Saintly Snark – A Reflection for the Feast of St. Joseph

By Sr. M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH

Know any Christmas-y songs about St. Joseph? No? Well, I know only one, and I cherish it because it’s midrash-like: it goes behind the scene, and evokes a rich line of thought (one of the purposes of midrash).

Actually, the scene is set after Christmas, when Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus are fleeing to Egypt to evade Herod’s soldiers, coming to execute all baby boys who could pose a threat to Herod’s power (think “the Holy Innocents”, whom we celebrated a couple of days after Christmas, bringing us back with a thud from all the holiday sweetness and light).

It’s one long trek to Egypt by foot and donkey, so the family takes a break when Mary sees a cherry tree up ahead. Some juicy cherries sound wonderful to her, so the song reports her request of Joseph to pick some for her.

Snarkily, Joseph replies, “Let the father of the baby pick cherries for you.” Wow! Was he ruminating during that whole long trip over Mary’s pregnancy- without-his-involvement, and the resultant upending of all their happy plans together? (Unexpected pregnancies and other life-altering events have been known to make good, even saintly, people snarky and then some!).

There’s no record of Mary’s reply – perhaps she was stunned to silence by her spouse’s uncharacteristic testiness. But someone else does reply: that “father of the baby” causes the cherry tree to bend down far enough for Mary to pick her own cherries!

I suspect the stunned silence shifted to Joseph, who had to rejoice in such an emphatic affirmation of the baby boy’s true origin, putting to rest all Joseph’s anger, hurt and bitterness.

Of course, “The Cherry Tree Carol” is made up: there’s no mention of cherries in the scriptures, as far as I know. But in the department of “be careful what you wish for”, could this be any better a response?

So many conversations could grow from this rich, imaginative carol! What could you say to Joseph? To Mary? Even to baby Jesus?

Patron Saint of Snark?

By Sister M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH


Grumpy Cat has gone to the Great Litterbox in the sky, raising the question: who will represent all of us remaining curmudgeons? I nominate St. Jerome, whose memorial we celebrate on September 30.

If you’re thinking “Bible” at the mention of Jerome, you’d be correct.  By the late 300’s and early 400’s, disgusted by the Greek used in writing the Gospels, he was determined to re-translate the Bible from Greek into Latin, the common language of that era.  He intended to return to the original Hebrew as his beginning and set himself to polishing up his Hebrew with the help of a rabbi.  His friend and co-worker, Paula, set herself to learning Hebrew from scratch – those two were authentic, deep-diving scholars!

So, establishing his living and working space in a cave near Bethlehem (after starting out near Rome), he worked with Paula (also a saint) to rewrite the entire Bible, a version called “the Vulgate” that was in use for 1500 years, the official version of the Bible.

Jerome was snarky: irascible, sarcastic, earning enemies almost without effort.  He could also be devoted and tender – his shadow side for sure, and not commonly spoken of!  His contradictory traits (snark, especially) give us comfort: he is a saint and doctor (teacher) of the church to boot.  Maybe there is hope for us?