by Fr. Pat McNulty.
I just finished reading another book and thought its title would be great for my biography.
Whatever it is, put it on hold, Reverend. I’ve already got a title for yours.
I’ll bet you do, but how about this one: "The Long Life and Gentle Way of the Elephant"?
I knew it: this bio-graph-y rut you’re in took you over the edge. Bio-graphy-s of elephants!
Good gracious, no! Animals don’t have biographies—and PS they don’t have bio-graphy-s either! I’m talking about a pocket-size children’s book in a wonderful series about the animal world.
But listen to this paragraph and tell me it doesn’t remind you of a wonderful person we both know. (Ahem.) "Regardless of their size (ahem), elephants move about gently and quietly. They are very intelligent (ahem). With their strength and wisdom (ahem), they walk the world without fear."
I suppose you want me to say it reminds me of you, right? Well, actually it reminds me of an elephant, Noah! So, what is it with you and this bio-graph-y thing?
Well, I wasn’t really sure myself until I had been reading them for a while and became more acquainted with people who had lived around the same time I did, or at least in some early part of the 20th century.
As I read, I saw the difficulties they had to overcome in their lives, too. I saw how they dealt with their ancestral blessings and flaws and how some fell through the cracks of those flaws, and their lives were a disaster.
There’s enough bad news all around me all day. I don’t need to read about other people’s bad news. That would depress me.
It could have depressed me, too, I guess, but before it had a chance to, I realized that something was going on in me as a result of all these biographies, but I didn’t quite know what it was until I was doing some bible study and had to read the Gospel of St. Matthew.
And this time, it was the very first chapter by which Matthew opens the life of Christ that really caught my attention.
Incidentally, we read it every year on the first day of our liturgical Christmas count-down, December 17th. It’s that one about so-and-so begot so-and-so who begot somebody else who also begot so-and-so.
Ugh! I never could figure that one out. I love that story about the minister who was asked by somebody in his congregation what that one was all about an’ he said, "Don’t rightly know, but I do know one thing: there was whole lot a begottin’ goin’ on."
Well, I never got the begottin’ part either until a number of years ago when I started working on my family tree, my family history, my genealogy. Until then, I had never known how much life was hidden in my own ancestral lineage.
I knew about the life of my immediate family and living relatives. And believe me, with my mother and father’s immediate family put together, there would be enough for a soap opera.
But it wasn’t until I seriously looked into my own genealogy that I began to realize that my life also included the lives of individual people who are now deceased, people whose lives were filled with all sorts of plots and sub-plots and twists and turns that somehow touched my life as well.
And gradually I began to realize what a holy, mysterious, messy thing my ancestral history was. And, soon enough, I began to realize what a holy, mysterious, messy thing my life history is.
And then one day with this begottin’ gospel passage, I finally really heard the opening line for the first time, "A genealogy of Jesus Christ."
Here it was: the holy, mysterious, messy earthy roots of the incarnate Son of God!
And if you know your Scripture, you know all "this begottin’ goin’ on" is filled with saints and sinners, whores and hermits, kings and queens, the wise and foolish, the great and the small, the wounded and the fallen and the "pick-em-ups-and-start-all-over" folk of a profound genealogy from within our history of faith.
Yes indeed-y, there were some tacky folk in there if ya know yer Bible. But even though they may-a been Jesus’ ancesters, they weren’t Jesus hisself. He done rose above all that!
That, my friend, is the mistake too many people make about Christ. True it is, he had no sin. True it is, he was the divine Son of God. And, true it is, we cannot measure his personality or his history by our own.
But the reason the Spirit moved St. Matthew to give us this wide open genealogy of Jesus Christ is so that we would eventually know without doubt that he was fully human just as he was fully divine.
We may never get those two together in our poor little minds, so we need to shore up our sense of Christ’s divinity by all sorts of divine events in the Gospels.
But every now and then, as the Church does, we also need to read this earthy genealogy of Jesus Christ. And we need to focus for a while on all those people to see just how holy, mysterious and messy their lives really were, just like yours, just like mine, and in some very biblical way, just like the incarnate Son of God’s.
I think this genealogy of St. Matthew is the Holy Spirit’s clever way of bridging the gap between our sense of Christ’s divinity and our sense of his humanity.
Well, what do you tell people who can’t put a bridge over that gap, Reverend? How do you git them to start thinkin’ about all them weird ancestors and their effect on his life?
I have found that the best way to make people think a little more about all of that is to ask them this question right off the bat:
What kind of history, family, neighbourhood, gifts, talents, education, health, income bracket, would you choose for your child if, like God, you were totally free to pick it all before ever he or she was born? Whose life-history would you "wrap your kid up in?"
And whatever their answer to that question, I’ll guarantee you one thing for sure: none of them would pick what God picked for his Son. Period. End of discussion.
I find that question at least stirs up some "religious" curiosity which can be the beginning of faith. But even for us dedicated Christians, until we realize more fully that God has made his Son fully human and fully divine, there is something in the faith in us that is not complete. It’s either too divine or too human.
That’s one of the reasons why I read biographies, or bio-graphy-s as you are wont to say. I want to stay in touch with life as it really is. And sometimes something as silly as The Long Life and Gentle Way of the Elephant makes connections for me, bridges a gap and draws me deeper into the mystery of the human-divine life of Christ.
Elephants? So now you find Christ in animals? Does yer bishop know about this, Reverend?
Well, Christ never had a problem with animals being part of the mystery and messiness of his earthly life.
If you look real close at that Bethlehem moment, from the sheep in the field to the animals at the manger, and if you take a good whiff of what’s going on there, you will see that animals are there to make sure we never forget what a messy, human life the divine Son of God was born into.
And PS, that, after all, is what the "merry" in Merry Christmas is all about: real God become real Man.
Amen to that, Reverend! I must admit I never cared for that "Happy Holiday" thing at Christmas neither. So, "Merry Christmas!"
And, Merry Christmas to you, my friend. By the way, what was the title you said you had for my biography?
Ahhhhhhhhhh, let’s just stay with "Merry Christmas" for now, Reverend. OK?
If you enjoy our articles, we ask you to please consider subscribing to the print edition of Restoration; it's only $10 a year, and will help us stay in print. Thanks, and God bless you!