Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Solemnity of St. Joseph
March 19, 2016
2 Sam 7:4-5.12-14.16, Ps 89, Rom 4:13.16-18.22, Mt 1:16.18-21.24
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted:
- An ecclesiastical holy year is meant to influence everything the Church does during that year and in a particular way the way the Church celebrates the major feasts. Today on the Solemnity of St. Joseph during the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, it’s an opportunity for us to focus on St. Joseph from the perspective of God’s mercy and at Mercy from the perspective of Saint Joseph. In deference to Joseph’s seven joys and to how the Lord calls us to forgive “70 sevens” times, we can look at seven mutually interpretative resonances between St. Joseph and mercy.
- The first is how St. Joseph was first a recipient of God’s mercy. Like all of us, he was a sinner who trusted in God’s mercy, growing up in the faith of the Jews that confessed their need for God’s eternal mercy. His vocation story is an act of mercy on God’s part, selecting him out of all the descendants of David for a special mission in the unveiling of God’s eternal action plan of mercy. Because he had received God’s mercy, because he had become rich in mercy, he was able to share it with others.
- The second is that he was a “just man” whose justice, like God’s, was surpassed by mercy. To be “righteous” means to be right with God and it ultimately refers not only to not being out of communion with God through sin, but being in communion with his will, which desires mercy and not sacrifice. He believed in God’s mercy and, like with Abraham’s faith, it was credited to him as righteousness. And we see the expression of that mercy in the way he treated the Blessed Virgin Mary when she returned from Ain Karim after a few months caring for St. Elizabeth very pregnant. Even though according to the law of Moses, justice required her to be stoned for having conceived a child out of wedlock, presumably through adultery, his merciful love for her was greater, and so he decided to divorce her quietly allowing everything to think he had been the legitimate father of the child, an act of mercy not just for Mary but for the child she was carrying. Little did St. Joseph at first know! And how much his mercy was rewarded.
- Third, he participated intimately in God’s merciful rescue mission. It was he whom God the Father gave the privilege of announcing His mercy to the world when, at Jesus’ circumcision, he said that his name was to be Yehoshua, “God saves.” He was to be the first to point publicly to God’s redeeming merciful love.
- Fourth, we see mercy in his life in the way he sought to give his life to protect Jesus from Herod’s henchmen. He scurried him and Mary off to Egypt, which was not merely a physical escape point but one full of spiritual symbolism, because in leading Jesus back from Egypt after Herod’s death, he was helping Jesus to retrace the merciful spiritual liberation of the Jews during the exodus. As Patron and Protector of the Church, which is the extension of Jesus’ plan of mercy, St. Joseph continues to give his life prayerfully to lead us all on that exodus. I continue to believe that he should be officially declared the patron of the pro-life movement so that all people can depend on his mercifully interceding to save those in Christ’s image in the womb just like he intervened to save Jesus.
- Fifth, as a legal father, he mercifully provided for Jesus and Mary. At Jesus’ presentation, he provided the poor offering of a pair of turtle doves because that was all he had; he couldn’t afford a lamb to redeem the Lamb of God. Later, he worked hard as a carpenter to provide. St. John Paul II said that he was the very epitome of the Gospel of Work, of how to turn our labor into a work of mercy as we care for the needs of others who will benefit from our labor of love.
- The sixth way St. Joseph exercised mercy was through teaching. He was Jesus’ great teacher according to his humanity, not just training him in his own trade, but supervising his human spiritual growth and practice. It was St. Joseph who would lead the prayers in the home, according to Jewish custom. It was St. Joseph who would take Jesus to the Synagogue and sit with him, since Mary had to sit in the back with the other women. It was St. Joseph who in a particular way brought him into the Courtyard of the Jews in the Temple to pray with the other men on their thrice annual pilgrimages. Teaching as we know is one the spiritual works of mercy. We see Jesus’ compassion for the crowds result in his own teaching. St. Joseph continues to try to mentor the whole mystical body in his contemplative prayer. I specifically give him credit for the way he helped me in prayer to find me a place where I could grow in faith upon being assigned to New York and he answered the prayer the first night after the retreat when Sr. Magdalene called, late at night (!) and asked.
- Seventh and lastly, he shows his mercy at our death. The whole Christian people refers to St. Joseph as the patron of a good and happy death, a death like his, in the presence of Mary and Joseph. He, who is the “wise and faithful servant whom the Lord put in charge of his household” (Lk 12:42) is praying for us that one day we might hear what he heard at the end of his earthly life, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter your Master’s joy!”
- The name “Joseph” in Hebrew means, “May God grant increase,” and we pray on his feast day that God will increase our devotion to him!
- Throughout the Christian centuries, on façades of Churches consecrated to him and on the pedastals for statues dedicated to him, we find the words, “Ite ad Ioseph,” the ancient saying that Pharaoh said to Egyptians with regard to the Patriarch Joseph after whom St. Joseph was named: “Go to Joseph.” And that’s what we do on this sacred day As we prepare to receive the same Son of God he used to hold in his arms, as we prepare to be nourished by the divine child who in his humanity was nourished by the work of St. Joseph’s hands, let us go to St. Joseph to ask him to intercede for us for the grace we need to involve ourselves in God’s plan of mercy just as much as he did, so that as we adore and receive Jesus here at Mass with similar sentiments to how he adored him in the manger in Bethlehem and at the carpenter’s table in Nazareth, we may come through the grace of a happy death to adore that same Mercy-Incarnate, that same God-saves, that same Jesus with him, with Mary, and with all the angels and saints.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 2 Sm 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16
“Go, tell my servant David,
‘When your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his kingdom firm.
It is he who shall build a house for my name.
And I will make his royal throne firm forever.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand firm forever.’”
Responsorial Psalm Ps 89:2-3, 4-5, 27 and 29
The promises of the LORD I will sing forever;
through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness,
For you have said, “My kindness is established forever”;
in heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness.
R. The son of David will live for ever.
“I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
Forever will I confirm your posterity
and establish your throne for all generations.”
R. The son of David will live for ever.
“He shall say of me, ‘You are my father,
my God, the Rock, my savior.’
Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him,
and my covenant with him stands firm.”
R. The son of David will live for ever.
Reading 2 Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22
It was not through the law
that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants
that he would inherit the world,
but through the righteousness that comes from faith.
For this reason, it depends on faith,
so that it may be a gift,
and the promise may be guaranteed to all his descendants,
not to those who only adhere to the law
but to those who follow the faith of Abraham,
who is the father of all of us, as it is written,
I have made you father of many nations.
He is our father in the sight of God,
in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead
and calls into being what does not exist.
He believed, hoping against hope,
that he would become the father of many nations,
according to what was said, Thus shall your descendants be.
That is why it was credited to him as righteousness.
Verse Before the Gospel Ps 84:5
Blessed are those who dwell in your house, O Lord;
they never cease to praise you.
Gospel Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.