Saturday, December 15, 2007

St. Joseph, Model of Faith and Love

At first, it appears that we know very little about St. Joseph, and it is true that not much is said about him in the Gospels. Nevertheless, what is recorded about him says a lot. As with John the Baptist, Joseph prepares a way for the Lord and His Kingdom and, because he is an ancestor of David, like the Baptist, Joseph provides a link between the old covenant with Abraham and Moses and the new and everlasting covenant of Jesus Christ. However, perhaps his greatest roles are those of faithful protector and provider.

As with Mary, God chose Joseph for his role in salvation history. When an angel appeared to tell him to not be afraid to take the pregnant Mary into his home as his wife, that she had conceived through the Holy Spirit, and that he should name the child “Jesus,” Joseph complied and placed himself at the service of the Lord without hesitation. He took Mary, not only into his home, but into his heart, as his wife, and he took Jesus as his own son, accepting the vocations of faithful spouse and father.

Indeed, Joseph’s “Yes” to God was arguably a greater act of faith than the “Yes” given by Mary at the Annunciation. After Mary told him that she was with child through the Holy Spirit, a story lacking all credibility, Joseph could have very easily disbelieved the visit from the angel as merely an act of his subconscious during a dream. Mary, too, could have easily dismissed the visit from the angel at the Annunciation as an overactive imagination, but the message to her was soon confirmed by her pregnancy and the fact that Mary also knew that she had not been with a man. However, Joseph had nothing of this world to confirm that she had not been with another man, but had instead conceived through the Holy Spirit. Joseph had only Mary’s word for it, and the word of what easily could have been his imagination in a dream.

The Gospels state that Joseph was a “just” man, but in saving Mary from stoning to death – which he had decided to do before the visit from the angel -- his was an act of mercy, not justice, because the penalty under the Law for infidelity was death. After the angel’s revelation, notwithstanding good reason for doubt, Joseph placed his trust in Mary and his faith in God. Instead of demanding proof, instead of putting God to the test, Joseph acted on faith. Joseph acted on love.

It was not until the shepherds showed up at the stable after the birth of Jesus, claiming that an angel had appeared to them announcing the good news of the birth, that Joseph had any tangible confirmation that he was right to believe in Mary – he was right to act on love and have faith in God.

Joseph was a model of love – true love – not the false so-called “love” of feelings and emotions, of making himself happy, of satisfying his own wants and desires, but the true and perfect love of consciously deciding to empty himself and make a gift of self in seeking the good of others. Joseph set aside his own wants and aspirations of a typical marriage and family life and instead, in true love, devoted himself to Mary and Jesus.

In complete fidelity, Joseph placed himself entirely at their service. As the model husband and father, in addition to servant, Joseph was defender, protector, and provider. He took Mary and Jesus into his home and into his heart. He found shelter when there was no room at the inn; he took his family to Egypt when Herod was determined to destroy Jesus in Bethlehem; he kept them safely in Egypt until Herod’s demise, when they could safely return home to Nazareth; he worked as a craftsman, a carpenter, to provide a home for his family. When Mary and Jesus encountered the hardships of everyday life, it was Joseph who stood at their side, providing them help and encouragement.

Joseph was also counsellor and teacher to the young Jesus, providing him the usual education, instructing him in a trade, and proclaiming the faith to him. Joseph arranged for the circumcision of baby Jesus, the entrance into the covenant with God, and he presented him to the Lord at the Temple in Jerusalem. Joseph took Jesus to the synagogue to hear the word of God and, each Passover, Joseph took his family on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where, at age 12, Jesus was found discussing the faith with teachers in the Temple.

Aside from Mary, Joseph was closer to and knew Jesus more than any other person in history. Until his death, Joseph observed, participated in, and knew all the intimate details of Jesus’ life. It was Joseph who, together with Mary, most influenced and prepared Jesus for his adult and public life. Whereas John the Baptist prepared the world for Jesus, preparing the way for the Lord on a public level, it was Joseph who prepared the way for the Lord on a private level.

Indeed, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are the family of God. In them is the Church in miniature, the model for all of us in faith, love, hope, and truth.

Now, Joseph could have said “No.” Just as Mary the Immaculate retained free will, so too did Joseph have the freedom to refuse to be husband and father. He had the freedom to reject the message of the angel and allow Mary (and the unborn Jesus, because the Incarnation had already occurred) to be stoned to death, thereby defeating God’s plan for the salvation of the world. Just as God placed Himself at the mercy of Mary, making Himself small and defenseless in her womb, so too did God entrust Himself to Joseph, totally and completely vulnerable and defenseless. But God also knew Joseph to be just and righteous and, just as He chose Mary, the Father of Jesus in heaven specifically chose Joseph to be the father of Jesus on earth.

God knew, as we know now, that Joseph was and is a model of love and fidelity, a good and righteous man to whom He could entrust His Son. And so, we understand that, because he was protector and defender of Jesus, so too is Joseph protector and defender of the Church. Thus, as with Mary, we can turn to St. Joseph in heaven to protect us always.

1 comment:

Barbara said...

This is great info to know.