Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Begats Matter

Today is the Nativity of Mary. It is also the anniversary of my young, growing diocese. Mary may be 2,032, but my diocese is only 28, and it all sort of felt like a family reunion when the great-grandmother holds the newest baby.

During Mass, the Gospel reading was the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew. Now, I normally glance over the genealogy; I get the point after all: 14 generations between Abraham and David, 14 generations between David and the exile, 14 generations between the exile and Jesus. But as it was pointed out in the homily, those names matter. There might be a big picture, but there are details too. Each of those people say something about where we come from, who we are.

The “begats,” the series of genealogical relations in the Bible are usually the most boring to me; lots of numbers and names I can’t pronounce. But they were recorded for a reason. The Jews were constantly interacting with different tribes and different cultures, and they were, therefore, constantly being told to remember who they are. 

I love studying my own family tree and heritage, so maybe it helps me understand the need to study the Church’s family tree. Our identities are not borne in a vacuum. We carry with us the struggles and successes and dreams of our families and cultures that came before us. Understanding our past helps us make sense of who we are now and our place/role in the present. Knowing the genealogy of Christ roots his humanity into a real place, with real people, and real heritage. This is the family we inherit when we join his family.

Later in the Mass, some of the early saints are listed by name. We say their names so that we remember them, 1900 years later. They are the parents of the Church—early popes and early martyrs—Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, etc. They are our heritage.

And although the diocese is still young, it already has a history—a narrative of “how we got here.” It involves the de Soto exploration holding the first Mass on our land, Servant of God Fr. Ryan giving his life to serve yellow fever victims, Fr. Callahan riding his horse Rebel up and down the mountains to serve Mass in the most rural of mission fields. Trace those early priests back to the bishops that sent them, and then trace those bishops’ ordinations back to Peter, sent by Christ, and then trace Christ’s lineage back through Matthew 1. We’re young, but we descend from Abraham. We're part of a much older, much bigger story.

Identity is strong when it is rooted, when we know our history and learn from those that have walked the path before us. And today is a particularly good day to remember that, as Mary says in her Magnificat, “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” 

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