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Protecting Children and the Vulnerable

St. Joseph

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

One of the central figures in our Christmas celebration is St. Joseph. Yet in the Bible we read no word that he spoke. We are simply told some things that he did.

He is called a “just man.” One way of describing justice is that it involves “right relationships,” giving each person what is due him or her. Joseph is called “just” because of the way he treated Mary when faced with the puzzling situation of her pregnancy. Of course, he gets some divine help through a dream. “Do not be afraid to take Mary,  your wife, into your home.”

I do not get direct messages in dreams or from angels and so I don’t know what this was like for Joseph. But he got the message and followed it. He basically became the protector of Mary and Jesus. He was also probably a practical man, a carpenter, used to working with his hands. So, just, practical, hard worker, loving father: not a bad person to get to know.

From a few lines in the Bible, a great tradition of devotion has developed in the Church. And now Pope Francis has decided to dedicate the coming year to Joseph: a time for all of us to reflect on our experience. How are we doing at justice: treating each person with respect? How are we at paying attention to the subtle hints of the Holy Spirit in our decision making?

How are we at caring for and supporting the people close to us? St. Joseph, be our guide.

The Child Inside

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

In the “secular” seasonal song, “The Christmas Song,” it says, “So I’m offering a simple phrase, to kids from one to ninety-two . . .” and it goes on to wish us a Merry Christmas. “Kids from one to ninety-two” includes just about everybody. All us kids.

It seems to me that the things that touch us about Christmas tap into feelings and memories that begin in childhood, where we first learned about Christmas. For children, it starts with the externals: Christmas trees, lights, Santa Claus, “getting” presents, cookies, candy. But if our family was at all religious, soon the basic meaning of the day is woven into the whole picture: the birth of Christ.

Much of my feeling of Christmas is about music, starting with the classic carols. My Mom played the piano and I can still remember the carol book she used at the piano. I imagine I sang along. But there is something nostalgic about Christmas music, especially the religious kind, which tugs at me, and I never tire of it. I’m sure this tugging taps into childhood memories, as well as experiences I have had since.

I would guess that, as we get older, we can become a bit jaded, and tend to set aside “the things of a child.” I would caution against that. I suggest that, at Christmas time, when we get a vague feeling of nostalgia, warmth, a touch of joy, that we pay attention to that and give in to it. Such thoughts and feelings can lead us to further thoughts of the birth of Christ into humanity, and a call to express the Christian qualities of kindness, charity, good will, and true caring for others.

Our world badly needs those expressions toward all our brothers and sisters. They are childlike, but also mature in the best sense.

Gaudete Sunday

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

December 13 is the Third Sunday of Advent. The season zips by quickly. After all these years, I should not be surprised. It is not a long season, being only 26 days this year. It is shorter or longer, depending on the day of the week of Christmas Day.

But the shortness of the season is always a call to come back to the present moment, to this day (whatever day it is) to notice the Advent of God, of Jesus Christ, in this moment. We believe God is always present. We don’t always advert to that, especially when distracted by our problems, or maybe by our good times!

Traditionally this is “Gaudete” Sunday, from the opening Latin word of the liturgy: “Rejoice.” A few of us friars were recently discussing how we can be told to rejoice, by St. Paul and others. We don’t always feel like rejoicing. And yet it is part of our Christian tradition and spirituality to go deeper beneath our negative feelings to find a way of rejoicing in the presence of God. This may not be dancing or “jumping for joy,” but a quiet sense of trust and hope in God.

And so that remains part of the Advent call. Seek the presence of God in any moment. After 75 years on the earth, I still need reminders and encouragement. How about you? Gaudete.

Rejoice.

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