Late at night, into the wee morning, thinking, I began to reflect on what has always been my favorite story from the Bible: The account of Joseph and his brothers who beat him and sold him into slavery. All out of what? For jealousy… Merciless, cruel and unable to see their own gifts and blessings, Joseph’s brothers attacked him, nearly killed him and sold him to a band of Egyptians to be a servile slave. I always remember feeling such joy at the end of this account, however, as Joseph tricked his brothers, revealed his new-found power to them and forgave them. Joseph’s tale is a curious one, full of coincidences, tragedies, vivid dreams and godly wisdom. The figure of Joseph suddenly stuck out in my mind as a figure of the Catholic Church. Let me explain.
Christ chose the Catholic Church to be his people, an heir to the Eternal Father in heaven. He has adorned her like a bride in a coat of many colors. He has showered favor upon her and the promise, “I will be with you always”. People outside the Church look on and wonder why God has blessed and favored something so small, so bumbling and unworthy. “Why not us?” wise men say, “and not this silly child who believes in sacraments, miracles and antiquated doctrine?”
Back in ancient Rome, when pagan religion was deemed most-sensible and most-sacred, Catholics received mockery, spite and yes, relentless jealousy. “What of these fools who love eachother!” cried the counsel or senator even while handing them over for punishment. The reason for this punishment? Jealousy. How dare these people call themselves blessed, favored of the Father- and yet refuse to worship our auspicious gods? How dare they claim to be reborn when everyone knows death is inevitable? How dare they eat bread called “heavenly” and drink wine called “salvation”?
The Romans were not unique. Every age has hated the Catholic Church and sought to beat it down, or at least sell it into some sort of slavery. How can God’s people be free if the head of state chooses their bishops? How can they call themselves blessed with their necks under the sword? How can they feast if everything is taken away from them- even their lives? Many decry religion for causing bloodshed and oppression while forgetting the numerous religion-less regimes that robbed multitudes of people from dignity, freedom, happiness and life.
The Catholic faith is Joseph, taken into the field, beaten and sold as chattel. Like the younger prince sometimes kills off his older brother, heir to the throne, out of envy, the general brotherhood of people has traded in Christendom for false freedom and glory.
Now, let us approach the second part of Joseph’s story and how it relates to the Catholic Church. Rising somewhat to prominence, the virtuous Joseph is accused of rape after refusing the advances of Potiphar’s wife. For refusing to embrace modernism, secularism, liberalism and materialism, the Catholic faith is falsely accused of treason. For refusing to worship the state, she is accused of rebellion. For resisting the tenets of self-made religion, she is called “oppressive” and for adhering to ancient teaching, she is called “irrevelant”, “inhuman” and “unenlightened”. Because she believes in in a transcendent liturgy, she is called “opulent”, because she embraces celibacy, “unnatural” and because she clings to sacred Scripture, “bigoted” and “backwards”.
Joseph gains a semblance of power and stability only to be falsely accused and thrown into prison. There he dreams many dreams. He is like the Catholic laity, filled with God’s Holy Spirit that envisions a future of godliness. He is like the Catholic religious who listens to the voice of God. He is like the Catholic clergy, pouring forth a river of grace. He remains honest, even when bearing ill tidings and condemnation and eventually is seated at the Pharaoh’s right hand.
How ironic it is that the faith once universally hated, scorned and punished is eventually granted the Emperor’s blessing? How strange that the state which once persecuted the infant, Catholic Church violently, now takes it under its wing? All earthly authority comes of God, none has power that he wills not power and know that even the godless heathen can become a divine instrument! Thus like the young Catholic Church, Joseph is sheltered by the state and given a place of influence. How amazing it must have been for bishops who once worshiped in dark, damp catacombs to have liturgy in palaces! How glorious for priests and acolytes to have a golden chest in which to lay the Holy Eucharist! How heavenly for their hymns to echo off of gilded vaults and ascend amidst clouds of incense!
People often criticize this change in the Church, saying that it betrays the simple Christian message of poverty, that their religion became too state-like and that bishops gained too much power for their own good. One might as well have accosted Joseph for wearing fine, Egyptian linen, learning civilized law and conducting the affairs of his own people. No one called Joseph “worldly” and “extravagant” when he opened up the grain stores for a starving population. No one hated him for mediating between his impoverished people and the great Pharaoh. No one complained of his excessive power when he tricked his brothers so they’d receive fear of God then instruct them in forgiveness.
Do not scorn the Catholic Church because she wears a multicolored cloak. Do not disdain her jurisprudence and gifts to the starving. Stop calling her “traitor” because she learns the world’s laws in order to bring men to God. Just as the circlet on Joseph’s brow evidenced the trustful Pharaoh’s blessing, so the golden altars of Catholicism reveal the steadfast love of God. And just like Joseph, the Catholic Church shall rise with bread and silver in her hands, having patiently borne your persecutions and utter the priceless words of Christ: “Blessed is he who taketh not offense in me.”