19Mar Feast of St. Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

2 Sam 7:4ff. It is not king David, but his son Solomon, who will build a house for the glory of God’s name. God, however, will ensure the continuance of David’s descendants, among them Joseph, foster-father of Jesus.

Rom 4:13ff. The “Faith,” “Righteousness” and (spiritual) “Descendants” that are linked with Abraham in this reading might also be applied to St. Joseph.

Mt 1:16-21; 24. After tracing Jesus’ antecedents from Abraham down to Joseph, Joseph is shown accepting the mystery of Jesus’ miraculous conception and, by giving him his name, adopting him as his own.

Joseph the Just Man (Advent Homily by an Abbot of the Byzantine Rite)

Now we come to this final stage in the historical process that we’ve been reflecting on all through Advent. This involves St. Joseph. He’s the only one that’s been in the dark all this time, and this is the moment of his enlightenment about the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God.

Now we see here that Joseph, according to the Scriptures, was betrothed to Mary, which is legally the equivalent of a marriage, but they hadn’t actually lived together as man and wife yet. Joseph is characterized here as a just man, a righteous man. This is something that’s a little bit difficult to interpret sometimes, especially when we say a “just” man. Because when we say just, we think of someone who is fair, and perhaps even strict about justice. Everyone gets what is their due. But if Mary was getting her due, at least in the eyes of the law, assuming what seemed to be obvious, that she was pregnant out of wedlock, then the just thing to do would be to stone her to death. So you can’t simply call Joseph a just man, because he didn’t want to stone her to death. He wanted to do whatever was possible to avoid that. Although, being obedient to the Law of God, he also couldn’t spend his life with one who was an adulteress-presumably. So he had a dilemma to deal with.

But being “just and righteous” means being even more. The Aramaic term for “just man” has several other connotations, which can also mean pious, quiet, kind, not given to quarreling, and that sort of thing. The term “righteous” itself means being in a right relationship with God. So there are several other things going on here besides being “just” according to the Law. He was a faithful follower of God, and personally, as far as we can tell from what we can see in the Scriptures, he was a quiet, kind, peaceable man. But he had a dilemma on his hands here, what to do with his betrothed, who was getting more and more visibly pregnant.

Now you would think-I’ve kind of wondered about this before-that the whole thing could have been cleared up easily if Mary had just told him what happened! I’m kind of wondering why she was leaving him in the dark. For him to know that she was pregnant, there would have to be some evidence of it. He didn’t know that from the beginning, and when she went off to stay with Elizabeth for three months, that must have been what he was thinking. Oh, she left me for three months and she comes back pregnant. Well, gee, the evidence seems to be right there.

But anyway, why she didn’t tell him, I don’t know. But you can look at it from sort of a human standpoint from her position: how can I tell him this? How is he going to react to it? This is something that’s unique in the history of mankind. She could probably just hear him saying: you know, of all the possible stories that could be given to excuse or justify adultery, Mary, yours takes the cake! That’s the best one. At least you’re imaginative. Maybe she was afraid that he wouldn’t get it and maybe really would throw her out or something, when God’s plan was otherwise. So maybe the Holy Spirit told her: just keep your peace, we’ll work this out eventually.

Anyway, Joseph was struggling and she was struggling, and so there was, I think, this uneasy silence that descended upon the house for some time until Joseph received the revelation. Even being a pious and righteous and good man, and being in a right relationship with God, Joseph could hardly have been expected to come to this conclusion, even from reading the Scriptures. The prophecies are usually somewhat veiled in their meaning and so it wouldn’t just naturally occur to him: “Oh, my fiancé is pregnant and I had nothing to do with it; that must mean that God made her pregnant and this child is going to be the Son of God. There, I feel better now.” Well, that doesn’t naturally spring to mind in a case like this. So it needed a special, divine revelation to manifest this truth: something that had never before happened in the history of mankind. And that was given to him.

The angel of the Lord came to him saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife.” Now to call him “son of David” was to emphasize beforehand that this little boy is going to be the Messiah. Reminding Joseph of his noble lineage of the tribe of Judah and the house of David, that the Messiah comes from that line, he’s telling him as a little prefiguration: Joseph, you’re the son of David, and so your son is going to be “the” son of David, the Messiah, the awaited One. Do not fear about this situation that you cannot figure out, because that which is in her is conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Now what he made of that I don’t know either, because that’s also kind of an obscure term to someone who doesn’t have the New Testament in front of them, to say, what does it mean, the Holy Spirit? It’s a way sometimes of talking about God, but it’s ambiguous too. At least at this point the angel came to him. The angel said: Do not fear to take Mary, just do that and don’t worry about the rest right now. And so, he did.

“You shall name him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now also, in Aramaic, which I presume the angel was using when he was speaking to Joseph, “save” comes from a root word that means life, vitality. So to save someone from sin is to give them new life, to resurrect them, to bring them out of the sickness unto death which is sin. This is what Jesus was coming to do, and something of His mission is already revealed to St. Joseph. He’s going to save His people from their sins.

Now, some people might not think that that’s such good news, because not everyone wants to be saved from their sins. I mean, everyone would like to be saved from eternal torture in hell and all the other terrible consequences of sin, but I think if people were told, oh look, you can stay in your sins and you won’t get punished for them, well, I think most people would choose to stay in their sins. But Jesus is saving us from our sins, and that’s what we want, because it’s our sins that estrange us from God, alienate us from God. The more we continue in sin, the more we draw away from God, the more God becomes a stranger to us. And finally, if we persist in sin, we end up in an unenviable position at the last day, being unable, incapable of receiving the love of God, who wants to give it to us for all eternity-but we realize that our sins have created for us something that’s going to be an eternal separation of God. Jesus is coming to save us from that. From that which gradually, but surely, separates us from od and has the power to separate us from God for all eternity. He’s coming to lift that burden from us and heal us of that sickness unto death, which is sin.

Then we get a prophecy that puts everything in perspective here. It doesn’t say that the angel gave this one to Joseph, but it’s given for the readers here. “This took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken to the prophet: A virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel, which means God is with us.” So this Son, conceived miraculously in the womb of the virgin, is God with us in the flesh.

Now, when Joseph awoke from his sleep-because this was given to him in a dream-he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. Now it doesn’t say: when Joseph awoke from his sleep he understood the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity to come and save us from our sin. All it says is that he awoke and did what the angel told him to do.

That’s a lesson for us as well, because God doesn’t ask us to understand all the deep mysteries of His own person and everything else that He’s up to behind the scenes. But He does ask us to believe and to obey. He gives us enough revelation to believe and to obey, but usually not enough to understand everything. We see from the Scriptures, that is enough. He didn’t explain everything to Joseph. But it was enough so that Joseph wasn’t sitting there freaking out, saying: “I don’t get this at all. I’ve got to get out of this situation!” No, he received revelation enough to act. That’s what God does for us, and He requires us to respond to what He’s given us, even though He doesn’t require us to know all the details, to penetrate mysteries that are beyond our understanding-only to believe and to obey. That is what is rewarded.

St Joseph’s Struggle (Tommy Lane)

Recently I interviewed St. Joseph and this is how the interview went.

(Reader) My name is Joseph. I’ve been at your celebration of Christmas for quite a while but I suspect you don’t know me too well. I feel sort of like the father of the bride at a wedding. Nobody pays much attention to him but he gets to pay the bills. I want to tell you, your Christmas cost me a great deal!

(Celebrant) Where did you grow up?

(Reader) I grew up in Bethlehem. It’s only a few miles from Jerusalem and making a living was difficult. So as a young man I moved to Nazareth. Nazareth was so small. It was the butt of jokes. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” people used to joke. But I didn’t go to Nazareth for the night life. I went there to find work.

(C.)And what do you work at?

(R.)I’m a carpenter. I make and repair things like furniture, build houses, make tools and yoke for oxen. If it’s made out of wood, I’m your man. But woodworkers are practical people. I like things you can handle and see, that you can measure, cut and saw. I’m not much for ideas. Oh, I enjoy listening to the rabbis when they come to our synagogue, but I prefer more practical things. Wood is honest. I understand that some of you have doors that are hollow in the middle – is that true? Now, I don’t want to insult you, but that sounds dishonest to me. No, I like things that are wood right through. Wood has integrity. I like that – I like that in people too.

(C.)What else is important in your life?

(R.)The other thing that shaped my life was my wife, Mary. She was about thirteen years old then, the usual age for becoming betrothed, among us. A Wonderful girl. We were betrothed.

(C.)What is becoming betrothed?

(R.)That’s something like your engagement only it’s a much firmer promise. It lasts a year, sometimes longer. During that time the families get to know one another. They work out a dowry. They search the records in the temple in Jerusalem to make sure the couple are not too closely related to marry. Our betrothal can only be broken by divorce. And getting a divorce isn’t easy. You have to show a proper reason.

(C.)What dreams about the future did you have?

(R.)I dreamed about building a home for Mary and myself and the family we’d have. About the wonderful life we’d have. I dreamt about how wonderful life would be. But it’s strange isn’t it, how quickly dreams can turn into nightmares.

(C.)How did your dream turn into a nightmare?

(R.)Well, I noticed that Mary became quiet, withdrawn. I wondered if something was wrong, but when I asked her she said she couldn’t tell me about it. I had to go out of town to do some work and all the time I was away I hardly slept with worry. Had I done something to displease her or her family? Maybe they’d found something in the Temple records to prevent us from being married! When I returned I begged her to tell me what was going on, but I was totally unprepared for her answer. She said right out, “I’m pregnant!” and then she began to sob.

(C.)What a shock. How did you feel?

(R.)I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. Of all the things, I’d never dreamt that! I knew I wasn’t the father, but who? We had respect, we had a future. How could this happen? What about our dreams? That’s when she told me her story. About how an angel had appeared to her and told her she was going to be the mother of Israel’s Messiah. The Spirit of God had come upon her and put a baby in her womb. I was furious! It was one thing for her to betray our love like that and quite another to treat me to a story that bordered on blasphemy. Do I look like an idiot?

(C.)Well, how did you react?

(R.)You wouldn’t believe it. I wanted to lash out, I wanted to hurt her as she had hurt me. The Law said that a woman found in adultery should be stoned to death. Now I understood that law in a way I never had before. I wanted to get back at her, for ruining our love, my faith and trust, wrecking my reputation.

(C.)But obviously, you didn’t have her stoned.

(R.)No, of course not. I calmed down. Because of my love for her I didn’t want to make a public example of her. Of course, there was no way I could marry her, but the Law left it up to the man what was to be done. I could get a couple of my friends and give her a private decree of divorce.

(C.)I suppose it must have been very difficult on Mary, too?

(R.)Yes, poor Mary had to get away. The caustic gossip down by the village well would be too much to handle. So she went south, to Hebron. She had relatives there, who would give her support and a place to stay. When she was gone that gave me time to think. I walked around and worked at my bench. I didn’t care about eating. I didn’t pay much attention to life. Then the dreams started. Always the same. Walking down a dark corridor and suddenly this blinding light and an angel would be there.

(C.)How did you know it was angel?

(R.)There are times when you just know. That’s the best answer I can give. The angel told me not to be afraid. “Joseph,” the angel said, “don’t be afraid to take Mary for your wife. The child she bears is from the Holy Spirit. You will call his name Jesus and he will save his people from their sins.”

(C.)You must have been happy then.

(R.)Well, it was not that easy to take in what it all meant. I mean, dreams come to prophets not wood workers. And I couldn’t talk about it with anyone without revealing Mary’s terrible secret. What was I to do? But the dreams kept repeating, but each time more forceful. I had to make a decision. Nothing would ever be the same. It would be life without Mary, always wondering if those dreams were true, if God was somehow doing the most unexpected thing in the most unexpected way. Or it could be life with Mary, with all sorts of unexpected troubles and surprises, but following my faith. I knew well that my reputation would be ruined. If I didn’t divorce Mary and she had a child everyone would assume that I was the father. But I decided to marry her.

(C.)So how did you tell Mary what you wanted to do?

(R.)I went down to Hebron. I told Mary about my dreams and apologized for doubting her. I took her back to Nazareth and as soon as possible we were married. I figured, it’ll be rough, but if God is in it, it won’t be too bad. I had no idea how wrong I could be. Even the good get a rough ride sometimes.

(C.)The census in Bethlehem came at the wrong time for you both, didn’t it?

(R.)I wonder if you’ve ever really thought about travelling 90 miles, in the winter, on a donkey when you’re nine months pregnant. The crowds in Bethlehem! We finally found some shelter in a stable that someone had hollowed out of the rock. Mary had to be both mother and midwife. I’m a wood worker. What do I know about delivering babies? You’d think if God had been planning this for years some better arrangements might have been made.

(C.)But you saw an angel. I thought everything would be plain sailing for you?

(R.)I once thought, as a young man, that if I ever saw an angel I’d never have any doubts. I saw an angel, it was vivid and real to me. But I always have lots of questions, even now.

(C.)But you must have a strong faith

(R.)Some people have a faith like Mary’s. Some are more like me. You believe your doubts, you doubt your beliefs. I understand. I’ve been there. All I can tell you is that when I faced those questions I came down on the side of faith. I trusted, even when I didn’t feel like trusting, but God used me. As you celebrate, you might want to remember in a corner of your mind that God chose me to be part of the story. Joe, a carpenter who believed as best he could.

The Wise And Faithful Servant

A Homily of John Paul II, on the Solemnity of St. Joseph

1. “Here is the wise and faithful servant, whom the Lord has put in charge of his household” (cf. Lk 12: 42). This is how today’s liturgy presents St Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Guardian of the Redeemer. He was the wise and faithful servant who, with obedient docility, accepted the will of the Lord, who entrusted him with “his” family on earth to watch over it with daily devotion.

St Joseph persevered in this mission with fidelity and love. The Church, therefore, offers him to us as an exceptional model of service to Christ and to his mysterious plan of salvation. And she calls upon him as the special patron and protector of the whole family of believers. In a special way, Joseph is presented to us on his feast day as the saint under whose powerful protection divine Providence has wished to place the persons and ministry of all who are called to be “fathers” and “guardians” among the Christian people.

2. “Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously” …. “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2: 48-49). In this simple, family conversation between Mother and Son, which we heard a few moments ago in the Gospel, we find the characteristics of Joseph’s holiness. They correspond to God’s plan for him, which he, being the just man that he was, would fulfil with marvellous fidelity.

“Your father and I have been looking for you anxiously,” Mary said. “I must be in my Father’s house,” Jesus replies. It is precisely these words of the Son that help us to understand the mystery of Joseph’s “fatherhood.” In reminding his parents of the primacy of the One whom he called “my Father,” Jesus reveals the truth about Mary’s and Joseph’s role. The latter was truly Mary’s “husband” and Jesus’ “father,” as she affirmed when she said: “Your father and I have been looking for you.” But his being a husband and father is totally subordinate to that of God.

This is how Joseph of Nazareth was called, in turn, to become one of Jesus’ disciples: by dedicating his life to serving the only-begotten Son of the Father and of his Virgin Mother, Mary. It is a mission that he continues to carry out for the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, to which he never fails to give his provident care, as he did for the humble family of Nazareth.

3. In this context, it is easy to turn our attention to what is the centre of our celebration today. I am about to lay hands on nine priests who are called to assume the responsibility of Bishops in the Church. In the Christian community the Bishop fulfils a task that has many similarities to St Joseph’s. This is well expressed in the Preface of today’s solemnity, which describes Joseph as “that wise and loyal servant, whom you placed at the head of your family ….

With fatherly care he watched over Jesus Christ your Son.” In the Church Pastors are “fathers” and “guardians” who are called to act as wise and loyal “servants.” They are entrusted with the daily care of the Christian people, who, with their help, can confidently advance on the way of Christian perfection.

First Reading: Second Book of Samuel 7:4-6, 12-14, 16

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: Epistle to the Romans 4:13, 16-18, 20-22

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

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.

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