st. josephHomily for Mass – Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A)

(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Sunday 7:30am & 9:00am;  Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: Sunday 5:30pm)

22 December 2013

(Readings: Is 7:10-14;  Ps 23;  Rom 1:1-7;  Mt 1:18-24)

If I was to mention the “Annunciation” we would immediately think of the angel Gabriel speaking with Mary, and the moment that Mary said her “yes” to the Lord, and the Son of God was conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit.  But today we’re invited to reflect on another annunciation recorded in the Gospel narrative … the annunciation to Saint Joseph.

Let’s just imagine for a bit the situation that Joseph found himself in.  For a start, perhaps we can feel a closeness to Joseph because of his “ordinariness.”  To find out that Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant obviously to someone else, would surely have caused turmoil in his mind.  The law, as Joseph followed it, said that in this situation, the betrothed wife was to be divorced if she became pregnant to someone other than her betrothed.  We don’t need to stretch our minds too much to imagine how Joseph felt.  Even though Saint Matthew does it in an understated way, he indicates the thought and consideration that Joseph had given to his situation, and the conclusion he had reached in the decision to privately and informally divorce Mary.

And so, in this state of anxiety and confusion, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph and helps him to understand what has happened.  Joseph’s response is quite extraordinary.  He is able to overcome his own natural anxiety about what has happened.  He is also able to step outside of what the world around him was telling him that he should do in this situation.  Surely, too, St Joseph must have considered himself unworthy “to be the husband of the woman who was carrying Israel’s hope and the hope of all the world” (1).

Grace builds on nature, and so after the dream Joseph is given, there emerges the man God had created him to be: the image of Joseph that has come down to us through the tradition: Joseph the just man, who is able to balance respect for the law with compassion for Mary;  Joseph, the man of purity who would witness to Mary’s perpetual virginity, and live out his days in that unique, chaste marriage with the Blessed Virgin;  Joseph the protector of the Messiah’s earthly life, thereby making him the protector of all the brothers and sisters of Jesus, and therefore patron and protector of the whole Church.

In our life as Christians, we naturally and often honour the Blessed Mother – and this is right and proper.  Saint Joseph is often forgotten.  And yet, even this speaks of his humility, and how he put himself totally at the service of God’s plan, as unusual as it was, and as different as it might have been from what he might had imagined for himself.

I think we can learn a lot from Saint Joseph, and also draw close to him.  We also might often feel turmoil and anxiety in our lives when our circumstances change against our control: when unexpected things happen, things which throw our former plans and ideas out the window.

We also might often feel the pressure – both obvious but also subtle – when the world around us says how we are meant to act and think.  For all its denunciation of the Church as being autocratic and brainwashing her members, secular society is extremely dictatorial about how you think and how you are meant to act;  and it is totally intolerant of any opposing views … you only have to think of issues like marriage, sexuality, the humanity of the child in the womb.  And so a Christian person can find themselves in real turmoil because the world around us insists on what we must think and believe about many things, even though in our hearts we know many things are against the natural law, the teaching of Scripture, and the received tradition handed down to us from Christ.

And like Joseph too, our own weakness, sinfulness, and limitations can make us feel unworthy to be the bearers of Christ’s message: who am I to stand up for the Truth, when I am as much a sinner as anyone else.

Saint Joseph – that strong, humble, and just man – gives us a model and example.  He was able to hear the message of the Lord to him, and God’s grace allowed him to rise above his own inner turmoil;  to rise above the expectations that the world around him placed on him;  and to rise above his own sense of unworthiness.

In Saint Joseph, the new man – the new person – that each of us is called to become is outlined: we are called to become a new person “who looks with trust and courage to the future … [who] does not follow his own plans but entrusts himself without reserve to the infinite mercy of the One who will fulfil the prophecies and open the time of salvation” (2).

As we approach Christmas, and ponder for a moment the place of Saint Joseph in this great event, let’s ask for his prayers to assist us in our lives;  that each of us, like him, may become the person God wants us to be, and fulfil our part in God’s plan of salvation for the world.

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(1)   Aidan Nichols, OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 2, The Temporal Cycle: Advent and Christmastide, Lent and Eastertide, Balwyn, Victoria, Freedom Publishing, 2012.

(2)   Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, 19 December 2010.  http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/angelus/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_ang_20101219_en.html