Podcast #21- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Saint Joseph gets some love too!
This week we start with our usual review of the past week and talk just a little about flash mobs and Christmas in July (more on that in July of course!). We mainly discuss the lives and times of Saint Joseph, Mary’s husband by most accounts. Unlike Mary there is little written on Joseph. We do know that from what is written there is little agreement. No definitive text exists to explain the life of Joseph. Was he a widow? Was he old? Did he and Mary ever consummate their union? Were they even married? We don’t offer answers but do discuss some plausible maybes. We leave open a difference on the actual divinity of Joseph. Did he have a similar connection to God as Mary and Jesus? More research will tell.
Mary is honored and celebrated by the faithful world-wide. She is the most holy of all women and we’ve discussed her various roles, most importantly in the Christmas story. Mary continued to appear to the faithful thousands of years after here lifetime. These apparitions are seriously investigated and researched by the church. Over 500 have been reported but very few gain the “approval” of the church.
The Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego in 1531. Diego was a poor old Aztec widower who lived in a small village near Mexico City. He was headed to mass one evening and passed near the hill Tepeyac. As he passed he heard music like the cries of birds and a cloud appeared. In the cloud was a vision of a native American girl dressed as an Aztec princess. She spoke to him in his native tongue and told him to go and see the Bishop of Mexico. He was to instruct the bishop to build a chapel on the site where she appeared. Diego went to the bishop and did as he was asked. The bishop asked Diego for a sign from the Virgin Mother. She again appeared to Diego and provided him roses, which were not in season, to take to the bishop as proof. Diego carried them in his cloak and when he reached the bishop they all spilled out. In his cloak remained an image of the Virgin Mary. This visit from the Holy Mother changed the church and still serves the peoples of Mexico, and the world, as an inspirational tale for god living. A basilica was built in her honor in Mexico and the image is kept there, even today.
Mary makes another unexpected appearance in 1858 outside the village of Lourdes in France. A poor young girl named Bernadette and her family were living in a local jail. Bernadette was out searching for firewood with her sister and a friend. They came upon a cave known as Massabielle. There Bernadette has the first of many sightings of the Holy Mother- a lady dressed in white with a blue sash ans yellow roses at her feet. There were nearly 18 additional visions. Many treated Bernadette with skepticism and lacked belief, including the local priest. The priest and all others were convinced when Bernadette shared that the lady told her that she was the “Immaculate Inception”. With no way for Bernadette to have known of that title or meaning, the priest was convinced. A spring was discovered on the site and healings occur on the site for the faithful. Lourdes is one of the most visited holy sites in honor of Mary in the world. Nearly 6 million people visit annually. Lucky for us here in Maryland that we can get to a local shrine in honor of Lourdes. The National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes is located in Emmitsburg, MD. It is the oldest replica of the original dating back to 1875. The gardens and grounds are beautiful at all times of the year. A peaceful walk to the shrine at Christmas can be very fulfilling!
A major feast is upon us. This Thursday Christians around the world will pause to celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Many know this feast as Candlemas, a term used due to the connection of candles with the day- more on that later. This feast is one of the oldest in Christendom, recordings of its celebration can be found as early as 312. The feast marks the end of the 40 day period begun with the birth of Jesus on December 25th. In the time of Mary, the Laws of Moses dictated that all firstborn children must be brought to temple for the ritual of the first-born. This was to purify the mother after childbirth. Mary and Joseph made their way to the Temple in Jerusalem. Practice held that a lamb would be brought to sacrifice by the young couple. Not having the funds for a lamb, Mary and Joseph most likely took the secondary option as outlined in Leviticus. If no lamb, then two turtle doves, young pigeons. [Another connection to the 12 Days of Christmas!!] At the Temple they encounter Simeon, who through his prophecy proclaims the baby as the Christ, a “light for revelation”. By the 6th century the date of the feast had been set as February 2nd, then known as the Feast of the Purification of Mary.
February 2nd! An important day for so many. It is 40 days since the birth of the Christ child. But it also lines up with some other key seasonal dates of importance. The second marks the half-way point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Many consider it the unofficial beginning of Spring, a time to plant and to focus on new birth or growth. It is the point of the return of light, signified with the lighting of large fires and candles (told you we’d get back to those). In Ireland the time aligned with the Gaelic celebration of Imbolc. This was a festival for the pagan goddess Brigid, later transformed to honor St. Brigid. St. Brigid was a nun who established the first Irish convent in Kildare. Traditional celebrations in Ireland include placing a loaf of bread on the window for the saint and an ear of corn for her cow. One other, more curious, connection to the date deals with witches! Covens often chose to initiate new members on this day because of the connections to renewal and birth. [Yes- there is another connection on the 2nd- we’ll tackle the groundhog tomorrow]
Back to the candles though. Candlemas includes a mass celebration with the blessing of beeswax candles. These candles are used to bring light into the world for the new year. Families and churches often have lovely displays of candles. It is a time to renew religious vows in the light of the newly blessed candles. Candlemas is another option to take down your holiday decorations, especially those of live greenery or plants. If you didn’t dispose of these items on Twelfth Night, Candlemas is the day to remove them, and then safely burn them. Superstition holds that to keep these items past the second will bring a death within the congregation before another year ends. Take time to clean out your fireplace and light a new fire too. New fire for the new purity! In addition to the candles and fire there are traditions involving food and more. Come back tomorrow to read more about the fun you can have on February 2nd!