Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Holy Family

The feast of the Holy Family is tomorrow. It is normally the first Sunday after Christmas but this year that is the Solemnity of Mary, so we move things about a bit. My own perspective on the Holy Family is blended with my Italian heritage. My ancestors are originally from southern Italy, mainly Calabria (that's the tip of the boot folks).

In southern Italy and Sicily there is a very strong devotion to St. Joseph. My middle name is Joseph, so I grew up hearing folktales from all over Italy that concerned Joseph and the Holy Family. I also do a St. Joseph's Altar each year, and venerate Joseph as one of my favorite saints. That all being said, there is a folktale that is at once inspiring and theologically disturbing.

An excellent telling of the story is in Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino. It is called the "Devotee of Joseph" and is from Verona. In brief:

There is a man who is devoted to St. Joseph. In fact he ignores all others for Joseph and venerates no other saint. In fact, he acted as if Our Lord and Our Lady did not exist. When he dies, St. Peter will not let him into heaven. Peter Explains that he has ignored all the other saints, and even Jesus. The man asks to at least see St. Joseph and Peter allows it. Joseph is very pleased to see his devotee and tries to bring him into heaven. When Peter objects, Joseph says, "Let him in or I'll take my wife and son and move paradise somewhere else." Peter decides that since Joseph would take Jesus and Mary, it would just be better to let the man inside.

Now that is foaming at the mouth messed up from a theological point of view. Joseph is obviously recieving adoration and not veneration, and he is really ok with that in the tale. And the idea of Joseph just moving paradise, is so absurd that it's funny. I could rant for hours, saying words like Latria and Dulia and making my co-workers worry about me, just on the idea of somone thinking that is how veneration of a saint works. I'd go another hour after I realized that, that is how a large number of people think it works. I'd then go another hour after I relaized that a large number of non-Catholics think that because a large number if Catholics think it works that way. At that point, I'd be really tired and play a video game.

There is however something deeper in the story; The beautiful and indissoluble, bond of marriage. The story is a bit over the top, but in it is the basic lesson that family is forever. Not in the Pachino and De Niro kinda way, but the Catholic way. Jesus, Mary and Joseph...a model of love for each other, and love for God. The greatest models of fidelity to Grace and obedience to the word of the Lord are all there in that family. It is, perhaps, one of my favorite images.

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