Homily for Holy Family Sunday, December 27, 2020. Gospel of St. Luke 2:22-40. Theme: Joseph, The Man Closest to Jesus
We cannot think of Christmas without, of course, thinking of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. And while Jesus is - and must be - the center and focus, Mary is always close at hand, right there beside him. But it seems to me that St. Joseph is too often treated as the "forgotten member of the Holy Family". To some extent I guess it’s understandable given that from a theological point of view, he seems to be out-shined by a wife who is the all-holy Mother of God and an adopted Child who is the very Son of God. But I think that if we look at it from a different point of view, from the practical instead of the theological, we might better appreciate St. Joseph and grow in devotion to this man who was closest to God.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, wants to bring St. Joseph out of the shadows and so has declared 2021 to be the Year of St. Joseph. He has asked us to deepen our understanding of this man whom God appointed to be husband and father, provider and protector of the Holy Family. We know very little about St. Joseph. Scripture doesn’t say much about him and not a single word of his is recorded for us in the Gospels. But from what little is said about him, we can learn some basic facts about his life and draw important conclusions about his character.
We are told that he was a descendant of the great King David of Jerusalem who had lived 500 years before him. But by Joseph’s time the royal family had disintegrated socially and was mixed in among the common people. Thus, we learn that Joseph was among the working class, a tradesman, a laborer, a carpenter. This didn’t, however, change the fact that Joseph was a branch on David’s family tree and the prophets of Israel foretold that the Messiah would be born from this House of David. You see, according to Jewish Law, when a man officially held and named a child at the 8th Day circumcision ceremony, that baby became his very own son and legally inherited his family line. No questions asked. The boy – called “Jesus” by his father – now became, like Joseph, a son of Judah and a member of the House of David.
Our introduction to him begins with the Gospel of St. Matthew who gives us only a two-word description of the man. But it is a compliment that is of the highest regard according to Jewish standards. Matthew calls him a “just man”. In our modern language, we would translate this as a righteous man, a holy man, a virtuous man, a man who always did the right thing even at personal cost. For example, when Joseph was informed of Mary’s inexplicable pregnancy, he could have made a big deal out of it. He could have played the victim. He could have embarrassed her and her family. But Joseph was willing to let it go and chose the option of a quiet divorce. His self-forgetfulness and compassion is then rewarded by the sending of an angel dream, assuring him that the Child was of God and so Joseph reaffirms his commitment to the bond of marriage. This example of St. Joseph calls us to be people of integrity, people of our word, people who think of others and do the right thing no matter what the personal cost.
Another thing that I notice about Joseph in the Gospel stories is his contemplative spirit of prayerfulness that allows him to hear and recognize God’s voice. We are told how he was able to receive the Lord’s message in dreams and be so convinced that it was indeed God speaking that he did exactly what they said. He takes Mary as his wife because of a dream. He flees with the Mother and Child to Egypt because of a dream. Years later he returns to Israel with them because of a dream. It seems to me that the only way Joseph could awaken and immediately do what his dreams command is because he had trained himself to hear and recognize God’s voice in prayer. This tells me that he must have spent quality time in silent prayer, prayer of the heart and meditation nurturing a contemplative spirit, a sensitivity to the Divine Presence and Voice. Through this example, I see St. Joseph calling us to also become people of deep personal prayer and silent meditation, people who learn to hear and recognize the voice of God whispering within us.
Finally, I am deeply moved by the self-sacrificing love that St. Joseph shows for Jesus and Mary which characterized his entire adult life. His plans for marriage took a turn he didn’t expect when Mary conceived Christ. He was most likely simply expecting to live a normal Jewish life, wit a normal Jewish wife, in a normal Jewish village. But such was not to be God's plan for his life. Joseph sacrificed his sexuality and biological fatherhood, two things deeply dear to every man for the sake of Mary’s unique role as Mother of the Son of God. And amazingly, it was this ordinary and yet extraordinary Joseph of Nazareth, whom God himself chose to become his male role-model when he came to live in the flesh on planet Earth. The generous and selfless heart of St. Joseph invites us to learn from his example what it looks like to truly love and generously serve those who are entrusted to our care. He devoted his whole life to simply being the best provider and protector, the best husband and father for the Holy Family.
So, during this special Year of St Joseph, let's do our best to grow in our understanding and devotion to him as our Holy Father asks. Let’s ask him to help us become virtuous people, prayerful people, people wholly dedicated to loving and serving those with whom we live, work and socialize. Let’s form the habit of turning to St. Joseph in prayer in our own times of need and with the same confidence that Mary and Jesus had in him. And then just like them, I am sure that we will never ever be disappointed! Pope Francis as shared with us a special prayer that he recites daily for this very purpose. It goes like this:
Glorious Patriarch Saint Joseph, whose power makes the impossible possible, come to my aid in these times of anguish and difficulty. Take under your protection the serious and troubling situations that I commend to you, that they may have a happy outcome. My beloved father, all my trust is in you. Let it not be said that I invoked you in vain, and since you can do everything with Jesus and Mary, show me that your goodness is as great as your power. Amen.