Since we are on the subject of getting old — we were talking about that, weren’t we? — or is my mind slipping into two months feeling like it was two years ago. Time, oh time, it goes so fast as you age. The body slows down, but the mind usually quickens, most often reflecting on all those events that occurred when the body was livelier. Reflection becomes a daily excruciating examination, and in my case, always accompanied with regret. So much time wasted, so many missed opportunities to perform charity, so many times setting a bad example, and much more time satisfying my own body while neglecting the Mystical Body we are called to serve. It is said that “it is never too late,” but in a sense it can be, for all those graces ignored can never be retrieved, and though we may cooperate with the many heavenly aids being sent to us now, the cup will never be as full as it should have been.
Thank God for the cleansing calmative of Confession, which gives peace to the soul, for though our God forgives and forgets, His creatures are doomed to remember all that could have been had they responded more keenly when the grace was freely given. Reflecting upon my prior life, I always seem to dwell on the missed acts of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy I could have performed — those sins of omission. I will give an example:
I was driving to the post office on a particularly windy day and came upon a medium-sized tree limb in my lane. Instead of stopping to remove it for fellow travelers, I swerved around it and continued on my way. My guardian angel would have none of it, so he prompted me to turn around and do my duty. I protested saying that it was not a well-traveled road, but promised on the way back, if it was still there, that I would remove it. On my return trip, the sun created shadows on the tree-studded roadway, and as I squinted to locate the place where the limb had been, I was startled by a loud bang underneath my truck. It seems that another vehicle had come along and nudged that limb into my present lane thus causing the tumult. I pulled over, removed the limb from the roadside, inspected my vehicle and saw that a strap holding up my muffler had broken, then turned around and suggested to my angel to get that grin off his face. If I may make a pun, since my exhaust system was adversely affected, I suppose it was a sin of emissions.
My wife frequently states that the best things in life are free, and that most people do not appreciate the things that are free; she also always reminds the family that if you are remiss in doing little things, then you will be neglectful in the doing the bigger ones. Another example:
How many times when using the lavatory have we discovered that the tissue has run out? And how many times have we noticed that only a few layers have been left by the previous occupant, just enough to justify (in their minds) not having to install a new roll. Aggravating isn’t it? More so in my case, for the new rolls seem to be constructed adult proof, and inevitably in trying to start one neatly, I end up with a pile of confetti at my feet.
Another item that bothers me in the daily reflection on my youth is almsgiving and tithing. As a child, I remember my father coming home with his cashed paycheck and giving it to my mother, a fact I could never understand even as a youth, for it seemed that the husband should have control of the needs of the household, with generous input of the wife, of course. I know that all households are different, but relegating the budget to the women’s control seems to me another duty that the man is relinquishing. After all, usually the first word out of the mouth of the husband is “No,” and from the wife is “Yes,” so after the battle dust has settled, a somewhat balanced budget is achieved. Try that in reverse order and see where it gets you.
But I digress, and where was I? Oh yes, my mother would take that money and put it in her budget envelope, an envelope filled with sleeves, and all marked with titles such as heat, grocery, electric, insurance and so on. What sticks in my mind now is the first sleeve, the one marked “Church.” In the regular distribution of cash, this sleeve was always filled first, then the others in order of importance. She would sometimes remove some from heat and give it to electric or otherwise exchange among the other categories, but she would never take it from the Church sleeve. To her, this was God’s money: sacrosanct, and once designated, not to be touched. There was a lesson here for me, and a grace given to remember it, but it did not stick, and in future years I did exactly the opposite. In my budget envelope, there was room for Church only after all the other bills had been satisfied, and if there was a shortfall, there was no room for Church. What was I thinking? Did I not know that tithing was an obligation incumbent on all children of God, that I was not only responsible to maintain my household but His, and to put Him last in the support of His ministers was to commit a serious sin of omission? I should and could have denied myself that pack of cigarettes, that six-pack of beer, that rental of a movie and sundry other consumerist delights that I enjoyed during the week, then taken that money and slipped it into the Church sleeve. My Sundays now are more peaceful because I never let that basket go by without donating, and my regrets are limited to the past. This is one case where the best things in life, the Mass and the sacraments, are not necessarily free. The Apostle does remind us, after all, “For the scripture saith: Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn: and, The labourer is worthy of his reward” (I Tim. 5:18).
Just as an aside, I will mention one work of mercy that most people perform without hesitation, that of admonishing the sinner. Whether it be face to face, or in the privacy of our minds, we all are guilty of pointing out the speck in our neighbor’s eye, and not noticing the beam in our own. To try and cure this ill in my character, I have taken to staring in the mirror daily, then reciting a ditty I have composed for the occasion. I call it “Reflection,” and it goes thusly:
Up to the mirror I close
Chin to chin
Nose to nose
Eye to eye
And what do I see
Staring at me
For if the eyes are the window of the soul
Then the mirror will tell what’s told.
I beg my readers’ patience in having to suffer through that, but this is my only opportunity to get it published.
Now on to the fourth mystery of my Saint Joseph Rosary, “St. Joseph Circumcises the Baby Jesus”. Bet you didn’t know that, did you? But if you take the time to read The Life and Glories of St. Joseph, this and many other astounding facts will grip your heart and increase your devotion to this miraculous saint. My most insufferable arguments have been with mostly pious persons who have been mistaken, yes mistaken, about the elevated sanctity of Saint Joseph, and once you become his devotee, you find yourself having to defend him against these misguided perceptions. For instance, it is said in the Bible that no man born of woman was greater than John the Baptist. Obviously, Our Lord is a Man, and we naturally exclude Him from the argument, so the case is presented that Saint John must be next in line. However, upon reading Saint Luke’s account, we find stated “that no greater prophet was born of woman.” So which is it? It is believed that Saint Luke received much of his material from Our Lady herself, and I like to believe that Our lady took it upon herself to correct the perception for future generations regarding this matter. Since the Bible accounts cannot err, what is left can only mean “no greater prophet born of woman,” thus leaving Saint Joseph with the singular title of being the greatest mere man ever born. And it is affirmed by many Fathers and Doctors of the Church that Saint Joseph was sanctified in the womb; in time, after Our Lady, but in time, before Saint John.
The most common mistake made with regard to Saint Joseph is his trial — the supposed anguish he endured when he found that Our Lady was with Child. There are a few pious orators who say that Joseph had distressing alternations of doubt and suspicions of infidelity concerning his immaculate spouse. We are talking about Joseph the Just here, one who followed the Mosaic law to the letter. It was his duty under the law to expose her as an adulterer if he truly believed that to be the case, for as Saint Jerome says, “If it was a precept of the Law, that not only the guilty, but those who had knowledge of their guilt, were under the penalty of sin, how could Joseph, in concealing the sin of his wife, be styled just?” So what was this pondering to put Mary away privately that Joseph entertained? Saint Francis de Sales, echoing the sentiments of Saint Bernard exclaims, “The humility of Joseph was the cause of his desiring to abandon Our Lady when he perceived her to be with Child … Joseph reasons thus: “What is this? I know that she is a virgin, for together we took vows …might it be that she is that glorious virgin of whom the prophet declares – if this be so, far be it from me to abide any longer with her, I who am unworthy to do so.” He considered himself totally unworthy to be the head of that holy household, and thus, after providing Mary with unblemished security, would depart himself from these holy presences.
Joseph circumcising Jesus is much easier to comprehend. The rite did not have to be accomplished by a priest, nor at the Temple or a synagogue, and could be performed by a total stranger in a private house. It was also the duty of whomever performed the operation to announce the name the child had been given, and since we know that the angel had said to Joseph, “Thou shall call His name Jesus” (Matt.1:21), it is most probable that Joseph was the administrator of that rite. One can’t describe the pain that Joseph endured in performing this painful act so repugnant to his tender heart. It is handed down that Mary held the baby Jesus on her knees while Joseph, tears flowing, steeled his nerve and steadied his hand to perform this heroic act; an act, Saint Bernard says, greater than Abraham sacrificing Isaac, for there was no angel to stay his hand, and the knife that cut Jesus, also pierced his heart — his first sword of sorrow.
There was one time while meditating upon this mystery that I placed myself with Joseph in the courtyard outside his house. The faint cries of Jesus could be heard, and Joseph was attentive to any summons coming from Mary within the household. Trying to distract his thoughts, (and weakly I might add), I said, “You know Joseph, I spend more time defending the misconceptions of your life than I do spreading your devotion. It seems that the early Fathers had it right, but somehow through the ages your cultus, on the whole, came to a screeching halt. As I am sure you will remind me, it was God’s will and let it be so. However, it is also said that a sure sign of the latter days will be an increased knowledge and popularity of your life. Well, sometimes I feel like a prophet of doom — when I tell people about this fact, it is like I’m saying “eat, drink and be merry with Joseph, for tomorrow you may die.” Joseph chuckles at this and says, “rather tell them pray, fast and do penance, so in eternity you may live.”
There is a whimper and a summons coming from the house; Joseph, ever watchful, departs quickly, as I do, reflecting on this most marvelous mystery.