RELIGION, NATION, MARRIAGE: THE LOYALTIES OF MEN
PRAY, WORK, STUDY, PROTECT: THE DUTIES OF MEN


Saturday, March 25, 2023

March 25: LADY DAY

[First published in 2015]

Some questions for Dr. David Pence on this Feast of the Annunciation:

If we had lived in England during the period between the 12th and 18th centuries, we'd be celebrating today as the beginning of the New Year, right? 
                                   
Yes, here we are, exactly nine months before Christmas. This is the day that Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit -- and the Word was made flesh.

Jesus Christ who has always existed as the Son of God is now, with the Virgin's "fiat," incarnated. He is begotten, not made. The human species has been welded to a Divine Person in the Trinity. The species now has an incarnated Head-a center of meaning and gravity that integrates humans in a Body that will incorporate us  forever in an interpersonal relationship of love.


Creation -- and specifically, the human species -- had reached its epitome!  (It will take about eight weeks for Baby Jesu in the womb to become half an inch in size.)

We need to have some rough figures in our head. Matter (the protons, neutrons, and electrons in all atoms) was created almost 14 billion years ago. The first life on earth—the first bacterial cell was imprinted by the Holy Spirit about 4 billion years ago.

The first parents of the human species were probably created around 150,000 years ago. But it is 2000 years ago that the fulcrum event of humanity occurred. This is the true Enlightenment: when God's plan becomes incarnate in a person. The Head takes form and the rest of history is us filling in His Body.  


Where is our species heading?

Our biological destiny is not to eventually produce some new successful mutant that will evolve into a higher form of life. Quite the contrary.

Our highest male and female forms have already appeared and the task before us is to now conform to them more perfectly. At the Annunciation the feminine form was so receptive, so attentive to the Spirit, so submissive to the will of God that her own flesh was incarnated by the Spirit begetting the Son. All of us, as males and females, are trying to bring our souls to that level of responsiveness to the Spirit and submission to the Father so we can play our roles.
                                     




You say that humans are a 'eusocial' species. What does that mean, and what does it have to do with Christianity?

Actually it has a lot  to do with the Body of Christ, the nature of the Eucharist, the meaning of the Church, and the analogical reality between the Trinity and the destiny of the human species. First, I must apologize that I have been unsuccessful in communicating this biological truth which is so clear to me in my head, but which I always fall short at explaining in print or during our conversations.

"Eusocial organism" is a descriptive term from sociobiology, which is the study of the social structure of animals. It's a kind of subset of the larger term ecology. You know how fish swim in schools and wolves run in packs with certain social roles. Well, there is a group of insects called eusocial insects in which the ties of sociobiology go way beyond the pack and herd structures of other animals. The eusocial insects tend to act as a single organism. Reproduction is highly restricted and (wonder of wonders) what distinguishes one sex from the other is not the presence of a sex chromosome (like the 'y' chromosome distinguishes human males from females), but one gender comes from fertilized eggs and the other are "virgin births." Unfertilized eggs become, for instance, male bees. The perfection of bees occurs in how they function as a single organism. The perfection of  human beings will be realized in how we participate as eusocial members of the Body of Christ.

Our alpha male whom we worship is of a virgin birth (parthenogenesis in biology). Our most basic sacrament binds us together by eating the flesh that makes us one Body. We are still persons but we are incorporated persons. In ecology there is another term called symbiosis: organisms living together in some deeply interrelated union. Let me just say these biological phenomena are deeply suggestive of the Trinity, and the interpersonal destiny of human beings in the Body of Christ.

On this feast day of the Incarnation we are celebrating the "engraftment" of the human species into the Second Person of the Trinity. It is true that God comes into the womb of the Virgin and develops, but this is just as Christ comes into us now as the food of the Eucharist. We are emerging as the eusocial organism which the human species was destined to be from the beginning. There are all sorts of physical lessons written in the book of nature which help us see how man's nature is so much more "plastic" (capable of being conformed) than the angels. Lucifer, to his great consternation, recognized what great things the Almighty had planned for His lowly ones.


What's the connection between the Greeks achieving their independence from the Turks, and the feast day we're celebrating?

Ever since the sack of Constantinople in 1453 (marking the demise of the Byzantine Empire's thousand-year run), Greece had been under the thumb of Muslim rule.

On this day in 1821, however, the war of Greek independence against the Ottoman Turks began when Bishop Germanos raised the flag of revolution over a monastery -- and 'Freedom or death' became the motto. The struggle took years but when all seemed lost, the British and the French and the Russians came to the aid of the Greeks. Finally in 1829, Greece became an independent state; and March 25th is their high holy celebration each year.

When you think of the Greek nation, it is fine to remember Pericles and the polis of Athens and Sparta. However, it is the height of ancestral impiety and religious amnesia to forget that the blood and arms that set the Greek nation free came in the name of Christ, not Socrates!




"Through the bottomless mercy of our God,
  one born on high will visit us
to give light to those who walk in darkness..."
              (Gospel of St Luke, chapter 1)




UPDATE: Take a look at this article on the Orthodox patriarch, and how the Russian believers celebrate the feast in Moscow's Cathedral of the Annunciation.

It will be a great American tragedy if we insist on blinding ourselves to the common Christian ties we have with the better and deeper part of Mother Russia.



A line from Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop:
"A life need not be cold, or devoid of grace in the worldly sense, if it were filled by Her who was all the graces; Virgin-daughter, Virgin-mother, girl of the people and Queen of Heaven: le rêve suprême de la chair  [the highest ideal of the flesh]."

Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Solemnity of Saint Joseph: Husband, Protector, and Patriarch of Israel

[originally published March 19, 2015]
                     

On March 19, 2013, the pontificate of Francis (the first non-European to sit in the Chair of Peter in 13 centuries) was inaugurated.  In his homily he accepted as his mission that of St. Joseph--to be custos: the protector. 

It is inspiring to read of his trust in Joseph, who taught our Lord what manliness and fatherhood looked like:
"... I would like to tell you something very personal. I like St Joseph very much. He is a strong man of silence. On my desk I have a statue of St Joseph sleeping. While sleeping he looks after the Church. Yes, he can do it! We know that. When I have a problem or a difficulty, I write on a piece of paper and I put it under his statue so he can dream about it. This means: please pray to St Joseph for this problem."
Pope Francis went on to say: “In the Gospels, St. Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness... [Exercising the role of protector as St. Joseph did] means doing so discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand... [The bishop of Rome] must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked St. Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people."

Joseph was the last patriarch of the Old Testament. He was the head of the household of the Lord. He is strong, virile, chaste and silent. He was the living link to King David and Bethlehem. He taught his son to love his country and he incorporated him in the Covenant rituals  of his countrymen.  He repeated the journey of the Israelites in and out of Egypt. He handed his son over on the eight day for the circumcision and naming. He took him to the temple on the 40th day and ransomed him from the death of the first born.  He saved the Virgin Mother and the Baby Savior from the murderer. He taught Our Lord the manual skills of the carpenter craftsman. He brought him to Jerusalem for the public feasts(and we are not sure he was as upset as Mary that Jesus stayed back to do some temple teaching at our Lord's own unique bar mitzvah).  Joseph is the patron of afternoon naps and a good night's sleep because that is when the angels gave him his orders. He is the patron of a good death because he was in the presence of Mary and Jesus when he died. God did not tempt him by keeping him alive for the Crucifixion of his son. We don't know what he might have done. He was not perfect. He would not have run away.       


UPDATE: Two other holy men who had a deep devotion to Joseph the Worker: Pope John XXIII (see his prayer); and Josemaría Escrivá (d. 1975), the Spaniard who founded Opus Dei. In 1955, Pope Pius XII responded to the Communist celebration of Mayday as International Workers Day by Christianizing labor with a May 1 Feast Day celebrating the carpenter craftsman - St Joseph the Worker. The Communist-Socialist holiday was in remembrance of the Chicago Haymarket Massacre in May, 1886.  

Father Escrivá wrote: "I don't agree with the traditional picture of St Joseph as an old man... 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."