A reflection on today’s Gospel [Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a]
Saint Joseph was a man of few words. Even today, on his feast day, we do not hear any words from the Saint himself in the Gospel. And I think this is perfect: it’s exactly how he would want it to be; and it’s a perfect reflection of his immensely humble and understated nature.
Today’s Gospel reminds us of Joseph’s admirable treatment of Mary: rather than reacting angrily or judgmentally to news of her pre-marital pregnancy, he stayed with her, possibly even taking shame on himself in doing so. In Joseph’s compassionate and merciful treatment of Mary we see a blueprint for Jesus Christ’s later compassionate and merciful approach to those in need. He doesn’t run away from social outcasts, he embraces them, he accompanies them and he loves them! If Jesus gets a reputation for making ‘bad friends’, those on the margins of society, does he learn it from Joseph? If God our Father is Jesus’ nature, is Joseph his nurture? With parents like Mary and Joseph, how can Jesus not become a beacon of mercy, humility and obedience?
Being, quite literally, a novice to these sort of things, I’m not sure why it is March 19th that we dedicate a day of the Church calendar to Saint Joseph or who exactly decided on this date and why. At first it seems strange to celebrate this Saint during Lent – surely around Christmas would seem more appropriate? In fact, I read this week that in the Eastern Orthodox Church, St Joseph’s feast day falls in the week after the Nativity of Our Lord. Well I would like to share a speculation that comes from my recent Spiritual Exercises that has made me realise why it is actually quite fitting that Saint Joseph should be in our minds as we arrive at the beginning of Holy Week and our final preparations for the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Imagine you’re present at the fourth station of the cross. “Jesus meets his Mother”. Imagine you’re Mary, covered in a confused terror as she watches her Son proceed to Calvary. She sees him courageously embark on his way, picking up his cross and fulfilling God’s will to the letter. Would this not feel familiar to her? Could her mind not help but echo back to the event of our Gospel today when Joseph took on his task and, despite the confusion of the situation, carry out what God was calling him to do with great courage? Let us strive to remember the example of Saint Joseph as we embark on the Holy Week ahead.
Why? Because we are people at differing places on our own paths of discipleship and here is one of the original Christian vocations, one of the very first lives that was transformed by the arrival of Christ on Earth. Saint Joseph listened to the call of God and was brave enough to change the course of his life for it. The fact that we are here together demonstrates that we have done this too. Now we must continue to follow him in our next steps: we must replicate his meticulous obedience to the Lord’s will, his courageousness and, above all, his quiet humility. If we do this, then we will share something special with Christ, we will have been nurtured by the example of Saint Joseph.