Circumcision


It took something like 400 years before Mary was accorded the title of “Mother of God.”   Or so it stated this week on the Creighton University webpage.  In the words of Larry Gillick, S.J.,: “Central to the spirituality of ancient Israel is reverencing God through reverencing parents. This begetting human life is experienced as a participation in Divinity from Whom all life ultimately flows and returns. Mothers and fathers, instruments of sharing God’s Life by bringing forth life, are revered. A lamb is to be offered for the ritual sacrifice of atonement, but in the case of a poor couple, two turtledoves and two pigeons would do. The first child to be born is sacred and presented to the Lord, because that child opened the womb so that other children may also take their turn in being born. The ritual is complete.”

Perhaps confusing at a young age the Presentation under Mosaic Law with circumcision, I was always under the impression that at the time of the presentation, in the Jewish custom, a circumcision took place.  Catholics seldom learn the symbolism of the act of circumcision, based upon my own personal education over 16 years in American Catholic educational institutions. For most of my lifetime, January 1st was the Feast of the Circumcision – during all of the formal educational years. The actual circumcision was never discussed much to little kids in the parochial schools. And one hundred years ago, these Gospel readings were in Latin, so only the priest was supposed to understand. And there was then this culture of anti-semitism connected to the importance of the Hebrew Bible. Noteworthy in the way spirituality, circumcision in the Judaic culture is connected to male sexuality.  It is symbolic of the covenant, of God’s unconditional love and what was expected of a man in the way of fidelity.  To God.  To a woman.  Of course a man had to figure it all out in the growing years.  Or so I recall reading in a book by Jack Miles, the former Jesuit. It has been a few years.  Somewhere along the way, the significance of  circumcision as a religious act within the covenant was forgotten.  By the Christian world. And the name of this holy day, “when the days were completed for their purification, according to the law of Moses,” whatever that had been, went the way of the Legion of Decency.

Genealogy.  “Every man that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord.”  I loved the celebration of genealogy in the old name of this holy day.  It was in the genealogy that circumcision was connected. I am not sure why the church needed 400 years before Mary was accorded the title of “Mother of God.”   Or why it took about two thousand years before there became this re-named Feast of the Solemnity of Mary. It might be related to the battle within the church between the Vatican, with the nuns over women’s rights.

The Church of the East and the Church of the West, and their theologians, struggled then with a way to reaffirm through vocabulary for 400 years to adequately express the experience of the human presence of Jesus and the post-Resurrection experience of his divine presence. To a child, ‘circumcision” was just another big word, never looked up. Holy day after holy day honoring Mary, the priests at the local cathedral still struggle to express anything of significance, in my vernacular, in the way real people talk, in the 14 years I have lived near-by.  A girl gives birth.  It seems pretty straight forward.  The Mother of God.  

In the revelation in this Who-dunnit, in yet another Christmas season, there was the communicating:  By Gabriel.  In awe?  I have not looked at the passage lately (hey, I am Catholic) but had he been afraid to say the name of Mary?  Re-listen?  God in awe?  Afraid at the Annunciation to say the girl’s name?   A lot like the reason Jews spell the name of God as Y*w*h?

New parents in search of how to proceed amidst the world’s turmoil.  Why should Mary get a pass?  “This future was left in my hands?”  For any mother, motherhood was scary.  The Mother of God?  Forget the solemnity.  Now that was scary.  Which of the roads to take?   Where was the sign up sheet for early childhood development?

With this Creator, there was never an oldness.  God and His sense of humor.  It was about the “About” page.  Little by little, in day to day life, Mary had to figure out what this Mother of God role was all about.  At godspeed, described by writer Rebeca Solnit to be at a pace of 3 miles per hour, like any nomad walked.  “Hey!  Put away the knives.  He is gonna be the Messiah.  He doesn’t need to be circumcised.”  Or does he?  With this Creator there never was an oldness in the ritual. 

People forced to celebrate a new feast as the Solemnity of Mary, hearing of beautification and fluff, and not hearing of the reality of life on this planet.  Priests at the cathedral who seemed out of touch with reality, on some kind of spiritual marijuana.  Like all people who struggle in the world, there was the Mother of God.  How to handle a newborn in such a world.  With a Herod out there.  What parent knows?  Perfect people, husbands, wives, arguing over what exactly was human perfection. 

People who ultimately missed the reality of God, of a God who cared?  People never instructed in a way to see God in real life.  Priests at the cathedral unaware of the doubt in the world?  “Hey, Father!  We got diapers to change here.  Yeah, you.  Joseph.  You ain’t canonized yet.” 

What did it mean for God to become human? To be or not to be? Circumcised? With words, in translations, there was such a long learning curve that cut into you. In the romance between God and His people, in words and borders, in getting across time with power and dominion, with BONDS which came from stories. About circumcision and not “solemnity.” And no one is born a story-teller.

Behold the handmaid in the story! A virgin birth. Who would believe? Or who could believe in a virgin birth? Then. Or now? A Messiah? Who would believe in a Messiah? Then? And Now? Almost silently to the world, the Messiah had come. As quiet as a faith. So why not have Mary be challenged as Jesus would be? In the real world, this year, living with the vow of Covenant every day, with the emotional attachment connected to any living sacrifice. As I was left noting in the case of a poor couple, the two turtledoves — the two pigeons — offered in ritual sacrifice of atonement, when the cost of a lamb might have been prohibited. This Creator and His sense of humor. Developed over time. That was the mystery. The darn near impossible. God! Who could believe in God? It was always the question. Then. And now. This new year.

In the romance between God and His people, almost invisible is the Tradition that Jesus was born into. Symbolic of the covenant, of God’s unconditional love and what was expected and to be expected… over being circumcised? The bloody unexpected is the mystery.

 

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