20 March, 2017. St Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary
1st Reading: 2 Samuel 7:4-6, 12-14, 16
From king David’s offspring will come the universal spiritual King
But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.
I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.
Second Reading: Romans 4:13- (select verses)
The faith of Abraham as source of abundant spiritual life
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)-in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.”
No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
Gospel: Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24
(or Lk 2:41-51)
Joseph is inspired to take Mary as his wife
Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.
A just and humble man
Because of his service to Jesus and Mary during their family life in Nazareth, Saint Joseph is honoured as Protector of the Church, the community that continues Christ’s mission in the world. There is little that we know for sure about Joseph, apart from his name and a couple of events during the childhood of Jesus. The Gospel does not record a single one of his words; we could say that his language is peaceful and compliant silence. He listened to the quiet voice which spoke to him in his sleep and promptly and generous obeyed in what was asked of him. He earned the family’s living by manual labour, so that Jesus was later known as the son of the carpenter. It might well be said that Joseph lived a hidden life, the life of a simple artisan, far from all celebrity. But that humble man was so near to Jesus and Mary, intimately connected with their life and providing them with security.
The Gospel calls Joseph a just man. He was a poor, honest, hard-working, perhaps even a shy man, but one of deep interior life, giving him the freedom to put himself at the disposal of God’s plan for the childhood of Jesus. Joseph accepted the responsibility and the burden of family life, while renouncing the consolation of natural conjugal love because of his extraordinary vocation.
As pope Paul VI said (in 1969), Saint Joseph “offered the whole of his existence in a total sacrifice to the demands raised by the extraordinary coming of the Messiah, whom he acknowledged as the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and as his own son only in a juridical and domestic way. Joseph was a fully committed man, as we might say nowadays. And what commitment! Total commitment to Mary, the elect of all the women of the earth and of history, always his virgin spouse, never his wife physically, and total commitment to Jesus, who was his offspring only by legal descent, not by the flesh. His were the burdens, risks and responsibilities of caring for the Holy Family. He carried out the service, work and sacrifice that Christians so admire in him; and that makes him such a fine patron for family life.”
How do we picture Saint Joseph?
It is strange how Christian art has tended to portray Joseph as an old man, more like Jesus’ grandfather, than his father. One striking exception to this is a painting of Joseph by the Spanish artist, El Greco. He depicts Joseph as a vigorous young man, with Jesus clinging to his legs. In that painting Joseph is portrayed as a strong figure, trustworthy and protective. This is much closer to the portrayal of Joseph in the gospels than the usual elderly depiction of him. The gospel reading today suggests that although Joseph, the young father, was protective of his young son, he also struggled to understand him at times. Having anxiously searched for Jesus with Mary, Joseph finally finds him in temple, only to be told that by Jesus that he must be busy with his Father’s affairs. Joseph was beginning to learn that there was someone else in his young son’s life whom he called “Father,” and to whom he had a stronger allegiance that he had to his earthly parents. Joseph discovered early on that he would have to let his son go to a greater purpose than what he wanted for him. As such, Joseph could serve as an inspiration, a reference point, for all parents who have to work through that difficult task of learning to let go of their offspring. [MH]