Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Redemptoris Custos, II: The Guardian of the Mystery of God (9-16)

Sorry I have been away from my series on Blessed John Paul II's apostolic exhortation Redemptoris Custos. Please say some prayers for the success of my Eagle Scout project. I need the strength to push through and see everything through without wasting time, and people need to call me back, and I need to understand what they say the first time. I need to have my project wrapped up, and my troop needs to sign off everything by my 18th birthday. That falls exactly one month from today....

Here are parts 9-16 of Redemptoris Custos. I


The Census
9. Journeying to Bethlehem for the census in obedience to the orders of legitimate authority [the authority who were the actors, on account of our sin, for the death of Our Lord], Joseph fulfilled for the child the significant task of officially inserting the name "Jesus, son of Joseph of Nazareth" (cf. Jn 1:45) in the registry of the Roman Empire. [The really neat modern idea is that Kyrios Iesous, or Kyrios Iesous Christos, replaces Kyrios Kaisar. This title is used at least 4 time in the Pauline Epistles.]  This registration clearly shows that Jesus belongs to the human race as a man among men, a citizen of this world, subject to laws and civil institutions, but also "savior of the world." Origen gives a good description of the theological significance, by no means marginal, of this historical fact: "Since the first census of the whole world took place under Caesar Augustus, and among all the others Joseph too went to register together with Mary his wife, who was with child, and since Jesus was born before the census was completed: to the person who makes a careful examination it will appear that a kind of mystery is expressed in the fact that at the time when all people in the world presented themselves to be counted, Christ too should be counted. By being registered with everyone, he could sanctify everyone; inscribed with the whole world in the census, he offered to the world communion with himself, and after presenting himself he wrote all the people of the world in the book of the living, so that as many as believed in him [This is the chalice of the blood of the new and eternal covenant, shed for you and for many...] could then be written in heaven with the saints of God, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever, Amen."(28) [Jesus is the son of David in the least by the law, through Joseph's 'adoption' of him. Now, Matthew and Luke's genealogies work nicely together, so that he is also the son of David, through a younger son who is an ancestor of the Blessed Mother.]
The Birth at Bethlehem
10. As guardian of the mystery "hidden for ages in the mind of God," which begins to unfold before his eyes "in the fullness of time," Joseph, together with Mary, is a privileged witness [The Protestant depictions always seem to write him out.] to the birth of the Son of God into the world on Christmas night in Bethlehem. Luke writes: "And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn" (Lk 2:6-7).
Joseph was an eyewitness to this birth, which took place in conditions that, humanly speaking, were embarrassing-a first announcement of that "self-emptying" (cf. Phil 2:5-8) which Christ freely accepted for the forgiveness of sins. Joseph also witnessed the adoration of the shepherds who arrived at Jesus' birthplace after the angel had brought them the great and happy news (cf. Lk 2:15- 16) . Later he also witnessed the homage of the magi who came from the East (cf. Mt 2:11). [And, we can't speculate on Christ's infancy beyond what is in Scripture and what might reasonably be known about 1st century Jews. It's also signficant that Joseph doesn't speak very much.]
The Circumcision 
[Joseph is a father in every sense: religious, legal, advisory, teaching, save that of human biology.]
11. A son's circumcision was the first religious obligation of a father, and with this ceremony (cf. Lk 2:21) Joseph exercised his right and duty with regard to Jesus. [I have also seen it argued that it is a form of dispensing grace that allowed men entrance into the Limbo of the Fathers, if they then remained children of Abraham.]
The principle which holds that all the rites of the Old Testament are a shadow of the reality (cf. Heb 9:9f; 10:1) serves to explain why Jesus would accept them. As with all the other rites, circumcision too is "fulfilled" in Jesus. God's covenant with Abraham, of which circumcision was the sign (cf. Gn 17:13), reaches its full effect and perfect realization in Jesus, who is the "yes" of all the ancient promises (cf. 2 Cor 1:20). [It is then replaced, and expanded, by Baptism. The bloody sacrifices are of course replaced with the Eucharist.]
Conferral of the Name
12. At the circumcision Joseph names the child "Jesus." This is the only name in which there is salvation (cf. Acts 4:12) [This is why we bow our heads at the mention of His Holy Name.]. Its significance had been revealed to Joseph at the moment of his "annunciation": "You shall call the child Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (cf. Mt 1:21). In conferring the name, Joseph declares his own legal fatherhood over Jesus, and in speaking the name he proclaims the child's mission as Savior. [And this is in-between the events where Jesus' identity was revealed to the shepherds and the Magi.]
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
13. This rite, to which Luke refers (2:22ff.), includes the ransom of the first-born and sheds light on the subsequent stay of Jesus in the Temple at the age of twelve.
The ransoming of the first-born is another obligation of the father, and it is fulfilled by Joseph. Represented in the first-born is the people of the covenant, ransomed from slavery in order to belong to God. Here too, Jesus - who is the true "price" of ransom (cf. 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23; 1 Pt l:19) - not only "fulfills" the Old Testament rite, but at the same time transcends it, since he is not a subject to be redeemed, but the very author of redemption. [It is interesting to see how Joseph guards the Redeemer, and participates in the mystery, but is able to work with a limited understanding of the mystery.]
The gospel writer notes that "his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him" (Lk 2:23), in particular at what Simeon said in his canticle to God, when he referred to Jesus as the "salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel" and as a "sign that is spoken against" (cf. Lk 2:30-34).
The Flight into Egypt
14. After the presentation in the Temple the Evangelist Luke notes: "And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him" (Lk 2:39-40). [Fr. Ryan Erlenbush of the New Theological Movement blog commented upon this passage, because he did not become filled with wisdom like St. Joseph. After all, Jesus is God.]
But according to Matthew's text, a very important event took place before the return to Galilee, an event in which divine providence once again had recourse to Joseph. We read: "Now when [the magi] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him'" (Mt 2:13). Herod learned from the magi who came from the East about the birth of the "king of the Jews" (Mt 2:2). And when the magi departed, he "sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under" (Mt 2:16). By killing them all, he wished to kill the new-born "king of the Jews" whom he had heard about. And so, Joseph, having been warned in a dream, "took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, 'Out of Egypt have I called my son' " (Mt 2:14-15; cf. Hos 11:1). [This links Joseph the son of Jacob to Joseph of Nazareth. It also links the Exodus and Jesus.]
And so Jesus' way back to Nazareth from Bethlehem passed through Egypt. Just as Israel had followed the path of the exodus "from the condition of slavery" in order to begin the Old Covenant, so Joseph, guardian and cooperator in the providential mystery of God, even in exile watched over the one who brings about the New Covenant. 
Jesus' Stay in the Temple
15. From the time of the Annunciation, both Joseph and Mary found themselves, in a certain sense, at the heart of the mystery hidden for ages in the mind of God, a mystery which had taken on flesh: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14). [But both lacked the beatific vision, so they didn't quite get it, and indeed didn't dwell on the matter. Plus it was for their protection from Satan that they not understand the mechanism of salvation in full.] He dwelt among men, within the surroundings of the Holy Family of Nazareth-one of many families in this small town in Galilee, one of the many families of the land of Israel. There Jesus "grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him" (Lk 2:40). The Gospels summarize in a few words the long period of the "hidden" life, during which Jesus prepared himself for his messianic mission. Only one episode from this "hidden time" is described in the Gospel of Luke: the Passover in Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years old. Together with Mary and Joseph, Jesus took part in the feast as a young pilgrim. "And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it" (Lk 2:43). After a day's journey, they noticed his absence and began to search "among their kinsfolk and acquaintances." "After three days they found him in the temple [Prelude to the Resurrection], sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers" (Lk 2:47). Mary asked: "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously" (Lk 2:48). The answer Jesus gave was such that "they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them." He had said, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Lk 2:49-50)
Joseph, of whom Mary had just used the words "your father," heard this answer. That, after all, is what all the people said and thought: Jesus was the son (as was supposed) or Joseph" (Lk 3:23). Nonetheless, the reply of Jesus in the Temple brought once again to the mind of his "presumed father" what he had heard on that night twelve years earlier: "Joseph...do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit." From that time onwards he knew that he was a guardian of the mystery of God, and it was precisely this mystery that the twelve- year-old Jesus brought to mind: "I must be in my Father's house." [The mystery of faith is revealed incrementally, I think. It comes with age (as we acquire knowledge and direct it towards God's order, the sacraments and reception of grace, and more understanding comes as we work in our vocations. It's too much all at once.] 
The Support and Education of Jesus of Nazareth
16. The growth of Jesus "in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man" (Lk 2:52) took place within the Holy Family under the eyes of Joseph, who had the important task of "raising" Jesus, that is, feeding, clothing and educating him in the Law and in a trade, in keeping with the duties of a father.
In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Church venerates the memory of Mary the ever Virgin Mother of God and the memory of St. Joseph, [And in not just the Canon but in the other three Eucharistic Prayers used normally as well...though I prefer the Canon] (29) because "he fed him whom the faithful must eat as the bread of eternal life."(30)
For his part, Jesus "was obedient to them" (Lk 2:51), respectfully returning the affection of his "parents." In this way he wished to sanctify the obligations of the family and of work, which he performed at the side of Joseph.

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