Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
The Gospel passage from Matthew proclaimed this fourth Sunday of Advent presents to us the annunciation to St. Joseph.
When we hear the word annunciation, we immediately think of the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary found in the Gospel of Luke. It is an event that the beautiful tradition of the Church invites us to keep ever present in our lives through the prayer of the Angelus. We pray it three times a day: in the morning, at noon and in the evening. That prayer reminds us of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God. We pray it constantly because it is the event that brings meaning to our lives. By the Incarnation, everything that is truly human has become a vehicle of communion with God who has assumed our nature. To contemplate the Incarnation is to be reminded that regardless of any other consideration, there is a universal brotherhood of all men. Everybody, including the worst criminal in history or somebody who is particularly annoying to us, shares with us in the one nature present in every human being, assumed by God, who dwelt among us.
It is customary for churches to ring the bells inviting people to pray the Angelus. We do it at St. Patrick every day. Our newly restored bells invite everybody to prayer daily and they remind the students of our parish school that they must make a pause in their studies to elevate their minds to the contemplation of the event that brings meaning to their academic endeavors, to every intellectual quest, to human labor, to our entire lives, even to suffering. Every Sunday the Pope also appears on the window of his study to pray the Angelus with the pilgrims gathered at St. Peter square.
This Sunday, in addition to praying the Angelus to remember the Annunciation, the Church proposes to us another annunciation for our meditation. As we draw closer to Christmas, we are invited to ponder the person of St. Joseph.
The first fact that we learn from Matthew’s narration is that Joseph was aware of the Annunciation. He knew that Mary was pregnant. We find him pondering what to do. We do not know how Joseph found out. Perhaps it was the Virgin Mary herself who broke the news to him. They were engaged to marry. It is obvious that Joseph loved the Virgin Mary dearly. When he finds out about a fact that seems strange to him and difficult to understand, he looks for a way to spare her shame and scandal.
The Gospel points out that Joseph is a “just” man. In a book entitled “Mary in the mystery of the covenant”, the French theologian Ignace de la Potterie, studies in depth the meaning of this expression. It seems evident that St. Joseph is considering breaking the law which, in cases such as this one, mandated a public repudiation. He is planning to go away secretly instead. De la Potterie concludes that St. Joseph is called “just” because he seeks to do the will of God always and everywhere.
We can infer that, if Joseph has found out from the Virgin herself about her pregnancy, he is probably aware of the circumstances of the conception. He knows that the one growing in the womb of the Virgin is the Son of God, who has been conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit without cooperation of a male. Clearly, God’s intervention in history alters his plans and challenges him. He must discern. He has to discover what it is that God asks of him. He must cooperate with the salvific plan unfolding in which his betrothed plays a most significant role.
The angel’s announcement confirms then what he may probably had heard from his betrothed. The angel would go on to assign him a mission. He must take Mary for a wife and name the child. God loves him so much and so values his docility and virtue that he has been appointed guardian of His masterpiece, the Virgin Mary, and of the Redeemer too.
St. Joseph does not speak. He does not answer with words to the announcement and the directives of the angel. He simply acts according to the will of God. He wakes up and takes Mary for a wife and brings her home. It will not be the only time when he has to wake up and take action. When a tyrant orders the massacre of innocents he will have to flee to Egypt with the Virgin and the child.
There are not very many occasions when Joseph appears in the Gospels. There are few passages with references to him, to his trade as a carpenter, artisan. However, every single one of his appearances and interventions, even though silent, are very luminous. They show us a man deeply in love with the Virgin, docile to the will of God, ready to suffer for the sake of those whom he loves.
St. Joseph is a model of human virtues to an eminent degree. He is just, chaste, prudent, honest, gentle, hard-working, humble.
It is not a coincidence that devotion to St. Joseph has been a constant in the Church. He is the patron of the universal Church. St. Teresa of Avila, for example, had constant recourse to his intercession. Not to mention the popes of the 20th Century, especially St. John Paul II. The closeness of Benedict XVI and most especially of Francis to the Guardian of the Redeemer is most evident.
It is good for all of us to consider the person of St. Joseph and grow in love of him. He who was an eyewitness of the birth of Christ helps us to penetrate the mystery we are about to celebrate. Let us learn from him! Let us imitate his faith and his virtues! Let us have recourse to his powerful intercession!
Fr. Roberto M. Cid