Wife Of A Carpenter
Miriam Hogan, O.C.D.
In our daily prayers we often ask our Lady, Queen and Beauty of Carmel, to pray for us. Now as Christmas approaches, other titles like "Holy Mother of God, Seat of Wisdom, and Cause of our Joy" quickly come to mind. All of these titles are good, and yet we also know that Mary was once known simply as the wife of the carpenter.
This year as Christmas approaches I am inclined to meditate on Teresa of Jesus' understanding of the humanity of Jesus and of her concern that as many people as possible are drawn to contemplative life and prayer. We know that her writings on prayer are especially devoted to the themes of humility and the humanity of Jesus. Given these facts it is not too hard to imagine her being able to appreciate the term "wife of a carpenter." Our Lady, Queen of heaven and earth, shows us the fullness of both humility and humanity. Her boy, and our Lord and Savior, was known as the carpenter's son, Joseph's son and the son of Mary. (Matt 13:55, Luke 4:22, Mark 6:3)
The Humility of Mary
In Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh's introduction to St. Teresa of Jesus' Way Of Perfection there is an interesting reference to Fernando Valdes, the Inquisitor General, who complained that "Louis de Granada was trying to write things about contemplation for mere carpenter's wives." Really! One cannot help but wonder how far out of touch the Inquisitor General was with scripture and with God's desire to come for everyone. Responding to this kind of thinking, St. Teresa was direct in her criticism of certain theologians "They want to be so rational about things and so precise in their understanding that it doesn't seem anyone else but they with their learning can understand the grandeurs of God. If only they would learn something from the humility of the most Blessed Virgin!" (Meditations on the Song of Songs - chap 6:7)
Another Carmelite, St. Therese (commonly known as the Little Flower) wrote, "For a sermon on the Blessed Virgin to please me and do me any good, I must see her real life, not her imagined life. I am sure that her real life was very simple. Preachers show her to us as unapproachable, but they should present her as imitable, bringing out her virtues, saying that she lived by faith just like ourselves ... She is more Mother than Queen.” (Last conversations, 8/21/1897)
To Deepen Our Understanding
Indeed, one of the marvelous things about Christmas is that it invites us to deepen our personal understanding of both the Incarnation of Christ and the place of his mother in our own lives. For as we admire the "grandeurs of God," made clear in the message of the angels, we also long to experience this divine presence in our own lives.
Presently, post Vatican II Catholic Social teaching places great emphasis on an "option for the poor." We know that Mary first of all lived this option in her daily life. She knows from experience about being not married and pregnant, a refugee, and the mother of a condemned criminal. She knows what it is to flee into the night for her own life and for the lives of her husband and child. She knows what it means to seek refuge in a foreign land and to long for one's homeland, to urgently seek for shelter and to be turned away, to lose a child and to find him again, and to see her child now a man suffer violence at the hands of others. With her example, it is no wonder that Christmas still has such deep meaning for people who are poor and suffering.
Furthermore, Mary also knew the joy of first looking into the eyes of Jesus and seeing his smile. Now as she did at the first Christmas, she shows us Jesus and invites us to pray by simply looking at him with love and letting him look at us.
This year, we can also offer a special prayer for our brothers and sisters in Haiti who are experiencing much human pain and suffering, and for those that are trying to help them. We know that our prayer will be heard by Jesus, who understands these things from His own life experience and from the experiences of his mother and foster father.
The Mystery Of Christmas
Finally, as I meditate further on the mystery of Christmas today, I pray that our present day theologians will better connect to both carpenters and their wives, and encourage and support their desire for contemplative prayer.
We know by faith, that such intimacy with God is available to us all. Furthermore, this intimacy is happening even now, in a world where Walmart greeters are allowed to say "bah humbug" but forbidden to say Merry Christmas, and more joyfully, in a diocese, where the Bishop does his own carpentry work!
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