Family Sunday Talk - Anne Marie Lee - 3 Jan 02 : LUSENET : Experience into Words : One Thread


I was invited to give a talk at the Masses in a suburban Parish on Family Sunday last. Since then I was relating the details of the event to a friend; telling her what I had said and the responses I got. I was quite animated as I told her my story. When I had finished she said "I'm reminded of a time when I was asked 'What is it about your faith that gives you energy, lights you up?' Where the energy is, that is where your own theology is." Thinking about this afterwards I realised - yes! She is right. When I talk to people about God, I tell them what is true for me, how I see it. This is my theology. Mine is a feminine theology but not feminist, if I may make the distinction. When I do this I feel energy flowing.

I would like to tell you what I talked about that Sunday, owning it as my theology. Always keeping in mind that my knowledge is seriously limited. What I know and believe I must share, both with those who have less knowledge if only to set them thinking,- and with those who have more knowledge so that I might be corrected and stretched to learn more.

From the time I began thinking for myself I had difficulty accepting the religious images handed down to me by family, school and Church. I was asked to speak at a Women's World Day of Prayer Service about fourteen years ago and I decided to take a risk and give them my picture of the Holy Family. To tell them how I felt Mary lived with her family in Nazareth. I likened Mary to a fifteen year old inner city girl who got pregnant. I was working in the city at the time. I got quite a mixed response. I wrote an imaginative meditation on the subject which I have used with many groups since and they are always somewhat amazed that I have given them permission to think differently, to look at things differently but respectfully.

Having since listened to Fr. Jerome Murphy O'Conner on the 'Historical Jesus' I feel confidence in my current image of the Holy Family. My purpose in giving this talk on Family Sunday was to shake people into questioning what they have always accepted without thinking. To make them think.

"We have in our minds an unreal image of Jesus' human family. It is an image which would be impossible for us to imitate. It is now thought that when Mary married Joseph he was much older than she was and already had a number of children from a previous marriage. Therefore, Jesus had half brothers and sisters the younger of whom were raised by Mary. Mary had only the one child, Jesus. She knew he was special but she didn't know in what way because he was just like any ordinary child.

If you take a look at the crib. Any woman who has had a baby would know that you couldn't look so serene, beautiful and calm an hour or so after the baby was born and kneel beside its crib surrounded by men. When you visit Bethlehem you will be shown a cave where Mary is said to have had her baby. This cave was somebody's home, and would have been quite comfortable.. People also lived in tents then, on the plains outside the town, and still do today. There wouldn't have been a man in sight at that birth. This was women's work and Mary would have been helped by her sisters, mother, or sisters-in-law, and the village midwife. When the baby was born someone would have run to tell Joseph he had another son. His most likely reaction, like any Irishman of the fifties and sixties, would be to call in the pals and have a drink. The crib is only about 1,000 years old and was the idea of St. Francis of Assisi, that is probably why we have animals in it.

Not long after Jesus was born the family moved to Nazareth to live. The reason for choosing this place was that it was about three kilometres from a place called Sephoris. At Sephoris a new city and a theatre were being build. The ruins of that theatre are still there today. There was plenty of work for carpenters, brick layers, plasterers etc. for the next few years. In other words there was secure employment. Men came to work in Sephoris from all parts of the known world and so, many languages were spoken on the site. Jesus' older brothers having learned carpentry from their father worked there with him. . Jesus' family was not poor by the standards of the day. Joseph and his older sons had work and therefore an income, some of which was saved towards dowries for his daughters. Girls of their class were not educated at school. It wasn't seen as necessary. They were taught the skills needed to run a home and raise a family when the time was right. They were then matchmade, husbands were chosen for them.

When he was six years old Jesus began school with the other village children. They were a Jewish family and followed all the normal Jewish customs of the time. The children were taught by a Rabbi. Jesus learned reading, writing, the Hebrew language and Jewish Scripture, which we now call the Old Testament. The family spoke Aramaic at home. That language is still spoken in a small area of Iraq today. When Jesus was old enough he would have gone to Sephoris most days after school to be with his father and brothers. This is where he is thought to have picked up some of the Greek language and learned the carpentry trade.

At the time Jesus lived Nazareth was very like an Afghan village of today. The men and women dressed in much the same kind of clothes as the Afghan people; long loose garments which kept them cool in the heat of the summer and warm in winter. There was no running water or electricity. Cooking was done on a stove which most probably burned animal dung because wood was scarce. Anyone who has visited Israel will know that there are almost no trees because the top soil is too thin. Water was drawn from a well in the village by the women. When the sheep were sheared, wool was spun, weaved and dyed by the women in the family to make the clothes. If you were wealthy you could buy most of the things you needed at the markets and you had servants or slaves to do all your work..

Most families grew their own vegetables. A goat or two would be kept for milk and from this they made cheese. They would grind wheat into flour for bread making. Most people operated the barter system . You always had something with which to pay for the things you wanted to buy. Maybe your neighbour could give you wine from his vineyard in return for oil from your olive trees.

Because of all the hard work she had to do Mary probably had rough callused hands and a lined weary face. She was constantly worrying about Jesus, he got lost in the Temple one time when he was twelve. They were in an awful state about him because he could have been kidnapped for the slave trade. Another time , when he was much older, Mary and some of his brothers went after him because they though he was behaving rather recklessly. When he first left home he went to his cousin John the Baptist and became his disciple. He was coming up to thirty and he wasn't sure what he was supposed to be doing. After staying with John for a couple of years John Baptised him and the Heavens opened and God spoke. "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased." Jesus seemed to get some direction then and split away from John, taking some followers with him and began his own public life.

There is very little information about Joseph. When did he die? He probably died while Jesus still lived at home. Jesus older brothers would have looked after Mary and the rest of the family financially until Jesus died. Before Jesus died he asked His disciple John to take care of Mary and she went with him to live out her days in Egypt.

This is the kind of family I feel I could attempt to live like. It was an ordinary, truly human family. There was all the usual squabbling, worry and loyalty that is normal in families."


Afterwards I was asked where was Joseph's first wife? A couple of people were fascinated that they had never though of how unrealistic the crib scene was. Others commented on how refreshing it was to hear a woman's view of things. There were many questions. And I acknowledge that it is all the work of the holy Spirit.

Anne Marie Lee Jan 3rd '02

-- Anonymous, January 03, 2002


Reading your homily Anne Marie, one sentence stood out for me "There is very little information about Joseph". it recalled the homily the priest gave on christmas eve in Rocklin C.A. It was based on an incident that happened in the 3rd grade at school the previous week. The teacher was putting on the christmas pagent, she had allocated all the parts; Mary ,Jesus . the wise men , the angels. the shephards. ;Then one little boy said, what about Joseph?/ she had forgotten Joseph... then, nobody wanted to be Joseph as he had nothing to say,, finally one little girl said, who needs Joseph anyway?? This was the theme for his homily, who needs Joseph? God needed Joseph to be the human father of his son on earth. Mary needed Joseph to provide for her and her son; Jesus needed Joseph as all children need a father; down the centuries Joseph has been the role model ,for families, for young husbands and fathers and especially for young men who don't run away when their girlfriend says she is pregnant.

He ended his homily by saying "everybody needed Joseph and we all still need Joseph today". One of the stark realities of life in Ireland today is so many young men commiting suicide; perhaps if they focused on Joseph, they might not so easily throw in the towel..

A word on homilies; I find it is the homily that is centered on a real life experience, and makes a connection with The Word in the Gospel is the homily that we can easily recall.In my experience there is a woeful lack of ability to preach in this way in the church in Ireland at the present time.. Any comments?? Rita.

-- Anonymous, January 11, 2002

We had no homily at Mass today as the priest got a fit of coughing and was unable to talk.. Should there not be a stand-in person available at all Masses to give the homily when the priest is unable to do so.??

A proper homily forwarded to each church, from a holy place like the Priory would not be too difficult with modern technology; it would have made a difference to our Mass this morning.

Rita frustration.

-- Anonymous, January 20, 2002

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