Friday, February 19, 2016

Panegyric: March 20, 2006

The introduction and closing to a speech I gave in Dublin, many years ago...

Frantic. The cobbled road was filled with shops and stands and screaming vendors. The vagrant merchants and their camels blew to and fro just like the sand. Countless Jews from every tribe weaved in and out the empty spaces, while temple guards and Roman soldiers eyed with caution every face. And then you saw her.

Her face was white. Her hands were trembling. The tears flowed slowly down her cheeks as she ran from Jew to merchant, guard to soldier, traveler to beggar. “Have you seen him?” she cried, “Have you seen my son?”

Her tears fell faster as each answer was cruelly thrust into her heart. Hopeless. And then the man that walked beside her put his arm around her shoulder, and gently kissed her forehead. He was tall and he was strong; and he held her like a mother, even though she was his wife. He too was trembling.

And then he saw it. Raising his arm, the man then pointed towards the place where their hope still remained intact: the temple.

And they ran. Every alcove, every pillar, round every gate and portico – over the blue-white marble they looked for him, but to no avail. And as her heart began to tear to pieces, she fell into her husband’s arms, and wept bitterly. But her husband wasn’t weeping, he was listening. And then, hiding in the silence, whispered the young voice he knew so well. It gently brushed across the limestone, then it hummed and echoed through the air, omnipresent.

He softly tapped her on the shoulder, his eyes captured by the sound. And the mother who was weeping stopped and turned and looked at Joseph; and with a happy quiver in her voice, she slowly said His Name,



It wasn’t anything normal that caught Joseph’s eye. It wasn’t the whitewashed clay walls that ran around his small house; nor the papyrus shoots lashed together on the roof. It wasn’t the shifting palms that swayed gently in the Egyptian breeze; nor the camels and their riders that swayed with them. It wasn’t his young son playing with his carpentry tools on the dirt floor; nor was it his beautiful wife knitting a woolen shawl in the room beside him. It was the strange man who walked into the carpentry shop: the man who, it seemed, only Joseph could see.

Joseph rested his tools on the unfinished table and stared deep into the strange man’s eyes. The man began to speak: a familiar tone, but one Joseph hadn’t heard in a long time. When the man finished, Joseph turned to look at his son and his wife, and when he turned his head back toward the stranger, the stranger was gone.

Both his wife and the boy sensed something different in Joseph’s gaze. They stood up and walked over to Joseph. Joseph held them in his arms, and then he spoke,

“Jesus, Mary,” he said, “we’re going home.”