Today is the Solemnity of St. Joseph. I learned that solemnities are the highest of feast days celebrated in the Church and are usually reserved for the most important mysteries of the faith (catholic.org). I also learned there is a tradition called “St. Joseph’s Table.” The story is in medieval times there was a severe drought in Sicily. The people prayed to St. Joseph to intercede for them. Rain came, saving them from starvation. In thanksgiving, the Sicilians created a table filled with food and treats and shared the abundance with the poor. Today, St. Joseph’s Table is celebrated with family, friends, and, in some way, the less fortunate. The Table itself, giving the impression of a makeshift altar, has three tiers, representing the Trinity and steps leading to Heaven. The top tier has a statue of St. Joseph surrounded by foods like fish, sesame bread formed into shapes such as St. Joseph’s staff, bean dishes like lentils and fava beans, lots of sweets, citrus fruits, and wine. The lower tiers often have flowers, candles, and a basket of prayer intentions (Get Fed & Catholic Company).
What a beautiful tradition, truly. St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, is very much a hidden figure for the most part. We learn about Joseph in the early life of Jesus in the Gospels. Protecting the child Jesus and His Blessed Mother Mary from Herod’s killing of the innocents and providing for them at their little home in Nazareth. I have grown very fond of St. Joseph. He is a model for more than just fathers and men. He has helped teach me how to joyfully work in the shadows. Not seeking worldly praise or status from accomplishments. He is the head of the Holiest of Families and his greatness lies in the everyday life we hear little about. It is not the stuff of great tales that Joseph is a part of and yet, he features significantly in the only real tale that matters. The very true life of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Unexpectantly but uncoincidentally I believe, a group of us on the team took part in our own version of St. Joseph’s Table tonight on this His Solemnity. One of the girls is from Lebanon. When her mom comes to Denmark, with falafel scoop in hand, she invites us all over for a traditional falafel night. It is a young tradition at this point but cherished among us whose bellies find much joy in this simple dish. A dish, funny enough, that was created during this time of Lent by Coptic Christians. Without meat for forty days, early Christians found sustenance in mashing chickpeas up with other beans, vegetables, and spices to create the delicious falafel.
So here we all are in 2022 in Denmark at the Table during Lent eating homemade falafel. On the Solemnity of St. Joseph. A Norwegian. A Dane. Americans. Ukrainians. And Lebanese. Young. Very Young. And old (aka young in spirit). All at one Table together. Friends and family, and in a lot of ways, the poor. We may not be among the materially poor, as we are all very fortunate, but we are among the spiritually poor. All of us in need of healing and love. All of us in need of a Savior. All of us in need of the invitation to the one Table. The Table Jesus sets for sinners and saints alike. The Table that truly breaks barriers between people. Football might have brought us together, gave us friends and falafel, but it is faith giving the foundations.
There is another Table I read about somewhere a world away but not so far indeed. A Table where a family with a child with Down Syndrome welcomed medical students into their home as they were on their pediatric rotation. They had come to learn about children with disabilities. It is the home of Julia Becker, author of To Be Made Well. In an excerpt from chapter 9 of her book, Mrs. Becker describes this night. As the conversation at dinner went on, the students admitted that when they were asked which out of four different types of disability they would want least for their child, Down Syndrome was the least desired. However, spending time with Penny and her family changed their understanding of what it is like to live with Down Syndrome. The students, though they knew it would hurt Mrs. Becker and her family, told them Down Syndrome had been their least desired because after spending the night with their family, their hearts had been changed. They were humbled. They valued another human being much more, in this case a human being with Down Syndrome. Mrs. Becker goes on to describe how she could envision Jesus there at the kitchen table telling the medical students their heights of intellectual ascent did not make them more precious to Him than this “little girl with glasses, a speech delay, and hearing loss.”
“The kingdom of heaven had come among us, for just a moment, when those students saw Penny as a gift, as a beloved child. A little act of repair happened when we bridged that dividing line between patient and doctor, intellectually astute and intellectually disabled, between those admired and esteemed by our society and those deemed ‘abnormal’ and undesirable.”To Be Made Well chapter 9
I put up this dividing line between us at one point, dad. I deemed your disability undesirable and thus your fatherhood. I was concerned with being admired and esteemed and having a disabled dad did not fit the picture. And I have done the same with others. I have been very careful to associate myself with the “right” kinds of people. Very much like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They scoffed when Jesus welcomed the un-esteemed and looked-down-upon members of society to His Table. How could Jesus be seen with these people let alone eat with them? This thinking wounds us as humans more deeply than we know. We…I place myself above others based on merits I measure myself by. The same intellectual astuteness the medical students cherished themselves led to Down Syndrome being the least desirable disability. In the immense amount of time we spend thinking in comparisons, we enslave and diminish our own humanity. We desperately want to be free, yet at the same time, are afraid. What are we without comparisons? Who am I if I am not better or worse? Smarter or more athletic? Less pretty or less womanly? More or less able? God does not think in comparisons. He sees us all as gifts, His gifts. His beloved children. Each with our own uniqueness and commonalities.
I am desperate to be healed of this thinking. Of this heart position.
Break the barriers in my heart, O Lord. Free us all from seeing each other as more or less. Let us see each other as You see us Loving Father. Let us all gather at Your Table as Your beloved children.
Your disability was intensely challenging for you and our family, dad. There is no mistake about it. But it would be a mistake to dismiss it as just that. You were a gift with and without your physical disability. Your fatherhood was a gift with and without your physical disability. Your life remained a gift to not only our family but our close circle of friends when you suffered from the loss of motor ability in your body. This is the truth of all lives. Disabled or not. Poor or rich. Esteemed or not. In the spotlight or hidden. Normal or abnormal. Intellectually astute or not. Athletic or uncoordinated.
Just as our little falafel Table tonight, the Table for all humanity is founded on faith. Faith in the one true God who does not say “you are too this or not enough that” but “you are My child.” Listen and hear. “You are My child.” “You are My child, Penny with glasses and a speech delay. You are My child, Lyle with a weakened body and feeding tube. You are My child, Andrea, Kaylan, Izzy, Isa, Nicole, Marina, Lili, Lili’s mom, Kaleigh, Macy, Kelly, Kyra, Lauren.”
Listen and hear. All life is a gift. Let us be healed of our thinking in comparisons and statuses. The same ranking of status that put me above my dad and the medical students above Penny is the same ranking that causes me to walk away from the dirty and disheveled poor person on the street, the same ranking that causes us to value one skin color over another, the same ranking that can compel us to pit a mother against her unborn child and give out “rights” as if in a competition with one another.
“Don’t be afraid of yourselves! Don’t be afraid of all that you are, in your human reality, where God pitches His tent to dwell with you…God with us. God with your reality. Open yourself to it without fear. Only in the measure you discover yourself will you discover the depths of His love. In the depths of what you are, you will experience that you are not alone. Someone, lovingly and mercifully, has entered into the mystery of your humanity, not as spectator, not as judge, but as Someone who loves you, who offers himself to you, who espouses you to free you, save you, and heal you… To stay with you forever, loving you, loving you!” [Jesus](Anonymous Spanish spiritual writer- dialogue with Jesus)
“My beloved, you are My child. Come to My Table.”
I love you dad,