What if God was one of us? Some answers to questions of Joan Osborne

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

The Nativity

Answers to Questions of Joan Osborne:

1. If God had a name what would it be?

Ans. Moses asked God this question and God answered: “I am who I am….This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.” (Ex 3:14)

2. And would you call it to his face?

Ans. No. Israelites would not speak God’s name and won’t even write it down. They refer to God as Lord instead. And so do I.

3. If you were faced with him in all his glory what would you ask if you had just one question?

Ans. Why is it so late that I have loved you? (c.f. St. Augustine of Hippo)

4. What if God was one of us?

Ans. God already did. This is the story of Christmas:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1 :1-14)

5. If God had a face, what would it look like?

Ans. The Face of Christ. As Christ said: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (Jn 14:9). Many Catholics believe that the face of the man in the Shroud of Turin is the Face of Christ.

6. Would you want to see [God’s face] if seeing meant that you would have to believe in things like heaven and Jesus and the saints and all the Prophets?

Ans. I already believed in God even if I don’t see His Face, because of the testimony of the Catholic Church as handed down from the Apostles. As Christ said to Thomas: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?r Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn 20:29). That is why I believe in things like heaven and the saints and all the Prophets.

Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

Similarity of forms does not necessarily imply inheritance, e.g. since birds and bats both fly, it does not follow that bats are the offspring of birds. For the case of Christmas, there are three possibilities: (1) Christmas is borrowed from a Pagan Winter Solstice celebration, (2) a Pagan Winter Solstice celebration is borrowed from Christmas, and (3) neither feasts borrowed from each other. If we can neither rigorously prove any of these three propositions, your guess is as good as mine with 33% chance of success. I shall bet on the first, you bet on the second, and we shall know the answer after we die when we meet Jesus as the Just Judge.

It is true that there are previous cults (e.g. Mithras) prior to Christianity, with Mithras being a wise man like Christ. But there is something astonishingly paradoxical in Catholic Faith that marks it distinct from Paganism. In Paganism, man with his supreme efforts can become a deity (e.g Hercules); in Catholicism, God the Son became a helpless baby, the Son of Man. In Paganism, man worships goddesses like Venus and Astarte; in Catholicism, Mary, a daughter of Eve, became the Mother of God yet remains only human. The pagan gods are promising wealth, fame, glory; Christ promises heaven but only through the humiliation of the cross. If Catholicism is simply a new Paganism, why did the Roman Emperors persecute Catholics for more than 300 years and why did the Roman Empire have to give up its pantheon of gods including Mithras before converting to Christianity? Paganism is incompatible with Catholicism. The Catholic Church has always been countercultural: the Church eradicated crucifixion, gladiators, and slavery and developed the teachings on Just War, Social Justice, and Human Rights. The Catholic Church has a vitality that can only be explained by its divine institution.

The Catholic Church is universal, a mustard tree that gives home to all the nations of the earth. Yet the church is also local because it sends its roots to all the cultures of the world, purifying what is good, and rejecting the bad. So the Church adopted the pagan symbols like Christmas trees and baptized them as Christian symbols (read the lyrics of “O Tannenbaum”), in the same way as the Church accepts little children and adult sinners into its fold and baptizes them as adopted sons and daughters of God. The Church assimilates local cultures as man eats food: the nutrients remain with the body; the rest goes out as feces and urine. The Catholic Church remains the same Catholic Church founded by Christ: the mustard seed became a great tree, the baby became a man.

“The Burning Babe”: a poem by Fr. Robert Southwell, S.J.

Fr. Victor Badillo, S.J. sent us a poem for Christmas, saying:

May the burning Babe fill your heart with burning love and zeal.  In lieu
of a Christmas card, here is the poem composed by Robert shivering and
hungry in a cold prison awaiting his life-giving death at the hands of the
executioner of Elizabeth.

By Robert Southwell, sj

As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, scorchëd with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As tho his floods should quench his flames which w his tears were fed.


Alas, quoth he, but newly born in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I !
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns ;
The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defilëd souls,


For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.
With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I callëd unto mind that it was Christmas day.

Mangyans of Mindoro: A Christmas Story

I.  Kuya Philip

Months ago Kuya Philip barged into my room in the Ionosphere building armed with a mop.

“Hi, Kuya,” I said.  “Is Kuya Randy not around?”

“No,” he said.  “I was asked to take his place for today.”  And he began to mop the floor.   This was unusual.  Kuya Philip normally fabricates rain gauges and DOAS (Differential Optical Absorption Spectroscopy) systems based on designs of a senior scientist of Manila Observatory.

“Is your brother still in Mindoro?”  he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“It has been a long time since we went to Mindoro,” he said.  “When we went there, we have to ask the permission of the Army Commander and the Bishop to install our rain gauges.”

“Otherwise, people will mistake you for communist guerrillas patrolling the mountains and installing land mines,” I said.  We laughed.

“Was the rain gauge you installed the one that transmits text messages to Manila Observatory?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.  “We need to estimate the amount of water soaked in the soil in real time, so that we can warn residents if a landslide may happen.”

“To prevent a landslide similar to that in Guinsaugon, Leyte?” I asked.

He nodded.

II.  Mangyans of Mindoro

“Are still Mangyans in Mindoro?” I asked.  “I read that they preserved their alphabet that dated back before the Spaniards came.  I have seen pictures of them etching poems on a bamboo stem.  They wear g-string.”

“There are still Mangyans,” he said, “but because of their contact with lowlanders, they already wear clothes like us.  They have their own way of writing, but many of them were not formally schooled.”

“The Mangyans have a deep respect for authority.  If the barangay captain is not around to approve our coming in their area, they will call a council of elders, with the eldest leading the council.  The resolution approved by the council leader is obeyed by all.

“Manila Observatory has a good name among the Mangyans because of John Ong.  John Ong’s friends made donations for the construction of three  school rooms for the Mangyans.”

“I know John Ong,” I said.  “He once gave a talk in the physics department entitled “Hydrology 101: How to Find Water.”  He was a tall, lanky, white guy that always smiled until his eyes vanished to slits.  He was very unassuming and soft-spoken.  I heard that he only asked for a working space in the Observatory to do his research.  That was a few years ago.  I haven’t seen him since.”

“He is abroad doing his Ph.D. work,” Kuya Philip said.  He mentioned the name of the University, but I forgot.  “The older Mangyans know John Ong; the younger ones have only heard his name.”

“The Mangyans are hardworking but poor,” Kuya Philip continued.  “A lowlander once asked a Mangyan to give him a bunch of bananas.  The Mangyan went up the mountain, got the bananas, and gave it to the lowlander.  But the lowlander said, ‘No. I prefer unripe bananas.’  The poor Mangyan was at a loss.  Since he does not want to go back to the mountains without money, he settled for a much lower price for his bananas.”

“The Mangyans have been exploited by the lowlanders.  To prevent this exploitation, the bishop helped the Mangyans in their trade.

“But the bishop complained that some Mangyans have adopted the lowlanders’s bad ways.  They  have learned to smoke cigarettes and drink liquor.  They became lazy.

“The Mangyans have a strong stamina in mountain climbing.  I once saw of group of Mangyans playing basketball in the noon day sun.  I asked them, ‘Why are playing under the hot sun?  Where did you come from.’  They said that they came from the other side of the mountain.  They left a day ago before the cock crowed and they just arrived at that hour at noon to play.”

I shooked my head.  “Unbelievable.”

III.  Mangyan Christmas

“Christmas is a happy time for the Mangyans,” Kuya Philip said.  “They would go down the mountains and join the lowlanders.  They like the sounds and lights, the festivity.  They beg for money from the lowlanders and they are given peso coins in exchange for a dance or a song.  This means that they can live their day without working, just begging.  So they encamp in churches and City Halls and the places become filthy.

“The bishop is not happy with this.  He told the Mangyans not to go down to the city anymore during Christmas.

“But some Mangyans objected.  ‘Bishop,’ they said, ‘do we not also have a right to be happy during Christmas?’

“‘Yes,’ the bishop said, ‘you have a right to be happy.  But many already complained about your behaviors in the city. So from now on, you will not anymore go down there during Christmas.  Instead, I will bring food and gifts for you here in the mountains.”  The Mangyans nodded in agreement.  And to this day, this is how the Mangyans celebrate their Christmas.”


Here is a related article: “Group seeks end to Mangyan begging” by Madonna Virola, Southern Luzon Bureau (Philippine Daily Inquirer 12/24/2008).

Gregor Mendel the Augustinian Abbot

We know Gregor Mendel as the Austrian scientist who cross-bred pea plants to determine the law of how genetic traits of the parents, such as  tall and short, are passed on to their offsprings.  But he is not only the Father of Heredity.  As a parish priest ordained in 1847, he was also the father of his parish.  And as an Augustinian monk elected abbot by his fellow monks at the age of 47, he was also the father of his monastery[1]:

The new abbot was a very popular man. He received a good living and used much of it to entertain friends. Festival days were marked by open house to which the entire village was invited. Christmas was celebrated in a memorable manner; food and drink were enjoyed by all. Mendel was known to be charitable although he avoided publicizing his gifts to troubled villagers.

In spite of his gentleness he ended his life in dispute with the government. The legislature had passed a bill in 1874 that called for the taxation of church property in order to increase the salaries of the parish priests.

Mendel agreed that the state needed the money for this purpose and offered to send a voluntary contribution. He regarded the law as repressive, however, and stubbornly refused to concede that the state had any right to tax the church. The government would not accept the voluntary contribution but reasserted its demands. The struggle went on without result until his death, but it embittered Mendel, causing him to turn on anyone who tried to reason that the laws must be obeyed.[2]


[1] Philip Cane, Giants of Science (Pyramid, New York, 1959), pp. 194-200. See p. 196-197.

[2] Ibid., p. 197.

Of the Birth of Christ

    by St. John of the Cross [1,2,3]
    When the ancient dispensation
    Its predestin’d course had run,
    Straight from out His bridal chamber
    Came the Bridegroom, God the Son.
    Once on earth, with arms extended
    He embrac’d His heavenly Bride,
    And His blessed Mother laid Him
    In the manger, at her side.
    All around that helpless baby
    Animals were standing by;
    Men sang songs of glad rejoicing;
    Angels join’d their songs on high;
    Celebrating the betrothal
    ‘Twixt the Bridegroom and the Bride
    While the Almighty, in the manger,
    As an infant, wept and cried.
    Gems these tears which human nature
    Brought to the betrothal-rite,
    And the Maid was lost in wonder
    As she witness’d such a sight.
    Man was full of joy and gladness;
    God was weeping, weak and lone.
    Ne’er before throughout the ages
    Had so strange a thing been known.


[1] P. Silverio de Santa Teresa, trans., The Complete Works of Saint John of the Cross: Doctor of the Church, ed. by E. Allison Peers, vol. 2, Spiritual Canticle: Poems (Newman Bookshop, Westminster, Maryland, 1946), pp. 464–465.

[2] His baptismal name is John de Yepes (24 June 1542, Hontoveros, Old Castile). It was only in 24 February 1563 when he received the Carmelite habit in Medina that he took the name John of the Cross. See Benedict Zimmerman, “St. John of the Cross,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 8 (Robert Appleton, New York, 1910). 19 Dec. 2008 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08480a.htm>.

[3] His Spanish name is Juan de la Cruz, which is now the generic name of all Filipinos.