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Catholic Voice

 June 8, 2009   •   VOL. 47, NO. 11   •   Oakland, CA
Commentary

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Creativity can be a vital source of God’s grace
 
In St. Joseph is found a model for all fathers
 
Creativity can be a
vital source of God’s grace

In his novel, “Anil’s Ghost,” Michael Ondaatje creates a character named Ananda. Ananda’s wife had been murdered in the civil war in Sri Lanka and Ananda is trying to save himself from insanity and suicide in the face of this. How does he retain his sanity? Through art, creativity, by creating something.

We are either creative or we give ourselves over to some kind of brutality. Either we become artists of some kind or we become demons. For Ondaatje, this is our only choice. Is he right?

A good theology of grace, I believe, agrees with him. Why? Because we cannot will ourselves into being good people. We can’t just decide that we will be loving and happy anymore so than we can decide never again to be angry, bitter, or jealous.

Willpower alone hasn’t got that kind of power. Only an influx into our souls of something that is not anger, bitterness, or jealousy can do that for us. We call this grace and it, not willpower, is what ultimately empowers us to live loving lives.

Creativity, both in what it spawns within the artist and the artifact, can be a vital source of that grace.

But are artists and creative persons less violent than others? Do we see any special grace operative there? Generally speaking, yes. Whatever their other faults, rarely are artists war-makers. Why? Because violence despoils the very aesthetic order which artists value so much and, more importantly, because creating beauty of any sort helps mellow the spirit inside of the person who is creating it.

Simply put, when we are creative, we get to feel a bit of what God must have felt at the original creation and at the baptism of Jesus, when, looking at the young earth spinning itself out of chaos and the head of Jesus emerging from the waters, there was the spontaneous utterance: “It is good, very good!” “This is my beloved child in whom I am well-pleased.”

Being creative can give us that same feeling. The experience of being creative can help instill in us the gaze of admiration, appreciative consciousness, divine satisfaction.

Obviously there is a real danger in this. Feeling like God is also the greatest narcotic there is, as many artists and performers and athletes, tragically, have learned. In the experience of creativity, it is all too easy to identify with the energy, to feel that we are God or that art and creativity are themselves divine and an end in themselves.

The greater the achievement, the harder it is to properly disassociate ourselves, to not identify ourselves or the artifact with God. Creativity comes fraught with danger. But, that risk notwithstanding, we need, every one of us, to be creative or else we will grow bitter and violent in some way.

Moreover we need to understand creativity correctly. We tend to be intimidated by the concept and to see ourselves as not having what it takes to be creative. Why?

Because we tend to identify creativity only with outstanding achievement and public recognition. Whom do we judge to be creative? Only those who have had their songs recorded, their poems published, their dances performed on Broadway, their achievements publicly noted, and their talents discussed on TV talk shows.

But 99 percent of creativity hasn’t anything to do with that. Creativity is about self-expression, about nurturing something into life, and about the satisfaction this brings with it.

Creativity can be as simple (and as wonderful) as gardening, growing flowers, sewing, raising children, baking bread, collecting stamps, keeping a journal, writing secret poems, being a teacher, being cub-scout leader, coaching a team, collecting baseball cards, doing secret dances in the privacy of your own room, fixing old cars, or building a deck off the porch. It doesn’t have to be recognized and you don’t need to get published. You only have to love doing it.

William Stafford, the American poet, suggests that we should all write a poem every morning. How is that possible, someone once asked him, when we don’t feel creative? His reply: “Lower your standards!”

“Publish or perish!” God never gave us that dictum. The academic world did. God’s rules for creativity are different. Jesus expressed them in the parable of the talents: “Be an artificer of some sort or you will surely become a demon!”

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher, and award-winning author, is Presi-dent of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.)

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In St. Joseph is found a model for all fathers

As we observe Father’s Day, let’s not forget the head of the Holy Family. Given the prominence of his name in the history and geography of Christian society, St. Joseph naturally arouses our attention and commends our respect.

Since the feast of St. Joseph is celebrated on March 19, March has traditionally been observed as the month of St. Joseph. On May 1 we honor St. Joseph the Worker, a feast intended to highlight the dignity of every working person and the blessing of work as a means of improving the lives of all.

It is also important to recognize him on Father’s Day as a special model for all heads of households. These devotional observances remind us to recall the importance of Joseph’s place in God’s plan of salvation, and to renew our intercession for his assistance and protection

Joseph’s place in Christianity


Joseph of Nazareth shared like no other being except Mary in the mystery of the Incarnation, God becoming human. He was significantly involved in this sacred event of our salvation. Joseph was God’s choice to be the husband of Mary and the guardian of Jesus.

Little is known of St. Joseph. The infancy narratives in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke contain the only factual information about him in the Bible. Through Joseph’s genealogy, Jesus was heir to the Davidic promise. This established the Savior’s Jewishness, his messianic character, his historic reality.

Spiritually this indicates that Joseph shows us how we can receive the promised Savior, give him a place of dignity in our lives, offer him a family, and protect him.

The Gospel identifies Joseph as a carpenter. The Greek expression of the Gospel, techton, refers to a worker in wood, someone who made articles needed for village life, either domestic use or outdoor work, like frames for small buildings, simple furniture, and plows.

God manifested his will about the marriage of Joseph and Mary in a special way. Joseph was certainly not the physical father of Jesus. The virginal conception of the Savior was the cause of great anxiety for Joseph, but he was relieved of this upset by a mystical dream.

Catholic theologians and Biblical scholars have shown that Mary’s vow or promise of virginity was not incompatible with the Jewish mentality and practice of the time. The mystery of the Incarnation also exalted Joseph’s virginity.

In the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Joseph is called a parent and father when the Temple mysteries are recorded. His fatherhood is restricted to a legal context since the Presentation and the Passover were legal obligations. Significantly he is not called father until the Child is born and the birth proclaimed by a heavenly sign.

As Mary cooperated by faith and obedience, so did Joseph, who “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.”

Since Joseph’s death is not mentioned in the New Testament, Biblical scholars assume that he died before Jesus’ public ministry, or before Jesus’ passion and death. Otherwise why should Mary be entrusted to John?

From the earliest centuries of Christianity, St. Augustine and other Fathers of the Church wrote of St. Joseph. But the theology of his vocation, dignity, holiness, and intercessory power began to flower in medieval times; and the 17th century was a golden age for the development of Josephology. The enthusiasm of St. Teresa of Avila for St. Joseph was remarkable, vividly expressed in her writings, and perpetuated in the 12 convents she founded in his honor.

All the popes of modern times, from Blessed Pius IX in the 19th century until our present Holy Father, have issued substantial teaching about St. Joseph in their official documents.

Adding to the body of doctrine


Pope John Paul II added to this rich body of doctrine in 1989 with his inspirational letter, “Guardian of the Redeemer” (Redemptoris Custos).

He opened “Guardian of the Redeemer” with this explanation: “Inspired by the Gospel, the Fathers of the Church from earliest times stressed that just as St. Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model.”

He continued in the example of his distinguished papal predecessors.

By the decree “Quemadmodum Deus” (1870) Blessed Pius IX proclaimed Joseph Patron of the Church; and in his apostolic letter “Inclytum Patriarcham” he explained why and outlined a theology of Joseph.

The sketch of Pius IX was developed by his successor in “Quamquam Pluries,” and that encyclical letter of Leo XIII is the most important document on St. Joseph up to “Custos Redemptoris” of John Paul II.

Pope St. Pius X (Joseph Sarto) acted pastorally by composing a prayer to his personal patron and by approving the Litany of St. Joseph.

In 1920 Pope Benedict XV issued a motu proprio to honor the golden jubilee of the proclamation of Joseph’s universal patronage of the Church.

Pope Pius XI spoke often in his addresses of the merits, dignity, and power of St. Joseph, and invoked him as special protector against atheistic communism in the encyclical “Divini Redemptoris” (1937).

Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1, 1955, and composed a prayer about this title.

In his apostolic letter “Le Voci” (1961) Blessed John XXIII named St. Joseph “Protector of the Second Vatican Council.” On his own initiative, during the first session of Vatican II, he included Joseph’s name in the Roman Canon (First Eucharistic Prayer) of the Mass.

In a similar vein Pope Paul VI extolled Joseph in the life of the Church in his teachings.

Now, Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) continues in the footsteps of his predecessors to enhance the centuries-old appreciation of St. Joseph. And we can expect more.

As a result of this honored tradition, the accommodated Biblical directive (Gn 41:55) still rings true for all God’s people: “Go to Joseph!”

(Marianist Brother John Samaha is a retired religious educator who served in the catechetical office of the Oakland Diocese.)

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