In a dream. Matthew 2:13
29 December 2019, The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Ecclesiasticus 3:3–7, 14–17, Psalm 127(128):1–5, Colossians 3:12–21, Matthew 2:13–15, 19–23
I have never been so tired than I was in my first year of religious life. During the 30 minutes of afternoon lectio divina each day, I was overcome. Day after day, I drifted in and out in a curious mix of faux contemplation and muddled embarrassment. My brothers called it nap-tio divina.
For those given to dozing, there is comfort in the prayer of St Joseph. Four times he received weighty visions. Four times they came in sleep. From St Joseph, we learn that the efficacy of prayer hinges, not so much on our awareness, as on God’s goodness. As St Therese once recalled, “When doctors perform operations, they put their patients to sleep.”
And yet, we can’t help but think that this sounds like a rationalisation. Just because he, like his Old Testament namesake, dreamed prayerful dreams, that doesn’t mean I should presume on God to do the same for me. Perhaps his were the culmination of an otherwise attentive prayer life. Who’s to say he didn’t make an exemplary Holy Hour?
But, here we arrive at a mysterious dimension of St Joseph’s sanctity. We can’t know how good he was at praying. What we do know though is that he showed up. He showed up for Mary. And, he showed up for Jesus. And frankly, that’s about all we know. And, his fidelity—by God’s grace—made him a saint.
So, though we should never despair of alert and attentive prayer, we have to begin and end with fidelity. Your prayer may improve. It may not. What is paramount is that it not cease.
Good St Joseph, intercede for me, that by remaining faithful to prayer, I may avail myself of all God’s graces. Amen.
Fr Gregory Pine OP
The Two Trinities – Bartolomé Estaban Murillo (1617–1682)
“The Two Trinities”, c. 1675–1682. Oil on canvas, 293 x 207 cm. The National Gallery, London.
During the penitential liturgy of the Mass, we sometimes call upon Christ as “Son of God and Son of Mary”. Murillo’s famous and enigmatic painting, The Two Trinities, encompasses this double reality. I find the subject matter enthralling. Murillo is at his best. He was one of the leading artists in 17th-century Spain. He came from Seville, painting mainly religious subjects for churches and chapels. Sadly, but ironically, his death in A.D. 1682 resulted from a fall from a scaffold in the Capuchin church of Cadiz (there was no third party liability insurance in those days!)
Murillo was ranked second to Raphael and influenced, among others, the English painters Gainsborough and Reynolds. But, the emotional serenity of his subjects—tender Holy Families, lovable infant saints, graceful Madonnas and Immaculate Conceptions—belies the turmoil of his private life and the society in which he lived. The youngest of 14 siblings, his parents died when he was nine, and he outlived his wife and all but three of his nine children. From A.D. 1635, Spain was constantly at war; in A.D. 1649, half the population of Seville died from the plague, and there was a popular uprising in A.D. 1652.
None of this turmoil is evident in Murillo’s works. He could well be a patron for our own troubled times, times in which we must cling to some immutable realities—and Murillo is naming them: The Trinity of love, the Incarnation (the expression of God’s love), devotion to the Mother of God and the saints (those who lived out God’s love).
The philosopher, Simone Weil, a favourite of St John Paul II, wrote: “You cannot be born in a better epoch than that in which all has been lost.” This gives me great comfort, and perhaps Murillo would know what she is saying. Yes, the world around us seems to be tumbling down. We must now start living out what we used to simply take as “givens”. We can no longer hide behind “institutions”.
The Church is not an institution amongst institutions— and if the “institution” of the Church has died, well and good. What is the Church? Murillo subtly tells us—the Church is the family of God. The Trinity is a family of three Persons, loving and knowing each other so perfectly that they are One divine God. This unity in the Trinity is perfectly reflected in the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. What unites the three is, of course, their obedience to God’s will. “I come to do your will,” (Heb 10:7) says Christ on entering the world—a reflection of his Mother’s “let what you have said be done to me” (Lk 1:38). Joseph remains silent in the Scriptures, but his actions speak for themselves: “When Joseph woke up, he did what (the angel of) the Lord told him to do” (Mt 1:24). The great rosary priest of the 1950s, Fr Patrick Peyton, used to say: “The family that prays together stays together.” A family at prayer will always work out their differences, and a family will never be closer to each other than they are at the moment of receiving Holy Communion together. The closer we are to Christ, the closer we are to each other.
This last point is symbolically portrayed in Murillo’s painting by the union of hands—Christ’s with his parents. We often use a throwaway phrase without realising its impact: “I’ve got the situation in ‘hand’—God’s hand.”
Murillo glorifies St Joseph—protector of Our Lady and earthly father of Christ. On earth, he represents God the Father. Notice in the painting that Joseph is the only character who directly addresses us. It is almost as if it is he who presents this scene to us—the Celestial Trinity mirrored on earth by the Terrestrial Trinity. It is a message to all fathers of their irreplaceable influence, especially on their sons.
The artist places the Christ Child on a set of stone steps, so that the Holy Family form an apex (a symbol of the Trinity). Perhaps Murillo is alluding to the prophecy of Isaiah: “I lay in Zion a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation” (Is 28:16). And, this is what we need in the upheaval of the present times—a sure foundation.
Monsignor Graham Schmitzer
Fr Gregory Pine OP is the assistant director for campus outreach with the Thomistic Institute in Washington, DC, USA. He served previously as an associate pastor at St Louis Bertrand Catholic Church in Louisville, KY, where he also taught as an adjunct professor at Bellarmine University. Raised in Philadelphia, PA, he attended the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Upon graduating, he entered the Order of Preachers in 2010 and was ordained a priest in 2016. He holds an STL from the Dominican House of Studies. He is a regular presenter on the podcasts: Pints with Aquinas, Godsplaining, and The Matt Fradd Show.
Monsignor Graham Schmitzer recently retired as the parish priest at Immaculate Conception Parish in Unanderra, NSW. He was ordained in 1969 and has served in many parishes in the Diocese of Wollongong. He was also chancellor and secretary to Bishop William Murray for 13 years. He grew up in Port Macquarie and was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph of Lochinvar. For two years, he worked for the Department of Attorney General and Justice before entering St Columba’s College, Springwood, in 1962. Fr Graham loves travelling and has visited many of the major art galleries in Europe.
With thanks to the Diocese of Wollongong who have supplied the weekly Advent and Christmas 2019 reflections from their publication, The Way – Advent & Christmas Daily Reflections 2019. You can read the reflections as they are published here.