During the season of Easter we celebrate feast day of St. Catherine of Siena, one of the four female Doctors of the Church and a woman remembered for her fiery personality and truth-filled words. From a young age, Catherine was favored with mystical visions, the earliest taking place when she was only six or seven. She was out with her brother, running an errand, when she looked up and saw saints in the sky. She saw Jesus seated on a throne, surrounded by saints John, Peter, Paul and others. To her great delight, Jesus smiled at her, then raised his hand and blessed her. This vision had a profound influence upon Catherine and she remembered it the rest of her life.
Jesus is Our Bridge
The desire to dedicate her life to God grew stronger as Catherine grew older, and she eventually became a Third Order Dominican, taking on the black and white mantle of the Sisters of Penitence of St. Dominic in 1363. St. Catherine left many writings to us, but her most well known is The Dialogue, written in a very short period of time while she was in ecstasy, around 1377. It records conversations between herself and God, dictated by St. Catherine and written out by her secretaries. Catherine saw that Jesus, through obedience to his Father, made himself into the bridge between Heaven and Earth - the only bridge that could ever cross the huge chasm separating us from God. Journeying back to God along this bridge happens in three different stages. The following excerpt reveals God instructing Catherine in this idea:
I want you to look at the bridge of my only-begotten Son, and notice its greatness. Look! It stretched from heaven to earth, joining the earth of your humanity with the greatness of the Godhead. This is what I mean when I say it stretches from heaven to earth.
God also explains to Catherine why it was necessary for Jesus to make himself into this bridge. The Dialogue records:
This was necessary if I wanted to remake the road that had been broken up, so that you might pass over the bitterness of the world and reach life. ..Your nature had to be joined with the height of mine, the eternal Godhead, before it could make atonement for all humanity. . . so the height stooped to the earth of your humanity, bridging the chasm between us and rebuilding the road.
But why should Jesus have made himself into this bridge?
So that you might in truth come to the same joy as the angels. But my Son’s having made of himself a bridge for you could not bring you to life unless you make your way along that bridge.
The Three Stages of Crossing the Bridge
The Dialogue states that it is only by staying securely on this bridge of Christ that souls are able to pass safely over the stormy sea below, as they journey through three different spiritual stages to reach Heaven. The three stages are described in this way: “On the first step, …the soul strips itself of vice, on the second it is filled with love and virtue, and on the third it tastes peace.”
The first stage is referred to as “the feet,” when the person decides to turn from sin. Using the body as an image, it is the feet which carry us towards or away from God, to virtuous actions or to sinful occasions. God tells St. Catherine that walking with purified, cleansed feet “are the steps by which you arrive at his side, which manifests to the secret of his heart.”
The second stage is closely linked to the first. It is when we replace sin with virtue. Sinful habits and behaviors have to be replaced by virtuous and good habits and behaviors. A soul who stops sinning must be careful to fill the cleansed area inside with the light of God, otherwise she can find herself in an even worse state later on. In the second stage, the person climbs to “the heart” - “the soul, gazing into that open heart with the eye of the intellect, finds it consumed with ineffable love.”
The first and second stages “were made with the wood of the cross.” The cross is made of two pieces of wood - the vertical and the horizontal planks. The vertical plank represents the connection between earth and heaven (love for God), while the horizontal wood refers to what we do on earth (love for neighbor). God repeatedly reminds St. Catherine that we cannot say we love God but ignore our neighbor. Love for God is shown through our love for our neighbor, and both aspects are represented by the vertical and horizontal dimensions of Christ’s cross. In these two stages we turn from sin and learn to love as Christ loves.
The third stage, “still retains the great bitterness Jesus tasted when he was given gall and vinegar to drink.” During this last stage, the soul participates in some of the suffering of Christ’s passion. However, this is also when the soul finds peace. Represented by “the mouth”, the soul now is able to “find peace from the war it has been waging with sin.”
Even though the body of Jesus himself has been lifted up and returned to Heaven, God tells Catherine that “there remains the bridgeway of his teaching, which, as I told you, is held together by My power and my Son’s wisdom and the mercy of the Holy Spirit.” The teachings of Christ have been illuminated and reflected on for us by”the apostles and evangelists, the martyrs and confessors and holy doctors, who have been set like lamps in holy Church” to light the way across the bridge of Christ, to shine light into the darkness of our lives.
Those Under the Bridge
One of the more touching aspects of The Dialogue is the glimpse we get into the personality of God the Father. Far from being angry and vengeful, he says to all of us, through St. Catherine “I tell you, my dearest children, travel on the bridge, not under it. For the way beneath the bridge is not the way of truth but of falsehood. It is the way of wicked sinners, and I beg you to pray to me for them. I ask for your tears and sweat on their behalf so that they may receive mercy from me.” God does not want to lose a single soul, every person is of immense importance and he does everything he can to bring souls back to him.
So the next time you are crossing a bridge, think of St. Catherine and the three stages of the spiritual life. Maybe even send up a small prayer asking for help in “staying on the bridge of Christ.” And don’t forget to offer up some thoughts for those who have fallen under the bridge, as well.
St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us!
*republished from www.Catholic365.com
**updated from April 2019
The picture above shows two modern travelers making their way through some rough, desert-like terrain. If you imagine them in long robes and squint a bit, this is probably pretty close to how the two disciples looked, as they made their way to Emmaus. This Biblical story has been on my mind lately, since it was Gospel reading at Mass on Wednesday of the Octave of Easter.
The big question that everyone always asks about the Emmaus story is "Why didn't the two disciples recognize Jesus?" I once heard a well-known Scripture scholar ask this exact question at a conference. She was giving the keynote address, and I always appreciate the many wise and true insights she shares about Scripture. But, she mentioned that the disciples' lack of ability to recognize Jesus had always bothered her. After all, they had spent a few years with Jesus. How could they not recognize someone they had spent so much time with? Was he that changed, after the resurrection? Her answer was to say that the disciples simply could not recognize Jesus because they couldn't fathom the possibility of the resurrection. Maybe there is some truth to that. I've heard other folk say that the disciples didn't recognize Jesus because he was so transformed in glory he was impossible to recognize.
Where did Jesus go?
But there’s another way of looking at this mysterious “hiddenness” of Christ on the road to Emmaus. I think the answer is just more simple than that. After his resurrection, whenever Jesus IS recognized, it is almost always around food and breaking bread. In fact, I like to read the Emmaus story out loud to the families at church and I stop at verse 31:
And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. (Luke 24: 30-31).
"Where did Jesus go?" I ask. "I'll give you a hint. He is still in the room." I love to watch the young children especially. They turn to mom or dad, eyes wide, and say "Where is he?"
I asked this very question three days ago, to a new group of families this year. As is common, many of the answers revolved around the idea that 1. Jesus is dead so 2. He must be a ghost. Here are some of the answers I heard:
“Back to God in Heaven?”
“To the tomb?”
“To the next room?”
“To the graveyard?”
And then, with assistance from grandma and grandpa, “To the bread and wine?” Yes!
The answer is pretty obvious, once it's pointed out. Jesus has not left. He is now fully present in the form of bread and wine, just as we proclaim at every Mass. We call this the Real Presence. Jesus is fully present in the Eucharist; the bread has become his body and the wine has become his blood. This is not symbolic. It’s a real, though hidden, change, that surpasses our understanding. We receive it in faith, because God is doing something new.
The Catechism puts it this way “At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ’s Body and Blood. Faithful to the Lord’s command the Church continues to do, in his memory and until his glorious return, what he did on the Eve of his Passion:”He took bread….” “[T]aking the chalice filled with the fruit of the vine….” The signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ. (CCC 1350)
It seems, then, that the reason the two disciples didn't recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus is that, post resurrection, Jesus will be fully present sacramentally. He is no longer only Jesus of Nazareth, the wandering preacher with a small band of followers, even though we understand he has always been the Son of God. Jesus has changed from being confined to a single place and point in time (i.e. a very small and local area of Judea, circa 33 AD) to being able to go everywhere and all times, carried through time and space by his disciples, who become moving temples. Yes, this form is unexpected, especially to those of us outside of Judaism who don't have the tradition of the Passover meal handed down, generation to generation. And certainly, it was completely unexpected even to the Jewish people of Jesus’ time. But, it also makes sense if you follow all the other covenants that God made in the Old Testament. This New Covenant, where Jesus substitutes himself for the Passover lamb, fulfills all the promises of the previous covenants in a new, astounding way.
The Returning of the Cosmos to Christ
It does one thing more, as well, that we have to realize. This is the beginning of the reconciliation, or the returning, of the cosmos to God. There is really nothing special about the little bit of wheat and the sampling of grapes that are used on the altar at Mass. The divinization of that little bit of wheat and those few grapes points to the ultimate end of the entire universe, when God will be "all in all" to creation. Like these small bits of nature, those who follow in the path of discipleship until the end will enter the Kingdom of God, will become one with the inner life of the Trinity and be divinized. This is the belief we express about the saints in heaven.
It's a lot to take in, really. I like to say it's "profoundly simple." Something to ponder, this Easter season. You can read the story of Emmaus here: Luke 24:13-35
* Republished from www.Catholic365.com
The time of the glorious season of Easter is now upon us. For the next 50 days, until the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we will celebrate the great event of the resurrection. One good way to ponder the saving action of God is by reading the spiritual classic The Following of Christ, usually referred to as The Imitation of Christ.
Written in Latin sometime between 1418 and 1427, The Imitation of Christ was composed by Thomas à Kempis, an Augustinian monk at the Monastery of Mt. St. Agnes in the Netherlands, who was responsible for the instruction of novices. As such, he spent a great deal of time creating manuscripts and writing devotionals. The Imitation of Christ is a collection of four of his books, each giving instruction on the interior life, with a special focus on living a life centered on the Eucharist. After the Bible, it is the most translated book in history, having been printed at least 745 times before 1650. It is believed that saints such as Ignatius of Loyola read a chapter from The Imitation daily and Thomas Moore professed it to be one of the essential books a Christian should own. It also had a major influence on St. Therese of Lisieux. But if the thought of diving straight into a spiritual classic is a little overwhelming, then I would like to offer a suggestion.
The Companion Guide
Ursuline sister Bridget Haase’s new book Thirty Days Praying The Imitation of Christ: A Companion to the Classic guides us into the original spiritual work. Sr. Bridget’s book is organized into 30 different topics, such as "The Inner Life," "Love of Christ," and "Rewards Promised to Those who Fight Against Sin." Each of these topics is a collection of quotes taken straight from The Imitation of Christ, enabling the reader to pray-through (in Sister’s words) a topic; sitting with it, dwelling upon it, instead of simply reading-through it. Each topic is followed by a few reflection questions that are designed to help us apply the teachings to our own lives and ends with an original prayer, written by Sr. Bridget. Finally, there is blank space following each topic for notes, art, and our own supplications. As a reader, I engage with the quotes from the original work, I ponder the reflection questions, but I especially appreciate the original ending prayers. Sr. Bridget writes simply, but clearly. She is known for her down-to-earth style of writing that combines practicality with wonder. Her prayers echo and give shape to the unformed thoughts and expressions in our hearts and minds. Let’s take a closer look at one topic, “Things Which Bring Peace.”
This entry begins with quotes from The Imitation of Christ like “Make this your aim, to do the will of another, rather than your own,” followed by “Always choose to have less rather than more” and “Always desire and pray that the will of God may be wholly fulfilled in you.” Next, we are reminded that “[This discourse] is few in words but full in meaning and abundant in fruit” and that when we feel “disturbed and discontent” it is because we have “strayed from this teaching.” The quotes end with a recognition of our dependence on God by saying “You can do all things and always desire the progress of my soul. Increase your grace in me, so that I may be able to fulfill your words and perfect my salvation.”
In the Reflection Questions that follow, Sr. Bridget invites us to ponder:
1.When have I put others’ desires before my own?
2. How do I succumb to the desire to have more and better things?
3. How do I subtly seek the praise of others to raise myself up?
The Ending Prayer ties the quotes and the questions together, raising them up in supplication:
“O God, these principles are so full of meaning and abound in fruitfulness, even though they are short on words. It takes a lifetime to be faithful to these precepts, but I want to carry them in the backpack of my life. I ask that I draw strength from them when I feel weak and barren, nourishment when I am hungry, and refreshment when I am parched and burdened. Amen.”
This is such a beautiful image. On the pilgrimage of our lives, we each carry a backpack full of supplies; some are necessary, others are not. Sr. Bridget reminds us to be thoughtful about what we choose to carry, since it is from this backpack that we get the strength, nourishment and refreshment to continue.
The questions are followed by a blank space, where we can journal, list or draw “Ways to Desire Less.”
One Final Note
One final noteworthy aspect of this little book is the inspiration behind it. Sr. Bridget writes that she first encountered The Imitation of Christ as a young nun, when she was gifted a pocket-sized edition of the classic work. It has traveled with her through the years “to the mountains of Appalachia; to the desert of Sudan, East Africa; to the bush of Senegal, West Africa; to rural areas in Mexico and to both Texas and Massachusetts” and it is with her still today. But this pocket-sized edition was not new when it was given to her. It first belonged to another Ursuline sister, Mother Mary Mildred Dooling.
Mother Mary (or Sister, as she would have been then) entered the convent in April, 1910, and used this small book as a spiritual guide throughout her life. On the first blank page, as she was beginning her religious life, Sr. Mary wrote a prayer asking God to help her be a faithful nun “just for today.” During the next 52 years as an Ursuline, Sr. Mary pored over the pages of The Imitation of Christ, selecting the topics that are found in Sr. Bridget’s new companion guide. Sr. Bridget writes that she discovered these selections in Mother Mary’s “faded handwriting at the back of the book” where Mother Mary mentions praying with the text for 30 days and arranged the reflections into areas like “the foundation of our life before God, “ the Incarnation, Death and Passion of Jesus”, and “the sweetness of eternal rest in God.”
Sr. Bridget’s companion to the classic can accompany us on our spiritual journey through Eastertide, not only making the original work more accessible, but also enabling us to pray with the communion of saints, both those known, such as St. Ignatius, St. Thomas Moore and St. Therese of Lisieux, as well as other holy voices, like Mother Mary Mildred. It is available through Amazon for $9.99 (US) by clicking the photo above or this link: https://amzn.to/38gHP61
*republished from www.catholic365.com on 4/12/2022
This week, Christians the world over will celebrate Good Friday. On the same day, beginning at sundown, the Jewish people will celebrate Passover. Most of us are familiar with the roots of the story of Passover, in which the Angel of Death “passes over” the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, thereby finally freeing them from Pharoah’s grip, enabling them to cross the Red Sea and go into the wilderness to worship God.
The 10 Plagues
Before the “pass over” occurs, however, there are 9 earlier plagues that descend upon Egypt. These plagues begin with an inanimate object, water which becomes blood, then move up through the insect and amphibian worlds in the form of frogs, lice and flies. The fifth plague, disease among livestock, shows the power of God over the animal kingdom, and the sixth, seventh and eight plagues move into the human world, starting with boils on the skin and the destruction of the crops in the field. The seventh plague, hail and fire, destroys the flax and barley, and the eighth plague, locusts, consumes whatever crops are left for food. These two plagues destroy the means of making clothes, elements used in ritual worship and basic sustenance. The ninth plague, darkness, shows God's power over the heavens themselves, as the mighty Egyptian sun god, Ra, is overcome. But despite all these shows of power and control over creation at every level, it is not until the 10th plague, the death of the first born when the Angel of Death “passes over” the houses of the Israelites marked by the blood of a lamb, that Pharaoh finally lets the Israelites go.
The 10 Plagues were not simply random events of destruction. Each plague was designed to specifically confront one of the Egyptian gods that the Egyptians worshiped. Through the plagues, God demonstrates his power and might over the false gods, on the one hand, and shows his ability to protect and provide for those who follow him, on the other. But the point of these plagues was not just to inspire fear and dread in the Egyptians, or even in the Israelites. The plagues were to set God’s people free in two ways: first, freedom from slavery to the false gods of Egypt and the behaviors and cultic action that went with that, and secondly, freedom to worship God. Freedom to turn away from and leave the false gods and freedom to turn towards and follow the true God. This is the real journey from slavery to freedom, especially freedom from generational slavery.
From the story of the Israelites, we know that just changing location doesn't result in a change of perspective, understanding, habits or heart. The mothers and fathers of the Israelites handed down the habits and behaviors of a people who had been in captivity for hundreds of years. When they were presented with freedom, they didn't know what to do with it. Once life in the desert grew scary and unpredictable, they clung to their old habits and old gods. They melted their jewelry and erected a statue of Baal, one of the gods of Egypt they were supposed to have left behind.
Strange New Gods
Fast forward a few thousand years and we can ask ourselves: Are we really any different? We may not intentionally be worshiping a golden calf, but in her book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols of Everyday Life, Elizabeth Scalia reminds us that we have been quick to erect new gods. As we approach Good Friday, it's a good idea to look at the list of the shiny, new idols she points out, and ask ourselves how much of our daily behavior and activity centers around them, instead of on the true God, whose blood will be shed for us this week. Here are a few strange new gods to consider:
1. The God of My Feelings: Do I give myself permission to act simply based on my feelings? To nurse grudges, excuse a bad temper, mock others or act uncharitably?
2. The God of Prosperity: Do I seek more and more things, and crowd out simplicity and gratitude? Is my personal self-worth wrapped around my status symbols?
3. The God of My Plans: Do I insist that “I will be Served” and others do what I want, regardless of the harm it may cause, instead of submitting to God's Plan for Me, i.e. “I will Serve”?
4. The God of I : Am I convinced that I am God? That my wants, needs, aspirations, intellect and everything else is higher, better and more important than those of other people, even than God himself? Do I secretly look down on others because I think that I know best?
5. The God of Technology: Does technology interfere and interrupt the growth and development of normal relationships and conversations? Has it taken the place of what is real, such as nature and the people around me?
6. The God of the Idea: Is there a particular ideology that I cling to “no matter what?” That I refuse to reexamine, especially in the light of faith?
Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world through his self-sacrificing offering on Good Friday, tells us “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) As we journey with Jesus through his crucifixion, death and burial this week, let’s try to be as unencumbered as possible, shedding the old habits and sinful thoughts that we are called to leave behind, so that we are truly free to rise to new life on Easter Sunday.
* first published on 3/26/2022 at www.catholic365.com
If you happened to catch a bit of the televised interview of Ukrainian President Zelensky, given just days after the invasion of Russia, you may have heard him say something to this effect: Interviewer: President Zelensky, is this effort for freedom worth it?
President Zelensky: I hope the western countries have seen and understand just how important freedom is to the Ukrainian people. We are not just talking about it, we are giving our lives for it.
It was a moving and grave moment, asking those of us in the west to think more seriously about this thing we call "freedom," and indeed, ask ourselves just what we would be willing to sacrifice to defend it. So what is "Freedom" anyway?
I asked this very question to a group of parishioners just a couple of weeks ago. We had just finished watching the first episode of "The Quest", a 5 part documentary-style video series produced by the University of Dallas, and we were discussing it. "Freedom is the ability to choose, " one fellow answered. "Freedom is being able to make your own decisions and live how you want," another parishioner said, "so long as it doesn't hurt anyone." "Yes," agreed a third person, "Freedom means doing what you think is right."
The answers the parishioners gave, who were of all different ages, by the way, pretty much aligned with the general understanding of "freedom" today. The problem is, that is not what true freedom actually is. It's certainly not the freedom Jesus promised, the freedom that "sets us free from sin." To Christians, freedom is the ability to choose and then move towards the good. Since we know that our Ultimate Good is God, true freedom really refers to our continuing conversion, that process by which we repeatedly, frequently and usually in small, hidden ways, overcome our own selfishness and become self-sacrificing. True freedom is desiring what God desires, and them moving towards it. In "Commentary on the Sentences," St. Thomas Aquinas puts it this way: freedom “is by its nature ordered to the good, and tends to evil only by defect.” (II Set., Dist. 25, Q. 1, A. 1, Ad. 2).Freedom is not the path to a life of luxury, comfort, and release from responsibilities so that we can manifest our own destinies. Instead, it is the path to becoming little Christs, the path which ultimately leads us home to our Father's house.
During the month of March, we celebrated two feast days of important saints who give us wonderful examples of lives lived in freedom. On March 17, we recall the life and work of St. Patrick of Ireland and then just two days later on March 19, we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph. Both of these saints exemplify true freedom. We know that St. Patrick was kidnapped into slavery as a teen and endured several years of isolation, neglect and abuse. He miraculously escaped, and was able to rejoin his family again. Yet later, upon having a vision in which the Irish asked him to return and "walk among them once more" St. Patrick writes his "heart was broken" with pity. He eventually returns to Ireland, where he is a great evangelist. The life of this saint reveals the actions of a man who is truly free. He would rather die, giving his life in the service of God, than remain in safety and comfort. He returns to the very place of his captivity in order to save others.
Similarly, the actions of St. Joseph reveal he is free. Every event of his life recorded in Scripture shows St. Joseph consistently choosing the Ultimate Good, God, regardless of the difficulties involved. For example, upon discovering that Mary is pregnant, he seeks to "divorce her quietly', minimizing any embarrassment, or worse, punishment, to her. Next, after being told in a dream that the child Mary is carrying is God's child, Joseph immediately brings Mary into his house, again seeking to do the will of God despite being hard, even illogical. Then, he again immediately responds to the urgent command to take his small family and flee to Egypt, away from any support they may have, into a foreign country, trusting that God will protect and provide for them. Joseph could have turned from the path God laid out for him. Each request was difficult and a challenge, but he consistently chooses the good, he consistently desires what God desires, and he moves toward it.
As we continue in our Lenten journey to the Paschal Mystery, we should also ask ourselves: when do I live in freedom? And where am I still bound by sin, unable to follow the call of the Lord?
St. Patrick, pray for us! St. Joseph, pray for us!
Although we are used to seeing lots of shamrocks and assorted green things in honor of St. Patrick during the month of March, there’s another special day in this month we should keep in mind as well. March 19 is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In many parts of the world, this is a big feast day, marked by special foods and by setting up a St. Joseph’s Altar. This day is remembered especially as a day to thank God for the intercession of St. Joseph.
The tradition of setting up an altar honoring St. Joseph began in Sicily, Italy, and was brought to the United States by Italian immigrants in the late 1880s. As the story goes, a severe famine hit Sicily in the Middle Ages
(likely causing one of the “megafamines” Europe suffered) and the crops were in danger of failing. The farmers and families prayed to St. Joseph for his help, and were filled with gratitude when the rains came. They attributed the help to their patron saint, and at harvest time erected a large altar in his honor. On the altar they placed fruits, veggies, baked goods and lots of fava beans – the beans that had sustained them during the lean months until harvest. In recognition of St. Joseph’s humble life, the families invited everyone, especially the poor, to come to the feast. Everyone was invited, and everyone could participate in the abundance.
Today, many churches and Italian communities still erect an altar to St. Joseph, and over time specific foods have become traditional to place on the altar. The custom of remembering the poor has also become an aspect of the altar.
Many of the altars are elaborate and the foods can be quite involved to make, but don’t let that stop you from setting up an altar in your own home! We are aiming for participation, not perfection. With a few adaptations, every family can join in the celebration. Below, you can see the altar I set up in our house. A quick trip to the grocery store, plus a tour around my house for plates and linens, and I was done. I used our Family Prayer Space to set it all up. There are just a few things to keep in mind in when setting up a St. Joseph’s Altar. Below are close – up pictures and an explanation of how we did it.
1. Give Our Best: In keeping with all things sacred, we always try to give our best. That means I got out the nice china and Easter linens to use. There’s no need to buy anything “good,” of course, but this is a great time to get out those fancy items usually tucked away for “one day.” That day has come!
2. Showcase the Trinity: The altar should be 3 levels. This is a physical representation of the Trinity, who listened to the intercession of St. Joseph and came to the aid of the farmers. It reminds us that the saints are fully united to the Trinity, and always carry out the best for us. It also reminds us that the Trinity is under and behind everything, even though we only see the people and things on the top, the surface level.
3. Honor St. Joseph: Place a statue of St. Joseph on the top level. After all, this is his day. The folks at Holyart.com sent me this lovely statue of St. Joseph to preview. It features St. Joseph, with his carpentry tools, inside a wooden niche with swinging, hinged doors. I had this statue sitting out on my kitchen bench and 2 of my boys picked it up. They were fascinated with the doors and St. Joseph hidden inside, and it led to a great conversation about St Joseph’s “hidden” life, and how little is recorded of him. Yet, in spite of this, what an enormous role he played in the life of Christ and salvation history. The statue proved to be a wonderful conversation starter about what it means to be a man of God.
- The statue is handcarved by Italian woodworkers from a company called
Pema. (Pema.it). My boys loved the idea that woodworkers today made this image
of St. Joseph, also a woodworker. It made St. Joseph seem more real, like there was
a connection to him through the work of hands. They looked at the tools St. Joseph
is holding – a square and a plane- and thought about how those same tools created
the statue they were holding.
- This particular statue is a bit more expensive than I would normally spend on a statue, but the detailing and high quality craftsmanship make it worthwhile. This is a holy item that I can keep as a family keepsake, and perhaps even see it in use on St. Joseph altars in future generations. (though not for a while!)
4. The Food! There are some food items that are almost always seen on St. Joseph altars.
Fruits and Veggies: Put an assortment of veggies and fruits on your altar. I used what I had in my fridge.
Pastries: As I mentioned above, some of the baked good items are traditional. A delicious cream filled pastry called a zeppole features prominently. It looks amazing, but I am not that mom. I hope to be that grandmother. Instead of baking these myself, I went to the bakery at my grocery store and bought a few individual cream themed pastries. Another traditional cookie for the altar is called a pizzelle. It is created using a special type of waffle iron. Again, I picked up a container of these at the grocery store in the cookie aisle. I also added some mini cupcakes, just for fun.
Figs: Figs are plentiful in Italy, and so generally appear on the St. Josephs altar. I do not like to waste food, even for these teaching moments, so instead of the fruit I bought a couple of types of Fig Newton – like cookies.
Bread Crumbs: These symbolize the sawdust found in St. Joseph’s workroom. I used the Italian seasoned breadcrumbs, of course.
Wine: a bottle of red wine is appropriate, as a reminder of the joy and happiness of the occasion. It’s also a good reminder of the red wine used at Mass, and Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana, which took place at another festival as well.
Bread: some nice bread is also usually on the atlar. I picked up a tasty assortment of bread rolls at the bakery.
Beans: Fava beans were originally used on the altar, and are still widely used today. However, I substituted them for great northern beans, as they were not available at my grocery store.
5. What else?
Candles: Especially a candle of the Sacred Heart, if you have it, reminding us of St. Joseph’s years of caring for Jesus.
A rosary: because after all, this commemorates an answer to prayer and Mary is always close to Joseph.
Crosses: I placed a couple of small crosses on our altar, to remind us that it is through the sacrifice of our Lord that we receive the blessings of God.
A CRS Rice Bowl: we also want to remember that the story of the altar emphasizes that the graces and abundance of God are to be shared with everyone. Since my parish participates in the CRS Rice Bowl during Lent, I added it to our altar as a reminder to include the poor in this celebration.
Once everything was all set, we held our own Prayer Service. (see below to download our Family Prayer Service)
All told, my grocery bill came to $20.26 to create our St. Joseph Altar. As I said, I used mostly what I had in the house already, which I think is a fitting tribute to the life of the Holy Family, anyway. Remember, participation, not perfection! My kids, having never experienced a St. Joseph’s altar before, absolutely loved it. It was a fantastic way to remind ourselves of the the life of St. Joseph, learn more about another culture, participate in the liturgical calendar, and of course, enjoy some really yummy treats. I think this is destined to become a new family tradition.
The day of joy returns, Father in Heaven, and crowns another year with peace and good will.
Help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wisemen.
Close the doors of hate and open the doors of love all over the world…
Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil, by the blessing that Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts.
May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children,
And the Christmas evening bring us to our bed with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake.
-Henry Van Dyke
"Give us, O God, the vision which can see Your love in the world in spite of human failure.
Give us the faith to trust Your goodness in spite of our ignorance and weakness.
Give us the knowledge that we may continue to pray with understanding hearts.
And show us what each one of us can do to set forward the coming of the day of universal peace."
-Frank Borman, Apollo 8 space mission, 1968
"Advent is the perfect time to clear and prepare the Way. Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace. By reflection and prayer, by reading and meditation, we can make our hearts a place where a blessing of peace would desire to abide and where the birth of the Prince of Peace might take place.
"When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make a little music with the heart…
And to radiate the Light of Christ,
every day, in every way, in all that we do and in all that we say.
Then the work of Christmas begins."