power of Simeon’s comments more than ever. The simple existence suggested by that archaeological dig was complicated far beyond Mary’s and Joseph’s expectations. When Simeon spoke, did Mary’s thoughts return to the onset of her pregnancy? Did she wonder why she wasn’t warned of what was to come? Did Joseph recall the dream that explained Mary’s condition and the subsequent dream that saved his young family from Herod’s terror? Still, in spite of their worry, Mary and Joseph left the temple that day and returned home with Jesus. Though they walked an uncertain and perhaps treacherous path, Joseph and Mary persisted. They became the nurturing family which prepared Jesus for his life’s work. Luke’s gospel tells us, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” Ultimately, Jesus changed the face of humankind with his lessons in love and forgiveness, compassion and mercy, patience and humility. Jesus taught his followers to flourish amidst the unexpected just as his parents had done…

After rereading my journal, I revisited our photos from Israel. Though many feature ancient sites not as well-preserved as Nazareth, I no longer refer to any of them as ruins. It occurs to me that the world-full of artifacts which chronicles human history is far more than a collection of ruins. Indeed, they are the building blocks from which humankind has constructed the moments at hand since time began. Mary and Joseph responded to Simeon’s startling insight by building a life for Jesus which has impacted this world ever since. Today, God calls you and me to respond to the startling and joyful, heartbreaking and amazing moments at hand just as creatively. You see, God has great faith in our ability to flourish amidst the unexpected just as Jesus, Mary and Joseph did.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Looks After Us All!

My soul magnifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my savior,
for God has looked down upon this servant in her lowliness;
all ages to come shall call me blessed.

Luke 1:46-48

Many of the Christmas cards we’ve received this year feature images of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Each one brings to mind my childhood impressions of Jesus’ family. I imagined Mary and Joseph full of joy, unable to contain their love for the child whom they awaited. In my innocence, I pictured a Hallmark Card birth. Full of peace, Mary and Joseph needed only to bow their heads in prayer and wait for Jesus to appear. “God will take care of everything!” I imagined them saying.

Life and the realities of Mary’s and Joseph’s day have taught me that things were not quite as easy for them as my childhood musings suggest. Mary embarked upon a treacherous journey when she became pregnant. She risked her very life as the consequences of a pregnancy out-of-wedlock were harsh at best. Mary survived because she and Joseph embraced God’s plans with absolute faith. Truly, it was Joseph’s willingness to cooperate in all of this which saved Mary. In spite of their trials and tribulations, Mary and Joseph trusted in God’s faithfulness to them. After Jesus’ birth, this trust would be tested and strengthened time and time again. Truly, their trust was well-placed.

Loving God, just as you were faithful to Mary and Joseph, you are faithful to me and to all of us. Strengthen us often with glimpses of your presence beside us and within us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Good Guy

“Joseph did as the angel of the Lord directed him.”
Matthew 1:24

Today is my father-in-law’s birthday. Like my own dad, he passed away far too early. The good news is that I knew him for ten years before he took his leave. Though our older son knew and loved his Grandpa, our younger son never met him. They would’ve liked one another! If his interactions with my elder son are any indication, this dear man wouldn’t have been able to contain his love for his five great-grandchildren either! How I wish I could have seen him holding each one of them!

Life wasn’t easy for my husband’s dad. Just after he married, he had to leave his wife behind to serve in the army. When he returned, the two had a tough time having children. When their first child was born, he lived only a few hours. Years later, my father-in-law told me that carried his son’s tiny casket to his grave for burial. Fortunately, my husband and his younger brother eventually came along.

My father-in-law was one of those good guys who worked hard at his regular job. He also took on part-time work to provide a few “extras” here and there. All the while, he cared for his aging parents who lived next door. This dear man actually had three jobs if you count the care-taking and home maintenance for which he was responsible. Still, he persisted in his roles as son and husband, dad and friend. Yes, he was a good man.

I cite the line above from Matthew’s gospel because it illustrate’s my father-in-law’s approach to things. Though I don’t think he actually saw an angel, I do believe he followed his heart in everything. This means that he followed God because God certainly resided within him.

Happy Birthday, Dear Father-in-law! Enjoy!

Loving God, thank you for this man and all of those who grace my life.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Led By Love

Joseph got up and took the child and his mother
and left that night for Egypt.

Matthew 2:14

Many years ago, my dad passed away in early July. As a result, I’m flooded with memories throughout this month which changed everything for my mom and her children. Some of that change involved Bill, the second love of my mom’s life. This good and brave man became our step-dad. I’m obliged to call Bill “brave” because he loved my mother with us six children in tow. I’m still amazed that we didn’t frighten the poor man away. Yes, Bill persisted out of love for my mother and for us.

I’ve always taken consolation in the fact that by dear step-dad was in good company. When Joseph pursued his relationship with Mary, he embraced impossible circumstances. Mary’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy could have caused her to be stoned to death. To protect her, Joseph intended to divorce Mary quietly. When he came to fully understand her circumstances, he took Mary into his home as his wife. This poor couple had barely settled in when Herod’s census forced Joseph to pack up his pregnant wife to travel to Bethlehem. Later, when the Magi inadvertently alerted the jealous king to Jesus’ birth, Joseph fled with his family to the safety of Egypt. Finally, Joseph, Mary and Jesus made their home in Nazareth.

Perhaps my step-dad found inspiration in Joseph’s plight. Perhaps the six of us seemed a less daunting challenge than attempting to parent Jesus. Whatever the case, both men inspire the rest of us to do what needs to be done to make a home in our hearts for those God has given us to love.

Dear God, give us Joseph’s and Bill’s courage as we strive to love one another.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Joseph, The Worker

Instead, because of a warning he received in a dream,
Joseph took them to the region of Galilee.
There he settled in a town called Nazareth.

From Matthew 2:22-23

On this Feast of St. Joseph, my thoughts return to one of two references made to Joseph during our visit to Israel. While in Nazareth, we viewed Mary’s home and another dwelling carved into stone. Our guide remarked that the people lived in stone homes. Even shelves and seating areas inside where hewn from rock. “If you look around,” Yossi observed, “there aren’t many trees here. No one could have made a living as a carpenter.” Archaeologists and historians agree that Joseph was more likely a stonemason and a versatile handyman of sorts who could handle a variety of tasks. He agreed that Jesus likely followed in Joseph’s footsteps which would make him a very-much-in-demand artisan as well. “This was very respectable work,” Yossi added.

In the midst of this commentary, I imagined Joseph looking more like the Israeli soldiers I’d seen rather than the sedate statuary which adorns many churches. There is nothing easy about carving into stone and Joseph certainly built strong muscles in the process. There was nothing easy about Joseph’s lot in life. When Mary agreed to be the mother of Jesus, she pulled Joseph into impossible circumstances. Her out-of-wedlock pregnancy could have caused Mary to be stoned to death. To protect her, Joseph intended to divorce Mary quietly until an angel explained the circumstances. So it was that Joseph took Mary into his home as his wife. They were barely settled when a census forced them to travel to Bethlehem. After Jesus was born there, Joseph packed up his family to flee to Egypt. To avoid further danger, Joseph finally settled his family in Nazareth where Jesus grew into manhood.

We celebrate the Good Saint Joseph because he gave up everything to provide for Mary and Jesus.

Dear God, give us the courage to emulate Joseph’s generosity and selflessness as we care for those we have been given to love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved