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How Old Was Saint Joseph? Part II

Now that we’ve looked briefly at the case for Saint Joseph as an older man in our last post, how about the other side of the argument? Is it possible that Saint Joseph was a younger man when he became the adoptive father of Jesus? Under this view, it would still be possible to hold the opinion that Joseph knew about Mary’s prior commitment to consecrated virginity, or (far more unlikely) that they were planning a “normal” marriage prior to Mary’s discovery of her unique vocation to be the Mother of the Messiah?

Here’s what St. Josemaria Escriva, who had a tremendous devotion to St. Joseph, said about the matter in a homily about St. Joseph in 1963:

“I don’t agree with the traditional picture of St Joseph as an old man, even though it may have been prompted by a desire to emphasise the perpetual virginity of Mary. I see him as a strong young man, perhaps a few years older than our Lady, but in the prime of his life and work…You don’t have to wait to be old or lifeless to practice the virtue of chastity. Purity comes from love; and the strength and gaiety of youth are no obstacle for noble love. Joseph had a young heart and a young body when he married Mary, when he learned of the mystery of her divine motherhood, when he lived in her company, respecting the integrity God wished to give the world as one more sign that he had come to share the life of his creatures. Anyone who cannot understand a love like that knows very little of true love and is a complete stranger to the christian meaning of chastity.”

I suppose an important question in this debate is this: How old is old? perhaps a type of “hybrid” view makes the best sense. For example, Joseph could have married Mary when he was about 25-30 years old (with Mary being, in all likelihood, no more than 16, according to the majority of New Testament scholars). Joseph would have still possessed a relatively “young body”, as St. Josemaria put it, able to withstand the rigors of the flight into Egypt and the journey back to Nazareth some time later. He would have been capable of working hard for many years and protecting Jesus and Mary, as well as providing for their necessities.

The average life span of men in the first century in the Roman Empire was considerably less, however, than what we enjoy today. Thirty years later, when Jesus began his ministry, it is more than concievable that Joseph, approaching sixty, may have already passed away.

Tell what the Lord has done for you

Today’s Gospel reminds us of the incredible power of Jesus the exorcist. He casts out a “legion” of demons from the Gerasene demoniac. There have been many modern scholars who wish to rebrand the New Testament cases of demonic possession as merely misdiagnosed mental illness. The thinking is that the ancients had no concept of such diseases,as we “enlightened” 21st-centry people do. This theory is preposterous on many levels, but there are two facts in this particular case that make such a diagnosis impossible.

One, as those who study demonology know, those possessed by malevolent spirits often exhibit enormous physical strength, disproportionate to their natural capacities. In this case, check.
Also, the fact that Jesus sent the demons into the pigs, who rushed headlong over the cliffs into the sea (what a hogwash!), is an objective physical manifestation that cannot be explained away by an interior, subjective mental state.

The freed man is so grateful to the Lord that he desires with all his heart to join the Apostolic band – the hierarchy of the nascent Church, if you will. But Jesus says no. That’s not his vocation, as it were. Jesus wants him to engage in a personal apostolate, telling everyone he meets about what Christ has done for him.

We are all called to the same mission. Our baptism demands that we seek two things: holiness and apostolate. If we don’t have that fiery passion to tell others about Christ, we may be in danger of falling into lukewarmness and eventually spiritual death.

Break those fetters, your own chains of fear that prevent you from speaking to your friends about the Lord. As Saint Paul says in another place, “the word of God is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:9).

Tim Tebow and The New Mass Translation

I have written elsewhere in these pages about Tim Tebow, and let me say on record that I’m a fan. To say that Tebow is the most polarizing athlete of our time is no understatement, and much of this is due to the way he articulates his faith. Robert Mixa, over at the fantastic Word on Fire blog, makes some very thought-provoking comparisons between the way Tebow speaks about his beliefs, and the new English Mass translation – both of which are making some people very, very uncomfortable. You can check it out here. Be sure to leave your thoughts in the combox below. Big HT to Jasmin Lemieux-Lefebvre (@jasminll) for alerting me to this story.

Authenticating the Resurrection of Jesus: the Jerusalem factor

The ResurrectionThe Bible is refreshingly clear about what is at stake if the Resurrection of Jesus didn’t happen: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith…but Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 20). Today, Easter Sunday, is the first day of the Octave of Easter (in the Church, it is as if Easter lasts as one continuous day until next Sunday), with the rest of the liturgical season of Easter to follow. So, over the next while, I’ll offer some solid reasons why we can be certain that Jesus indeed rose from the dead. Keep in mind that these facts are accepted by the vast majority of critical scholars, be they believers or not.

Reason 1: The Jerusalem factor. When the Apostles began publicly preaching that Jesus had been physically resurrected from the dead, it is not as if they began by travelling to some faraway land, to tell people who had no means of investigating the veracity of the event. It wasn’t like “Star Wars” – “Let me tell you about something that happenned ‘a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.'” No, the Apostles began proclaiming the Resurrection in Jerusalem – the very city where Christ had been publicly killed. There is simply no way they could have done so if it were not true.

It’s instructive to note the response of the religious authorities of Jerusalem to this message: they didn’t say, “Jesus isn’t risen! He’s still in his tomb – and let us show you hs remains and put an end to this foolishness once and for all”. Their response was actually to say, “The disciples stole the body”. In other words, the enemies of the Gospel message admit the reality of the empty tomb. This response is noted in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28 (vv. 11-15), where it is said that “this story (of the stolen body) is told among the Jews to this day” (v. 15). Saint Justin Martyr, in his “Dialogue with Trypho”, notes that this response was still commonly heard among Jews in the mid-2nd century when he was writing.

In the next post, we’ll examine more evidence that Jesus rose from the dead in his physical body, leaving an empty tomb behind.

The Biblical Basis for Infant Baptism

I cringed inside when I saw the YouTube video. A friend of mine was getting baptized – for a second time. Why would he do that, you ask? He would explain during the video. The clip was from a testimony he gave just before getting rebaptized in a non-Catholic congregation. He spoke of how his original baptism in the Catholic Church had occurred when he was a mere infant. He had obviously had no choice in that matter – and what’s more, he called infant baptism “unbiblical”. But this second baptism would be of his own volition, and would prove his own personal commitment to Christ.

I cringed because this second baptism, unbeknownst to him, was ineffectual. Baptism is an unrepeatable sacrament. But I also had to laugh, because I had made the same mistake. Like my friend, I had grown up Catholic, but was poorly catechized. I, too, had left the Catholic Church at approximately the same age as this friend – in my early 20s. And I, too, had been rebaptized in a non-Catholic setting, affirming that “believer’s baptism”, as it is known, was the correct praxis. I, too, had made the same speech about how unbiblical infant baptism was. But little did I know.

In today’s Gospel reading at Mass, we have one of the scriptural proofs for infant baptism:

People were bringing children to Jesus that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced the children and blessed them, placing his hands on them.

– Mark 10:13-16

Infant baptism is done in the Catholic Church because we refuse to prevent children from coming to Christ. This is for many reasons, but I will highlight only two, lest this blog post become a small book:

1. The Covenant includes children, and

2. They need it.

1. The Covenant includes children. In the Old Covenant, children were included in God’s family, Israel. All male children entered the Covenant by means of circumcision. The New Covenant people of God are incorporated into his family by means of baptism, which replaces circumcision. This is why Saint Peter preaches at Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children…” (Acts 2:38-39, emphasis mine). Entire households were baptized in the early Church as a matter of course (cf. Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16).

2. They need it.

Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.

– Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1250

Understanding the Creation Accounts in Genesis

Creation in GenesisPope John XXIII, before he was elected Pontiff, served as a diplomat. One evening, he was introduced at a function to a rather scantily clad woman.  “Here”, the future Pope said to her, “Why not take a bite from this apple?” The lady looked at him quizzically. He responded, “If you eat it, perhaps, like Eve, your eyes will be opened and you will realize you are naked!”

The Old Testament readings at Mass these days have been selected from Genesis. They deal with the origins of man and woman, nakedness and fig leaves, good and evil.  There are several things we as Catholics need to understand about this book, and one of them is this:

The first three chapters of Genesis deals with the creation of the world from a poetic perspective.

Now, before anyone asks, I want to get one thing straight: the Bible contains real history. The Gospels, for example – biographies of the life of Jesus, who truly lived and died and rose again on planet earth. The Acts of the Apostles – the history of the early Church. There are, of course, many historical books of the Old Testament as well.

A key to biblical interpretation is this: understand the genre that you are reading. You don’t read poetry (Like the Song of Solomon) as you would a historical narrative.  The problem with Genesis is that it is a hybrid of history and poetry (the first three chapters on Creation).

Catholics don’t run into the same sort of problems that some non-Catholic Christians do in dealing with creation from a scientific perspective (i.e. the young-earth theory, creation in six literal days, etc.). We see no conflict between faith and science. Some of the greatest scientists in the world were Catholics. A great number of craters on the moon, for example, are named for Jesuit scientist-priests who discovered them.

Science only describes how things work in God’s creation. But it can’t tell you the whys – the reason for our existence, and that of everything else. Genesis 1-3 does exactly that, using poetry. Genesis 1-3 is not a scientific document, or a documentary on how God created the universe and humanity. We know that it isn’t, for one simple reason (and there are more): the writer or writers of Genesis weren’t there, “in the beginning” to take notes!

But poetry can also communicate God’s truth, just as history can.

Christopher West, who has written so extensively on Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, has a great way of explaining this: He says that there’s a big difference between what an optometrist (a scientist) tells you when looking in your eyes, and what your lover tells you when doing the same thing – unless, of course, you’re in love with your optometrist! But what both are seeing is true – just from different perspectives.

The writer of Genesis was a lover who sees the deep truths of why God made the world – and us. It was so that we could be in relationship with him.