Reflections on Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Ch 3

When the Christmas break first began there was an explosion of time and thought. Then came Christmas and New Year’s and with it all the tiredness that naturally comes with such things. Thus I have been delayed posting these reflections. I completed the book prior to Christmas, an accomplishment I am quite proud of. Yet little time has there been for computer-based reflections. So without further ado, here we go.

From the moment of his birth, he belongs outside the realm of what is important and powerful in worldly terms. Yet it is this unimportant and powerless child that proves to be the truly powerful one, the one on whom ultimately everything depends. So one aspect of becoming a Christian is having to leave behind what everyone else thinks and wants, the prevailing standards, in order to enter the light of the truth of our being, and aided by that light to find the right path.

 I read in The Privilege of Being a Woman by Alice von Hildebrand that in the fall we became deluded into believing that strength is better than weakness. This delusion leads to the belief that men are better than women or the denial that women are, in fact, physically weaker than men. The belief that to be strong is better than to be weak is such a part of our perception of life and the world, it is seems impossible to think of it in any other way. It is like the falsehood that to be tall is better than to be short. If you say to someone “you are tall” it sounds like a compliment. If you say “you are short” it sounds like an insult. They are merely observations. Strength and weakness should be mere observations. We have to leave behind our old way of looking at things. God really doesn’t care if we are rich. In fact, to be more accurate, he delights in our weakness, our poverty because it puts in us in a position where we must trust him, we need him. It is a good thing not to hold onto riches. That statement flies in the face of everything I was ever taught about money. This does not mean I will go out and spend our rainy day fund on a lavish feast, but I can worry less about our position in the social stratosphere.  Worry less and enjoy more. The $20 I saved two years ago isn’t actually helping me now. Not that I should be irresponsible. Two competing voices. The moral of the story is, do not worry, or worry less.

But Christianity has always understood that the speech of angels is actually song, in which all the glory of the great joy that they proclaimed becomes tangibly present. And so, from that moment, the angels’ song of praise has never gone silent.

 This quote stood out to me. It stood out to me like a sound in a quiet place, a light in a dark room. What he illustrates here is a thought I little think about it but it imbues our whole existence. The angels speak in song. Isn’t all good music a shadow of what their song must sound like? And couldn’t good music lift our hearts to the song of the angels? I think and write about the transcendent quality of the arts. I rarely have an image of what we are transcending to. God is so mysterious, so high. This is one step down, a big, big step, but something just a bit closer to us here in the mud. The speech of angels is actually song. It is a song that from that moment has not gone silent. In our heart, in the exterior silence is when we can hear that song. Do we surround ourselves with songs or sounds that will remind us of the angel’s song, or lead us to put the ear of our hearts to heaven’s door to hear it? Imagine your guardian angel who whispers to you to do the right. He speaks in song. This is an image that can alter my day-to-day life, taking me once more out of the mud to see better what God has made me for.

Peace to men of good will – so men “with whom he is pleased” are those who share the attitude of the Son—those who are conformed to Christ.

How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned? Surely if anything merits haste—so the evangelist is discreetly telling us—then it is the things of God.

We all know what extent Christ remains a sign of contradiction today, a contradiction that in the final analysis is directed at God. God himself is constantly regarded as a limitation placed on our freedom, that must be set aside if man is ever to be completely himself. God, with his truth, stands in opposition to man’s manifold lies, his self-seeking and his pride. God is love. But love can also be hated with it challenges us to transcend ourselves. It is not a romantic “good feeling.” Redemption is not “wellness,” it is not about basking in self-indulgence; on the contrary it is a liberation from imprisonment in self-absorption. This liberation comes at a price: the anguish of the Cross.

Isn’t it so true? My wild, wild children are pushing me to my limits. There in my limits, in my utter weakness, the tears come, I turn off the facet, put the dishes aside, rush to my room and cry out to God. I shake, I tremble. My heart twists in knots as the cries and fits of my little brats before bedtime ratchet up my nerves and anxiety. I am called to this life and at times it is so, so good. When I see myself losing my grip, I try to talk myself out it, calm myself down. Walk down the hallway, prepare myself, then I walk into a recently cleaned room and see a thousand little pieces of torn paper, or I see the four-year old, shoeless and sockless, without a care in the world, while I wanted to leave home fifteen minutes ago. I lose control. I yell. I scold. Her expression collapses in the shock of what her buddy just said, not what her buddy said but how it was said. “You’re making me sad, Mommy.” Am I a failure?

No, I am not. I am living these moments of the cross. My children are not the cross, but my tight-gripped anxious heart is the thing that must die in order for me to be free from this natural-born prison of self-absorption. How do I know I am not failing? It isn’t high self-esteem, I can tell you that. As I entered the nursery to put my infant to sleep, I saw the dolls in the dollhouse. The mommy was in the rocking chair, with the little girl sitting on her lap. That is how she sees me. I’m doing something right, and it buoys me on.




Reflections on Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Ch.2 (Part 2)

Now regarding Chapter 2: The Annunciation of the Birth of John the Baptist and the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, written by Pope Benedict XVI. Due to the length, the reflection has been published in two parts. This is the second.

Now for the second aspect, the presence of hope and joy. Pope Benedict wrote that the permanence promised to the Davidic kingdom, a kingdom not of this world, “is the great force of hope in the midst of a world that so often seems abandoned by God” (p.32). It’s true. What more can I say? The only time I have experienced despair or hopelessness, the steadiness of God’s kingdom preserved my hope. God would not abandon us. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13). It is who God is. God is love (1 Jn 4:8). This became the lens through which I interpreted the events of my life.

Pope Benedict writes later:  One could say that the figures of the virgin and the divine child belong in some sense to the archetypal images of human hope, which emerge at times of crisis and expectation, even without there being any concrete figures in view (p.57). Though he states the Virgin birth is a historical reality, the concept of archetypes stands out to me. Jungian archetypes, taken as he put it, could be quite controversial, but as a general concept, are fascinating. Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote, “Every person carries within his heart a blueprint of the one he loves. What seems to be ‘love at first sight’ is actually the fulfillment of desire, the realization of a dream.” Contained within the concepts of the theology of the body, the man-woman relationship is a type pointing us to the supernatural reality of Trinitarian unity. Because we are made in the image of God, we have, as it were, spiritual DNA pointing us to our potential. We sense when we are on the right or wrong path, fulfilling or denigrating our potential. That is because of the archetype within us. God wrote these into us. Therefore, if, as he says, the virgin and divine son have been archetypes for hope, I believe God put this in us because the Virgin birth would be the fulfillment of that archetype. We would know it when we see it.

Not that that is always the case. We also need the gift of faith, and I grant that, but it would not be a universal church if this story did not resonate with us, and it resonates because it is written in our hearts.

Lastly, the portrait of our Lady: interior, asking in faith how it shall be, seeking to discern it (two qualities Pope Benedict identifies as shared with St. Joseph). She is called fearless. She is full of grace, in tune with the word, the law, bold enough to trust the Lord with her life. The drama described here quiets the reflection, “Mary, did you know?” because heaven would not have held its breath waiting for her response if she were some naive waif. No, she is a woman! She is strong, I repeat, fearless, capable of saying and willing yes to what the Lord has commanded. In possession of herself enough to give God the permission he seeks, “be it done to me according to Thy word.”

Here is a model for womanhood! Here is the blueprint. The archetype. The guideposts for what makes a woman great. Great women do not trample on the men in their life, pushing ahead to achieve, silencing those parts of them that make them women. No, she has the power to choose. She chooses to trust. This is the greatest gift a wife can give her husband, to choose to trust him, put herself in his hands and allow him to protect her, even though she may be fully capable of protecting herself.

Thoughts from Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Ch.1

As I did before with Gift from the Sea, I would like to share with you my reflections following a reading of Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, written by Pope Benedict XVI. I am embarking on this reading through our virtual book club: Well Read Mom. As before, the plain font will be quotations or direct references, the words in italics are my reflections because somehow italics seem to better represent the dynamism of my thoughts (she said, tongue-in-cheek).

The preface: The first question in exegeses is what is it saying historically. The second is how does this concern me?

“He is one among others. He is one like us…His origin marks him out as one like any other.”

If this is true of Christ, he is like me than I can look at the same questions put to him as to myself.

Chapter 1: “The Roman judge asks Jesus where he is from in order to understand who he really is and what he wants.”

Psychoanalytic theory sees this question as fundamental to answering the who-am-I question today. Identifying the moment of original drama can lead to a catharsis, a sudden release of emotion or built of tension, created through holding these thoughts in the unconscious parts of our psyche. Family systems theory follows the same thoughts but much more above the surface. I take on a role to fill out the balance in my family. Strict behaviorism sees the question of “where do I come from” as irrelevant to progress. It does not matter how I was trained, only that I have been trained. Solution-focus theory is much the same.  Cognitive theory will find some value in identifying the origin of the lesson, where I learned this irrational belief. Understanding the origin of the irrational belief may create opportunities to dispute it by find evidence or alternative explanation for what I believe about myself.

This concept is not foreign to psychology, but deeply integrated. Where do I come from…who I am…what I want. This is how I discover what is most important to me, what is most important to my clients, and what will motivate us to move forward.

The genealogy from Matthew, begins with Abraham and leads us to Jesus “is open to universality—through Abraham, blessing comes to all.”

Christ is more than an image of myself. To project that image of me and call it god is to make an idol, fashioning him like myself. God’s otherness abounds. He has a mission beyond me. Since I have no Jewish heritage in my, it is because  his mission beyond me that I am part of it at all.

The genealogy from Matthew: is the Gospel of Christ the King: the whole of history looks towards him whose throne is to endure for ever.”

Christ is king. We can be drawn close to the infant, but we must also see the man, God, the king. “We have come to worship,” (Mt 2.2) how much I need this longing in my heart, to worship someone infinitely greater than myself.

The genealogy of Luke: “Jesus takes upon himself the whole of humanity, the whole history of man, and he gives it a decisive re-orientation toward a new manner of human existence.”

“Those who believe in Jesus enter through faith into Jesus’ unique new origin, and they receive this origin as their own.

This is profound. I was young when I fell in love with Christ, but it marked the beginning for me. Isn’t that how love is? It felt like my life had not yet begun until it began in Christ. And it was a turning point. The old life is left behind and a new life, with vision, with a path, with purpose is laid out.

Everything unfolded following that new beginning. When I met my husband, the plan continued to unfold. The birth of our first child, deciding not to pursue my doctorate, to return my town of origin in order to be closer to my family of origin. It is the path laid out in the story I wrote, The Girl and Her King. I used to believe everything was a sign. Eventually I began to see that many things were just life, just reasonable consequences. I did not lose the vision that somehow a wisdom is written in through it all, that there is a cosmic purpose. It is written in Christ for all of history. It is beautiful to behold because in this meaning we find we are very, very small. History, the story, life is not determined by me and my actions, because there is something so much greater than me here. However, that Someone cared enough to write me into it, to make me part of this universal cosmic plan. God thought it more complete to have me in it than out of it. That makes me feel very good indeed.

The self-esteem movement falls short. “How do you feel about yourself?” That the answer to that question should determine my well-being is the concept of self-esteem. Real confidence comes from accomplishing real things, being successful in real tasks and real relationships. Self-worth or value comes from recognizing the truth. Where do you come from?

I can understand my feelings toward myself when I consider how I was taught to regard myself by my parents. “When a girl dresses up, she seeks to be told that she is beautiful. When a boy flails a sword or dresses up as Spiderman, he wants to be told he is an extraordinary person, that he is capable of saving the world.”  “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11). God is love. The family is the school of love. Our parents are our first teachers in the truth of who we are. How fascinating it is for me to have met someone who has “high self-esteem” who does not seem to doubt herself or her beauty, because despite his shortcomings as a man, her father always told her, “you are beautiful.”

The question of who he is and where is he from are inseparably linked.

Returning to that question: where do you come from? I continue to turn this concept in my mind. The two questions are inseparably linked. I do not only come from my family. I do not only come from my genealogical tree or my cultural heritage. I come from the Church. In my baptism I became part of this great tree. But then, I do not only come from Catholic culture. I come from God. God made me. He is my father. Where do you come from? I am like Christ. He is like me. Where do you come from? I have been part of the mind of God. He knew me before I was born and established my place in history. What that will be, I do not know. I have free will and can choose to continue walking along this path. As I walk, it will continue to unfold.