Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Solemnity of St. Joseph
March 19, 2015
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 text guided the homily:
What’s Special About This Year’s Solemnity
An ecclesiastical holy year is meant to have an influence on everything the Church does throughout that year. It’s supposed to impact our personal prayer, our liturgical prayer, our work, our day-to-day life, the way the Church marks the liturgical seasons, the major feasts, celebrates baptisms, weddings, funerals, ordinations, professions, everything.
The Year of Consecrated Life that we are now marking, therefore, is meant to influence the way we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph so that we might, first, understand better the “just man” whose faith we extol today along with God, the angels and all the saints, but also through the lens of St. Joseph see better the graces of this year and open ourselves up to them.
So I would recommend that we examine what St. Joseph teaches us about the nature of consecration and what the nature of consecration teaches us about St. Joseph under the following seven angles.
The Nature of Our Vocation
We can be tempted, like most Christians throughout most of the first 1400 years of the Church, to treat the man to whom the Blessed Virgin was espoused almost as a divine afterthought or some kind of ancient “player-to-be-named-later” in a package deal for his young wife. Like the Holy Spirit remains the “great unknown” of the Blessed Trinity (see Acts 19:1-2), so St. Joseph is often the great unknown of the earthy trinity that constituted the Holy Family.
As Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies show us, however, he was the penultimate piece in a divine cascade stretching all the way back to King David, to Abraham and even to Adam. It was through him that Jesus, under Jewish law and mentality, would be a descendent of David.
On this great solemnity, it’s important for us to spend some time meditating on the third person of the “earthly trinity” that constituted the Holy Family, because he, more than anyone, can teach us how best to relate to Jesus and Mary in Bethlehem, Nazareth and beyond.
Why was St. Joseph chosen to be the foster father of the Son of God? One reason was clearly because he was a descendent of King David and therefore any foster child would, according to the law, be a son of David, too. But there would have been many eligible descendents of Israel’s greatest king alive at the time. Doubtless some of them would have been scholars of the law and capable of training Jesus according to his humanity to be a rabbi rather than a carpenter. Some others would likely have had much more clout and been able to avoid being treated as nobodies by the innkeepers when Jesus was about to be born. Others would probably have been wealthy and much more capable than Joseph of providing for Mary and Jesus.
It’s obvious, however, that to God the Father the qualities that Joseph lacked were insignificant compared to those he had. God the Father, in whom all fatherhood finds its roots, saw in him the qualities he wanted to raise his Son, to teach him how to be a man — and a man of God — according to his humanity, especially his own Fatherhood, his own service of life and growth, his own protection and providential provision. God the Father entrusted to him his most precious treasures — his only begotten Son and the woman, more, girl, he entrusted to become the Mother of his Son.
Likewise, we often may not understand our vocation or why we, with all our insufficiencies, were chosen. St. Joseph’s vocation, however, can provide us light. We’re chosen, like him, because God in his wisdom knows that we’re able to say yes to that vocation and keep saying yes, so that through that yes, God can do the rest.
A just man
Joseph was a good man. St. Matthew writes that he was a “just” or “righteous” man. He was “holy,” a man in a right relationship with God. He may not have been flashy on the outside but he shone on the inside. As Pope Benedict once said in a rare play on words, St. Joseph “ad-justed” his life to the word of God.
The whole nature of consecration is to belong to God, to transfer the ownership of oneself to God, and this is what Joseph did. To be consecrated is another way of saying to be sanctified and Joseph is a great patron saint of ordinary Catholic life, sanctifying the work of the home and the carpenter’s shop, sanctifying the day-to-day aspects of being a husband and a father. He shows us how every consecrated person, from our baptism, but especially those who live a “more intimate form of consecration” in religious life, are likewise called to adjust their lives to God, his word and his calling.
That leads to the third point.
A Man of Faithful Obedience
St. Joseph was “righteous” precisely because he was docile and obedient to God.
We see his prompt obedience in his response to the angel of God’s interventions in his dreams. When God sent his angel in a dream to tell him not to be afraid to receive Mary into his home because the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Joseph awoke and “did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.” After Jesus’ birth, when the angel appeared to him again and instructed him to “rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you,” he rose, awakened them, and began their journey that night. A few years later, when the angel appeared to him in Egypt and told him to return with them to Israel, he did.
It would have been easy for Joseph, even in a pre-Freudian age, to deconstruct these dreams according to the standard of his conscious desires. Each dream was asking him to do something totally life-changing: to alter completely his notion of what his marriage would entail, so as to be the chaste spouse of the Virgin and the foster father of the Son of God and Savior of the world; to leave his job and his relatives completely behind and journey through the desert to an unknown land; to return once life was settled. But in each of these circumstances, Joseph acted immediately.
He was so prone to hear God’s word and put it into practice that at the merest indication of the Lord, he didn’t debate or negotiate, but obeyed. St. Joseph never saw obeying God as incompatible with his own good, but rather as the foundation for his own good. God’s omnipotence was not seen as a threat because St. Joseph didn’t equate freedom with being in control, but linked it to being responsible and responsive to God and others. His obedience made him capable of sharing mysteriously in the fatherhood of God the Father.
Joseph was humble enough to sacrifice whatever his own plans might have been to fulfill God’s plans, embracing his vocation to help Jesus and Mary accomplish theirs. To obey — ob-audire in Latin — means to listen intensively, to hang on every word. In Hebrew, there’s no distinction between the words to listen and to obey, because if we’re really listening to God we faith, we listen to do that word. There was no distinction between those words in St. Joseph.
Another way to say he was a man of obedience is to say he was a man of true faith. He was obedient because he believed. When the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home,” he did as the angel had commanded him precisely because he believed.
To trust God does not mean to see everything clearly according to our criteria, it does not mean to carry out what we have planned; to trust God means to empty ourselves of ourselves and to deny ourselves, because only one who accepts losing himself for God can be “just” and faithful as St. Joseph, that is, can conform his own will to God’s and thus be fulfilled.
Like Abraham, to whom he is implicitly compared in today’s second reading, St. Joseph is a father in faith to us. His example invites us to imitate his loving trust, his total abandonment to divine Providence, to take God “at his word”, that is, without clearly seeing his design. Pope Benedict said six years ago today in Cameroon, “Throughout all of history, Joseph is the man who gives God the greatest display of trust, even in the face of such astonishing news.” To say that his is the greatest display of trust of all is something extraordinary, considering he was married to the Blessed Virgin. But that’s a worthy description for his heroic and obedient faith.
A man of chaste love
We invoke St. Joseph in the Divine Praises as Mary’s “most chaste spouse.” We see him often depicted with a lily as a sign of purity. His life shows us that the full gift of self toward another does not necessarily have to involve genital relations. He loved Mary and that meant that he was willing to dedicate himself to what was best for her and for the divine Son she was carrying. He put all his love and his life at the service of their vocations, and in doing he fulfilled his own vocation. St. Joseph teaches us that it is possible to love without possessing.
Chastity is a virtue that helps a person to have self-mastery — to control one’s sexual impulses rather than be controlled by them — so that one can give oneself to others in the way that is best for them. Chastity raises one’s love and attraction up to the dignity of the other. Chastity allows one to see purely (to see God in another) and with piety (to reverence the divine image one beholds). That’s what Joseph was able to do in the case of his Immaculate wife. Chastity in his case and every case is what allows man to be a protector of women rather than a predator. In his chaste love of Mary, he learned how to grow as a man, and in her chaste reciprocal love, he was blessed beyond any husband has even been.
That chastity led to his charity. St Joseph lived at the service of his wife and divine Son; for believers, he thus became an eloquent example of what he would learn from his Son, that how”to reign” is “to serve.” Christ fully revealed man to St. Joseph (Gaudium et Spes, 24) and made his supreme calling clear in becoming a servant of all the rest.
A rich man while poor
St. Joseph didn’t have the resources even to purchase a lamb to redeem the Lamb of God at his Presentation in the Temple. He always had to work hard to provide. But spiritually he was rich. The poor in spirit are blessed because theirs is the Kingdom and St. Joseph, though materially poor, was wealthy because not only lived for the kingdom and lived with the King of Kings and the Queen of heaven and earth. He is an icon of those consecrated men and women who are blessed through spiritual poverty.
In this Year of Consecrated Life, it’s key for us to grasp that we receive far more than we give. We transfer ownership of our life to God but Jesus transfers in a sense himself to our domain, placing himself totally at our service, consecrating himself to the Father so that we may be consecrated in the truth of his word. St. Joseph became aware that he was the wealthiest man who had ever lived because through spiritual poverty he found in the one who would call him “Abba” his pearl of great price.
A humble man
We can only really live out a genuine consecration well when we’re humble, because it takes humility to place ourselves totally in someone else’s hands, to dedicate ourselves totally to the service of someone else. And St. Joseph is a model of humility. If we think Mary’s heart was contemplative, piecing together everything as a mosaic and holding on it with all her strength — what it means that she pondered these things, treasuring them in her heart (see Lk 2:19, 2:51) — how easy it is to see a similar heart in St. Joseph, who never says a recorded word in Sacred Scripture! He was treasuring everything inside!
One area in which this humility was important was in his day to day life raising the Son of God. He was the one who taught Jesus to pray, together with Mary. In particular Joseph himself must have taken Jesus to the Synagogue for the rites of the Sabbath, as well as to Jerusalem for the great feasts of the people of Israel, because men and women were totally separated. Joseph, moreover, in accordance with the Jewish tradition, would have led the prayers at home both every day — in the morning, in the evening, at meals — and on the principal religious feasts.
The great third century theologian Origen writes beautifully that “Joseph understood that Jesus was superior to him even as he submitted to him, and, knowing the superiority of his charge, he commanded him with respect and moderation. Everyone should reflect on this: frequently a lesser man is placed over people who are greater, and it happens at times that an inferior is more worthy than the one who appears to be set above him. If a person of greater dignity understands this, then he will not be puffed up with pride because of his higher rank; he will know that his inferior may well be superior to him, even as Jesus was subject to Joseph.”
At the age of 12, Jesus was already capable of dazzling the greatest masters of the law, and yet he went up to Nazareth and was obedient to Joseph and Mary. What an incredible mystery! How could that not fill him with humble awe? How can it not fill us with humility before all those whom the Lord entrusts to us so that we may serve them like we would him?
A hard-worker, centered on the Lord.
St. Joseph was a tekton, a construction worker. Everyone knew him as such, asking about Jesus, “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” An outgrowth of his spiritual poverty as well as his love for Jesus and Mary was that he was a hard worker. His spiritual currency was in callouses.
John Paul II said about St. Joseph’s work: “In this human growth Joseph guided and supported the boy Jesus, introducing him to the knowledge of the religious and social customs of the Jewish people and getting him started in the carpenter’s trade, whose every secret he had learned in so many years of practicing it. This is an aspect that I feel compelled to stress…: Saint Joseph taught Jesus human work, in which he was an expert. The Divine Child worked beside him, and by listening to him and observing him, he too learned to manage the carpenter’s tools with the diligence and the dedication that the example of his foster father transmitted to him. This too is a great lesson…: if the Son of God was willing to learn a human work from a man, this indicates that there is in work a specific moral value with a precise meaning for man and for his self-fulfillment.
St. John Paul called St. Joseph the “very epitome of the Gospel of work.” He made not only tables and chairs and houses, but formed himself and his family in virtue in the process. He’s an icon of the synthesis of faith, life and work. In the rhythm of the days he spent at Nazareth, in the simple home and in his workshop, Jesus learned to alternate prayer and work, ora et labora, and to unite the two into one continuous “work of prayer” in which he not only offered to God his labor but earned the bread the family needed. He is perhaps the greatest intercessor of all to help us consecrate ourselves to God through our work.
Consecration to St. Joseph
And so today, focusing on St. Joseph’s consecration, we can ponder anew our own and ask his help so that we might live it as faithful as he lived his. As we plumb the meaning of the consecration of our baptism to God, the more intense consecration of religious profession, even our Marian consecrations, we can turn to St. Joseph and consecrate ourselves within his consecration to God, to Jesus and to Mary, to help us to solidify those levels of our consecration to the Covenant God has made with us. Through this consecration to St. Joseph’s fatherly provision and protection, we can open ourselves to receive his help to grow in our vocation, in our being just before God, in our trusting obedience, spiritual poverty, chaste love, charity, humility, and hard work and holy action.
Today I encourage you to consecrate yourselves and all your work with me to St. Joseph just as God the Father entrusted his Son and his Son’s mother to him.
Going to Joseph
Ite ad Ioseph is the ancient aphorism placed on so many statues and altars to St. Joseph. “Go to Joseph.” He is, par excellence, the “wise and faithful servant whom the Lord put in charge of his household (Lk 12:42).
As we prepare to receive the same Son 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 ask go to Joseph to ask him to intercede for us for the grace we need to consecrate ourselves to the divine plan as he himself 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 Jesus with him, with Mary, and with all those who are living out their consecration to the full in heaven!
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.