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March 19, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 10

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THE CATHOLIC  DIOCESE OF  RICHMOND

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» Believe as you Pray

» Family Ties

» In Light of Faith

Genevieve M. McQuade photobelieve as you pray graphic

5th Sunday of Lent, Year B
March 25, 2012

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-15
Hebrews 5:7-9
John 12:20-33

Do you welcome acceptable changes?

How about unwanted readjustments that require learning something new or acquiring a fresh mindset that demands time-consuming concentration?

Maybe change isn’t a big deal for you, especially if you tend to have a go-with-the-flow personality.

For me, unwelcome change is kind of like hiking. . . uphill. . . with rocks. . . some straight up, mossy and slippery. It’s strenuous and could end in a painful fall.

While I do like a walk in a park, I prefer an “easy” to “moderate” trail (in nice weather mind you) because that uphill/downhill thing is out for my fitness level!

Just what is it that makes undesired change difficult? Is it a weak will, a defiant will, the preferred ease of a familiar way, a “don’t rock the boat” attitude, or the time it consumes?

In John’s gospel, Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”

Does this sound easy to you?

Jesus wants us to be like that dying grain, losing its shape, smallness and hardness, renouncing the old to transition towards growth, fruitfulness and purpose. Jesus describes a big change for us.

That re-formation is not imposed on us by God. Jesus’ teaching describes a spiritual transformation that requires cooperation in an extraordinary exchange between oneself and God.

When we comply with God, God meets us. We yield the stronghold we mistakenly think we exert over our lives. We don’t like to concede to anyone. Our will is at stake. When we realize that we need to, it may feel like our own personal hill.

Although we make a reasoned choice to “die to self” in conceding our self-preoccupation over to God, sooner or later it dawns on us that something has happened and we have changed. We’ve reached the top of our hill and found a new view. Following Jesus becomes more central to our lives, more desirable, and remarkably, even easier.

Jeremiah 31:33 prophesies, “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

He emphasizes the difference, symbolically, from the old covenant that was inscribed on unyielding, cold stone tablets, the Ten Commandments. It was external, a command and duty.

The new law would be inscribed on our responsive hearts of flesh, not on lifeless stone. It is internalized love for God, self, and his creation. God accomplishes that for us! It is a profound transformation. Jesus’ promise (John 12:32) that once He was lifted up and would draw us to himself, reassures us to risk letting go of our fear-filled control. So close to Jesus, how much safer could we possibly be?

Whether named deeper conversion, yielding, surrender, or by the Greek word, metanoia, all entail repentance and reorientation towards God and his way. His way becomes more our own; the law written on our hearts. It is an acceptable change well worth the momentary struggle to let go and give the hills and rocks to God.

The grain, cracked open for God’s will to emerge with new life and fruitfulness, enables our new heart to level our attitudes towards the hills of our lives.

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family ties graphicmary hood hart photo

How does a parent know the right use of power?

Parenting is powerful. New parents are awed and overwhelmed, sometimes terrified, by the power invested in them.

First and foremost, parents participate in creation. What an astounding event to actively participate in — the creation of a human life.

Believers recognize they are co-creators with the divine creator. The awe is enhanced when we acknowledge we share in a divine enterprise.

Even those who attribute conception and child-bearing strictly to a scientific cause still feel amazed by the astounding process. Even if not fully aware at their children’s conception, all parents at some point in the process of parenthood recognize the power and responsibility invested in them.

From ensuring an infant’s basic needs are met to providing emotional and physical development of a growing child, parents recognize early on how much power they have over their children. That power extends throughout adulthood, even late into a parent’s life. Cruelty from a parent hurts even adult children.

A parent doesn’t have to be involved in a child’s life to be powerful. An absent, irresponsible parent still has power over his or her child. A child’s life is influenced by all kinds of parenting — from active, responsive parenting to absent, neglectful parenting.

From loving, gentle care to angry abuse, all ways of parenting mold a child. That child, even as an adult, will be forever affected by his parents’ power.

Early on, parents are tempted to abuse their power over their children. Manipulation and dominance are two forms of abuse that manifest themselves easily, sometimes when the parents aren’t aware of the abuse.

An example of manipulation would be a parent’s using fear or guilt as a way to control a child’s behavior. Claiming “The police will put Mommy in jail if you don’t put on your seatbelt” is an example of attempting to manipulate a child through fear.

The classic “Eat your green beans; children are starving in Africa” is an example of manipulation through guilt.

Domination, another misuse of power, occurs when parents use their size (physical threats), their voice (yelling, screaming), and extreme punishment (unjust consequences) as discipline.

Many parents are tempted to dominate the first time their children exhibit some rebellious behaviors. Rebellion of some sort typically begins in toddlerhood and continues through the late teens.

Some parents consider physical correction a necessary component to ensuring obedience. I find it does more harm than good. In my view, to spank a child for misbehaving sends a very confused message. It says: hitting is okay when Mommy uses it to teach you, but you must never hit.

Most enlightened parents attempt to use their power as a way to support, affirm, and guide their children. They recognize within themselves their human tendency to misuse power to get what they want from their children, especially under stressful circumstances.

They recognize that an impulsive use of power is not in the best interest of their family. They try to avoid impulsive punishment by preparing and conveying rules and outlining reasonable, sustainable consequences for their children — whether the consequences are time-outs or a withdrawal of privileges.

Difficult as it may be, they allow their children to experience unpleasant consequences for their misbehavior.

Ironically, parents, the most powerful people in a child’s life, must learn to accept that they are ultimately powerless. As a child matures, parents know their power to control their child dissipates with each passing year.

If pro-creation has allowed us to participate in God’s enterprise, accepting our vulnerability to heartbreak and accepting our ultimate powerlessness complete the process.

By giving his children free will, God has chosen to relinquish power. Without dominance or manipulation, God guides, forgives, sustains, and loves. This is the divine nature of parenthood, which we imitate only through God’s grace.

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barbara hughes photoin light of faith graphic

St. Joseph, hear our prayers

It was a Saturday morning and my friend and I were cleaning our parish church; something we did every month. My husband and I had just returned from a trip to Alabama where he had accepted a new position and we were nervous.

While we were there we bought a house even though our current home had been on the market for over three months and nothing was happening. We had always been very cautious when it came to spending and so purchasing a new house before our present one sold was completely out of character for us.

However, we had three young children, the youngest being six months old, and we had decided that we would move as a family whether the house sold or not.

With reality setting in, my friend picked up on the panic in my voice and told me about the practice of burying a statue of St. Joseph to hurry the sale of a house.

This was 35 years ago and I had never heard of the custom and it all sounded more like superstition than spiritual practice. I responded by saying, “I’m not into burying statues; however, I will say a prayer to St. Joseph.”

So before I left the church, I lit a candle before the statue of St. Joseph, asked him to please sell our house before we had to move and drove the short distance to our home.

Less than 10 minutes later, I was relating the story to my husband when the phone rang. You guessed it. It was our realtor and the voice over the phone said, “You won’t believe this but I have a contract on your house.”

She proceeded to tell us that a couple who had come through our home during the first open house three months earlier had called and said they were coming by to put in an offer.

They had been looking all this time and said they just realized ours was the house they wanted. When she asked if they wanted to come by and look at it again before signing the contract, they said, “No, we’re sure this is the house we should buy.” And they did.

Every time the Feast of St. Joseph, which the Church celebrates on March 19, comes around, I am reminded of the way this quiet, humble guardian of the Holy Family came to the aid of our family. Can anyone question his power as an intercessor?

And yet, we know so little about this quiet carpenter of Nazareth. None of his words are recorded. Vital statistics such as age, life circumstances prior to his espousal to Mary, and time or circumstances surrounding his death are unknown.

Everything we know about him has been written about him by others. What we do know is that he was a just and honorable man who was entrusted with caring for the Son of God and his Mother. And from that has emerged a portrait that inspires all who reflect on this gentle saint.

Joseph was among the first to share in Mary’s faith in Jesus as having been divinely conceived. The bond of sacred charity that existed between him and Mary was grounded in genuine charity, and once he understood his role, Joseph’s surrender to the will of God was as unconditional as Mary’s.

Though he was spared witnessing the death of his foster son, he was present when Simeon foretold the sorrow that awaited his dear wife and his heart must have ached for her.

As any human father would, Joseph must have wrestled with feelings of guilt when Jesus went missing for three days. But when he and Mary found Jesus in the temple, Joseph was silent. He deferred to Mary to confront Jesus. Rather than a sign of weakness, his silence is an illustration of his humble strength.

photo: An oil painting of St. Joseph by Guido Reni is found in the Basilica of San Giovani e Paolo in Venice.
An oil painting of St. Joseph by Guido Reni is found in the Basilica of San Giovani e Paolo in Venice.

Memorare to St. Joseph

“In this confidence I come to thee, my loving protector, chaste spouse of Mary, foster father of our Savior and dispenser of the treasures of His Most Sacred Heart. Despise not my prayer, but graciously hear and answer my petition.”

Joseph understood his mission. He was chosen to protect Mary and Jesus, but pride never caused him to overreach what God was asking of him. As head of a household, St. Joseph is a role model for all who have positions of responsibility.

Devotion to the saint began in the East and can be traced as far back as the 4th century Coptic monks. When the Carmelites migrated from the Holy Land in the 12th century, they brought devotion to St. Joseph to Europe and from then on devotion to the saint spread.

St. Teresa of Avila said she never prayed to St. Joseph for anything that she didn’t receive and named the first Carmelite monastery she founded after this beloved saint.

Over the centuries, devotion to St. Joseph as protector of families, patron of workers, patron of the dying and some would say patron of realtors has grown. In 1847 Pope Pius IX added to the litany by proclaiming St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, a truly fitting title.

Prayers and devotions to St. Joseph abound. Today with the sanctity of marriage at an all time low and the Church weighted down by the sexual abuse crisis, I believe his patronage and intercession are more important than ever. And so, we do well to pray, “Remember, O most illustrious Patriarch St. Joseph, on the testimony of St. Teresa, thy devoted servant, that never has it been heard that anyone who invoked thy protection or sought thy assistance has not obtained relief.

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