Readings: 2 Sm 7:4-5,12-14,16; Ps 89; Rm 4:13,16-18,22; Mt 1-16,18-21
St. Joseph, whom we honor today, is one of those great figures whom we often overlook. From the Gospel story of the conception, birth and childhood of Jesus, there emerges this quiet, modest figure, the perfect model for fathers today.
Just consider the sort of man he must have been. God the Father, out of all the men who ever lived, chose one, Joseph, to be the guardian, the teacher, the guide of His only Son, Jesus. He also chose Joseph to love and protect Mary, the virgin Mother of the Son of God. Yes, Joseph must have been a very special man indeed.
Take some time today and read those first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, to remind yourself of the kind of man Joseph was. There we see a courageous man of honor who wants to protect Mary’s reputation. Why? Because he’s a righteous man and this is what God would want.
We see a man who takes Mary as his wife even though the child she bears is not his. Why? Because God told him to take the Child and His Mother to himself. And so Joseph obeys.
We see a man protects his young family by leading them into exile, into an unknown future. Why? Because God told him to. Joseph doesn’t wait to think it over. No, he leaves immediately in obedience to God’s command. He “rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt” [Mt 2:14]
What a mystery for us to ponder! That God, in order to protect His Son, the uncreated Word of God, should choose to do so through the mediation of a humble carpenter. It’s all a piece of the greater mystery of the Incarnation, in which Father and Holy Spirit now relate to the Son not only as Divine Word but also as incarnate Man.
Matthew glosses over the flight to Egypt in a few words, but the reality would have been a nightmare. Traveling by night, hiding by day, the Holy Family would have required perhaps three or four weeks to travel the 300 miles through an inhospitable desert from Jerusalem to Alexandria. Once in Egypt, as homeless refugees, the family would rely solely on Joseph to earn a living during their years of exile.
Just when Joseph had probably established himself as a carpenter in this foreign land, God tells him to return to Israel, and once again he obeys. The murderous Herod was dead, but in Judea and Samaria, his son, Archelaus ruled, and Joseph rightly feared him, since Archelaus began his rule by slaughtering 3,000 of Judea’s most influential citizens. And so Joseph, again obedient to God, guides Mary and Jesus far to the north, to the safety of a small town nestled in the hills of Galilee, to Nazareth. It is, therefore, through the obedience of Joseph that the prophecies are fulfilled. “Out of Egypt I called my Son” [Hos 1:1]. And “He shall be called a Nazorean” [Mt 2:23; Is 11:1]
God doesn’t reveal everything to Joseph at once. Instead, Joseph remains continually dependent on God’s next word. For Joseph, the just man, is nevertheless fully human, and like all of us he must learn to grow in God’s love and grace. He must experience, as we all must, the trial of faithfulness, the trial of perseverance in seeking out the Will of God in our lives. And so Joseph waits patiently for God to speak, just as God waits patiently for Joseph to grow in fidelity to His Will.
It’s in the home of Joseph and Mary, that Jesus grows to maturity. It’s here that Joseph, according to Jewish custom, teaches Jesus to recite his prayers, to sing the age old Psalms of David, and to read from the Torah, the Law of Moses. It’s from Joseph that Jesus learns to appreciate, first hand, the importance of following the laws and customs of His people. It’s from Joseph the carpenter that Jesus comes to recognize the value and dignity of work.
It’s here, where Jesus encounters daily a man who is happy in being poor in spirit, happy in being meek, happy in being just and merciful, happy in being pure of heart, in being singlehearted. Later, when Jesus begins His public ministry, he will often speak of God the Father as “Abba” or Daddy. And it was from the loving and caring Joseph that Jesus first learned what a daddy was.
At the heart of Joseph’s sanctity is his unquestioning obedience to accept the Will of God in his life…and to act on it. And because he obeys, God comes to him again and again. God walks in Joseph’s soul just as He walked with Adam in the Garden. Is it any wonder that He entrusts to Joseph what is most precious to Him?
We owe honor to Joseph, and honored indeed would Joseph be if fathers today would accept him as their model. And mothers would turn to him, asking for his fatherly intercession in the lives of their children.
St. Joseph, pray for us.