A married couple was celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. At the party, everybody wanted to know how they managed to stay married so long.
The husband responded, “When we were first married, we came to an agreement. I would make all the major decisions, and my wife would make all the minor decisions. And in 60 years of marriage, we have never needed to make a major decision.”
We have to make decisions and choices every day. Some decisions and choices are minor. Others are major and more complicated. When we have to make decisions, minor or major, we make some kind of discernment. Discernment is the ability to reason and clarify before making decision to choose what is of good quality and what is not; what is right and what is wrong. Once we know it is the right thing to do, we choose to do it.
Last week, I received this note from a family in the parish.
Dear Fr. John
As time pass by, we try to learn more about it. So we believe that as part of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, we need to communicate that our 1st born died at age of 29 yrs., single, was going to graduate from college this year. He was at home. He suddenly fell back on the couch. We call 911. They worked on him for almost 30 minutes. He had a massive heart attack. Now we only have our younger son 21 years old. We are working our best to understand why? And don’t be resentful, especially with God. His name is Nicholas Cormier.
As we are preparing to celebrate Christmas, we are reminded of God’s love for us. Christmas is the time to remember that God is with us. Emmanuel means God is with us! But we do not see the presence of God all the times. When things are going well for us, we can easily say “Thank You! God.” But when things are not going well, how do we cope with it? We might wonder:”Where are you, God?”
In the Gospel’s reading today, Matthew tells the story of the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s side. Mary and Joseph is an engaged couple. They have not yet lived together. To his surprise, Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant. Today the news of an unwedded prospective mother would hardly raise eyebrows. But in the days of Joseph and Mary, it was a bomb!
Joseph knows that the child is not his. The baby must belong to another man. And according to the code of his culture, he is not allowed to take the child of another man. He has nothing to do with this child. So what is he going to do? He can be angry and mad; he can accuse Mary of being unfaithful; he can accuse her of being a liar; he can accuse her of being a disgraceful woman, and a hypocrite; he can accuse her of being an adulterous woman. He can kick her out of the house; he can divorce her and expose her to the authority for public shame and disgrace. He can make her family lose face in the community. He can disown her. She could be stoned to death. Joseph has every right to do all of these, but he chooses to do none of these things. He has a beautiful heart. He does not want to harm Mary in any way. He also does not want to harm the baby in her womb as well. The baby is an innocent child. Being a righteous man, he cannot take her; he also does not want to cause any further harm to her. He does not want to make any noise. He does not want to say any hurtful word. So he decides to divorce her quietly.
What we can learn from Joseph is not wanting to do anything to hurt the other party and the innocent life; even he has every right to do so. His heart is full of compassion; there is no anger in him or evil in him.
We also appreciate and admire the courage and devotion of Mary in consenting to be the mother of Christ. She must be very trusting to give her consent to the angel in saying, “I am the Lord’s servant; may it happen to me as you have said” (Lk. 1:38). Who is going to believe her, a fifteen years old girl, to say that God has made her pregnant, and the child she is carrying is God’s son? If she insists, they would consider her being crazy, irrational, lying or self-conceited. She might end up in a psychiatrist ward or be stoned to death. She knows very well that she can neither explain nor defend herself before others. At the same time, she also does not fear or worry for her life. She is just being quiet. She believes that it is God’s work, and she let God handle it. This is an incredible faith, totally trusting and totally surrendering to God.
Joseph is non-judgmental, sensitive, considerate and compassionate in his relationship to Mary. He has all the reasons to accuse Mary, but he just decides to leave her quietly. And in his relationship to God, he is a man of good faith. When the angel visits him and tells him to take Mary his wife into his home. “For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. He should name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21-22). With no question, no doubt, no hesitation and no protest, Joseph accepts Mary and takes care of her. So, when God wants him to accept her; he accepts her. When they have to go to Bethlehem to register; he takes her to Bethlehem. When God wants him to take Mary and the Child to flee to Egypt in the middle of the night, he is on his way. When God wants him to bring them back to their homeland; he goes. Joseph is an obedient young man. He is an ideal husband; and Jesus has a godly “father” in Joseph.
Christmas is an expensive celebration. Many of us have spent hundreds or thousands of dollars to buy gifts for our friends and loved ones. Christmas celebration also reminds us the cost that God has to spend on us by giving his only Son to us. It also reminds us the price that Joseph and Mary have to go through to bring Jesus into the world for us. God has chosen Joseph, a righteous and compassionate man, and Mary, a courageous young woman to be parents of God’s Son. Both of them completely put their faith in God and dedicate themselves to each other and to the caring for their son. They neither lose their faith in God nor their compassion for each other even in times of great crisis and difficulty. They are willing to pay the cost and to commit themselves to be the parents of God’s Son.
A 15 years old girl wrote to Abby Article last week.
Dear Abby: “I am 15, and my parents have fought constantly for years. Dad is an alcoholic. I guess you could say I have kind of given up on him. Dad has now left us. He still calls Mom just about every day, and he stops by the house to “check up” on things about three times a week.
“Mom forced me to send him a 'Happy Birthday' text. She wants me to start talking to him again and to build a relationship with him, but I think he has missed out on too much of my life already. I don’t feel I need him in my life, or that he deserves me in his. What should I do?” (Let Down by Dad, Kansas).
This young lady is disappointed and angry at her dad. She is confused and not sure how to relate to her dad. She is not ready to spend or invest further emotionally in relationship with her dad. When crisis and difficult situations are on your way, how do you deal with it?
It is easy to trust in God and to love one another when everything is smooth; and there is no conflict or crisis. But the examples of Joseph and Mary in the Gospel’s reading remind us that we can learn to show our love and compassion to one another especially when there is major crisis and difficulty in life. When life is cloudy and stormy, when your spouse or children make serious mistakes and you decide to still love them because it is the right thing to do. This is the cost of true love and true faith.