Sunday, December 25, 2011

11-12-25: Christmas Vigil Mass

Christmas Vigil Mass

Isaiah 62:1-5 / Pslam 89 / Acts of the Apostles 13:16-17,22-25 / Matthew 1:1-25

At the Vigil Mass for Christmas we read Matthew’s account of Jesus’ genealogy. Ever since I joined I’ve come to appreciate the gospel accounts of the genealogies of Jesus more and more. “Genealogies” is in the plural because there are two, one in Matthew and one in Luke; they both trace Jesus’ lineage through Joseph , not Mary - but they don’t match. This, even though Jesus’ virginal conception is explicitly attested to only in those same gospels of Matthew and Luke. So you might agree these accounts of ancestors pose a dilemma, not only for later Christian faith which claims the necessity for belief in the Virginal Conception, but also for the integrity of the gospels themselves. The anomalies they present to the curious call for someone the likes of a Hercule Poirot to solve.

As someone with two genealogies I think I can understand what Matthew and Luke may have been trying to accomplish. I remember as a teenager being pushed by my mother to make a family tree. I never got very far but, long afterward while on a vacation to Ireland, I found the town of my father’s ancestors and took a lot of pictures of storefronts and tombstones that carried the Brosnan name. All this, despite the fact that I was adopted and therefore not linked to these names by blood. Many years later I found myself back in Ireland, this time researching my birthmother’s family in a different part of Ireland – the North – a bit astonished to discover I was of Protestant ancestry, a fact which would not have sat well with my adoptive parents had they still been alive. Somewhere along the line, however, after emigration to America, my forebears became Catholic and paved the way for my unwed mother to baptize me Catholic before relinquishing me to adoption through a Catholic agency.

When I joined and plugged in all the names I knew from my birthmother’s background I allowed my family tree to be viewed by other on-line members. Within two weeks I was in contact with Bob, a gentleman who turned out to be my second cousin once removed (I think I’ve got that right): his great-grandfather was my great-great grandfather – who, it turns out, was murdered while a night watchman for a New Jersey Railroad and buried from the Catholic Church, though he’d been married in a Protestant one. A few months back Bob and his wife came to visit me all the way from New Mexico – they’re transplanted Pennsylvanians. He showed me some photographs of his side of the family as well as a very old photo of our common ancestor, Henry Jones, from the turn of the nineteenth century. It reminded me of the time when I had been searching for my birthmother but first found a trail that led me to a friend of her brother’s who had been a Jesuit priest at Georgetown and had long-since died. This classmate of my uncle’s, who had been his best friend, took out a photo album with pictures of him and my uncle. It was the first time I had ever seen a picture of someone related to me by blood. I know it sounds a bit superficial – but that was one of the most memorable moments of my life. Now, through Bob, and, I was seeing the face of someone who was indirectly responsible for me being alive.

Matthew and Luke needed to “prove” their theological point about Jesus being the fulfillment of human and Jewish history. They also were acknowledging indirectly the need for Joseph, the adoptive dad, to provide a name and a legal fiction for Jesus and Mary, saving them both from what would have been an impossible situation. The other aspect of such genealogies that can be quite comforting for someone like me born illegitimate, whose mother was not married and whose father was long gone, is the fact the names that hang on Jesus’ family tree are not unlike my own. Isn’t it significant, for example, that Matthew mentions David’s son Solomon, “whose mother was the wife of Uriah.” He could have simply said Bathsheba but he didn’t want people to forget that Solomon was the product of adultery mixed with murder. If these characters can be claimed as the ancestors of someone like Jesus himself, need any of us feel ashamed of the ancestral baggage we carry, or worry that the sins of our parents and grandparents make us – or them - any less worthy of God’s love and mercy.

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