Today in Lent Madness, we head back to the time of the "bleak midwinter" to encounter Joseph of Holy Family fame and then zoom up to the 19th century to meet an English poet, Christina Rossetti, who coined that very phrase. To the outside world this is an unlikely pairing. To us, it's just another day of Madness during the season of Lent.
Yesterday, in the most lopsided matchup thus far in Lent Madness 2016, Constance rolled over Dominic 77% to 23%. Or you could say that she swatted him away like a pesky mosquito, if you want to get technical about it. Thus setting up the first confirmed battle of the Saintly Sixteen as Constance will face Helena with a shot at the Elate Eight.
While an impressive margin of victory, you may be curious where this ranks among the annals of Lent Madness blowouts. Last year King Kamehameha of Hawaii spanked William Laud 84% to 16% and in 2013 Florence Li-Tim Oi, the first woman ordained in the Anglican Communion, defeated Chad of Lichfield by the same percentage. Talk about your hanging Chad…
But the greatest blowout in Lent Madness history, percentage-wise, came in the very first year this devotional started. In 2010, Francis of Assisi defeated Aelred of Riveaulx 87% to 13% in the Elate Eight. For the record, Francis lost to Julian of Norwich in the Faithful Four that year before redeeming himself by winning the Golden Halo last year while Julian lost in the final to the first ever Golden Halo winner, 17th century priest and poet George Herbert. There's your Lent Madness history lesson for the week!
A devout Anglo-Catholic, Christina Georgina Rossetti was a fascinating English poet of the nineteenth century, embodying numerous contradictions. Her poetry, influenced by the Oxford Movement’s notion of restraint, subtly hints at the great Christian mysteries, and this ambiguity has left her writing open to a diversity of interpretation. Friend of feminists and fallen women, Rossetti nevertheless was opposed to women’s suffrage, perhaps because of her commitment to the church’s enshrined male hierarchy. Her poems are considered profoundly romantic, yet two of her romantic affairs ended because she would not compromise her beliefs to marry a Roman Catholic or an agnostic.
Although a cheerful child, at age fourteen, Christina suffered a nervous breakdown, followed by fits of depression. Some Rossetti scholars believe the breakdown was caused by Grave’s Disease, which plagued her later in life.
Though she lived a quiet, private life, Rossetti sat for several paintings by her brother, Dante. In 1848, she was the model for his oil painting, The Girlhood of Mary Virgin.
Her most famous collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems, appeared in 1862, when she was thirty-one years old. In it she explores the theme of consumption, possibly reflecting the Oxford Movement’s emphasis on the eucharist. She is also known for her love poem, “Remember,” and for the words of what became the popular Christmas carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter.” Her works enshrine femininity as an ideal religious state, and since the 1970s feminists have held her up as a genius poet, offering constrained critiques of male authority while maintaining her devotion to the Church. In her later life, Rossetti primarily wrote devotional prose and children’s poetry. She died in 1894.
Collect for Christina Rossetti
O God, whom heaven cannot hold, you inspired Christina Rossetti to express the mystery of the Incarnation through her poems: Help us to follow her example in giving our hearts to Christ, who is love; and who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Very little is known about Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Mary receives the bulk of the attention paid to Jesus’ parents and parenting in both the New Testament and in tradition; Joseph is rarely discussed. Most of our information comes from a few verses in the Gospel of Matthew.
Jesus is described as the son of Joseph in the gospel stories of Matthew, Luke, and John. Joseph is not mentioned in Mark’s stories at all. Luke, who has high regard for Mary, marginalizes Joseph. Matthew finds Joseph’s Davidic lineage quite important. An early Christian text, the Protoevangelium of James, describes Joseph as an old man with older children when God calls him to take Mary as his wife. Perhaps there is some veracity to this tradition, and Joseph died while Jesus was still in his youth.
Joseph was tasked with an enormous responsibility that carried serious ramifications. The social stigma of an unwed couple with child was real. For this reason, Joseph, whom Matthew describes as a “righteous man,” initially planned to dismiss Mary quietly. One can also imagine Joseph’s incredulity when Mary promised him she was still a virgin. When an angel revealed to him that in fact the Holy Spirit conceived the child, Joseph’s response is one of total obedience to God. Throughout Matthew’s infancy narrative, whatever God commands, Joseph does word for word.
The delightful Infancy Gospel of Thomas describes the challenges of raising the Son of God. In this imaginative narrative, the young Jesus is an impetuous and dangerous child. Joseph, basically absent in the canonical gospels, is present and provides guidance. Joseph is wise and patient and active in damage control. Joseph’s steady hand helps guide the boy into maturity. By the end of the story, Jesus has grown from a holy terror into a young man who is in the temple teaching the elders.
Collect for Joseph
O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Christina Rossetti vs. Joseph
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