“When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.” These words conclude the Gospel reading for the fourth Sunday of Advent, and they invite us to turn our attention to the figure of St. Joseph, the foster father of the Lord Jesus.
St. Joseph has sometimes been described as the “silent man” of the Scriptures. He does not say a single word that has been recorded by the evangelists, but in a certain sense, he does not have to say anything; his actions speak more loudly than any word he might have spoken.
St. Joseph’s first, and indeed foundational, act was to believe. We do not know how Joseph learned that Mary was “with child,” but we can presume that, at the news, all his plans and dreams were shattered until he had the dream that changed his life. In this dream, Joseph responded positively to the Word of God, communicated to him at a decisive moment. In taking Mary “his wife into his home,” Joseph demonstrated a ready openness to God’s plans; he showed a real “obedience of faith” (cf. Rom 1:5).
Joseph accepted Mary in the mystery of her virginal motherhood, and he welcomed at the same time the Child who was destined to “save His people from their sins.” We can see a clear parallel between St. Joseph’s act of faith, made in response to the message of an angel, and Mary’s act of faith made at the moment of the Annunciation. Mary speaks (“Let it be done to me as according to your word”), while Joseph acts, but in both cases there is a free decision, a readiness of will, to cooperate with the grace and plan of God.
Once his decision was made, St. Joseph’s life became a life lived in service to the Redeemer. He served the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood. This fatherhood is expressed, as Pope Paul VI tells us, “in his having made his life a service, a sacrifice to the mystery of the incarnation and to the redemptive mission connected with it; in having used the legal authority which was his over the Holy Family in order to make a total gift of self, of his life and work; in having turned his human vocation of domestic love into a superhuman oblation of self, an oblation of his heart and all his abilities into love placed at the service of the Messiah growing up in his house.” It is just this kind of complete self-giving that should characterize our lives as disciples of Jesus. In placing himself at the service of the mission of the Son whom he welcomed as his own, St. Joseph becomes a model and example for us all to imitate.
This week’s Gospel passage describes St. Joseph as a “righteous man.” He is righteous because of his piety, because of his surrender to God as well as his respectful and obedient cooperation with God’s will. At the dawn of the New Covenant, Joseph shows himself to be one who respects God’s work and active presence, most especially in Mary, his wife. These qualities, demonstrated in the person and life of St. Joseph, are likewise qualities that ought to be evident in our lives as well. To be a disciple involves more than mere words; it involves the act of responding to God in faith, of offering ourselves in service to Him, of cooperating with His work.
As we prepare to recall and celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Savior, let us look to St. Joseph in order to discover how to dispose ourselves for the manifold graces that Christmas brings. Let us make the faith, the obedience, the generosity and the charity of St. Joseph our own, so that we will be able to welcome into our lives the saving presence of the Christ Child He who is Emmanuel, “God with us” now and forever.
Fr. De Ladurantaye is director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy, secretary for diocesan religious education, a professor of theology at Notre Dame Graduate School and in residence at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Virginia.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)