Joseph, a man capable of dialoguing with mystery

The Gospel (Mt 1:16, 18-21,24) tells us that Joseph was a “just man”, that is, a man of faith, who lived the faith. A man who could be included in the list of all those people of faith we remembered today in the Office of Readings (cf. Hb 11); those people who lived faith as the “foundation of what one hopes, as a guarantee of what cannot be seen, and the proof that cannot be seen”. Joseph was a man of faith: for this reason he was “just”. Not only because he believed but also because he lived this faith.

He was a “just” man. He was chosen to educate a man who was true man, but who was also God. Only a man-God could have educated such a person, but there wasn’t someone like that. The Lord chose a just man, a man of faith, a man who was capable of being a man, and also capable of speaking with God, of entering into God’s mystery. This was Joseph’s life: living his profession, his life as a man and entering into the mystery. A man capable of dialoguing with mystery, of interacting with the mystery of God. He was not a dreamer. He entered into the mystery with the same naturalness with which he pursued his craft, with the precision of his craft. He was able to adjust a wooden angle within a millimetre, he knew how to do it. He was able to sand down, to reduce a wooden surface by a millimetre. He was precise, but also able to enter into the mystery that he could not control.

This was Joseph’s holiness: going through life, being just and professional at his job, and at the right moment, entering into the mystery. When the Gospel talks about Joseph’s dreams, it enables us to understand this: he enters into the mystery.

I think of the Church, today, on this Solemnity of Saint Joseph. Our faithful, our bishops, our priests, our consecrated men and women, popes: Are they capable of entering into the mystery, or do they need to be in control through rules and regulations which defend them against what they cannot control? When the Church loses the possibility of entering into the mystery, she loses the ability to adore. The prayer of adoration happens only when one enters into God’s mystery. Let us ask the Lord for the grace that the Church may live in the concreteness of everyday life and also in that “concreteness” of the mystery. If she cannot do so, she will be just half a Church, a pious association, going ahead by prescriptions but without a sense of adoration. Entering into the mystery is not about dreaming. Entering into the mystery is precisely this: to adore. Entering into the mystery is doing today what we will do in the future. When we will have arrived in God’s presence: adore.

May the Lord grant His Church this grace.

Pope Francis 19/03/2020

Joseph, protector of life

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I thank the Lord that I can celebrate this Holy Mass for the inauguration of my Petrine ministry on the solemnity of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the patron of the universal Church. It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the name-day of my venerable predecessor: we are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude. (…)

In the Gospel we heard that “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife” (Mt 1:24). These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: “Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model” (Redemptoris Custos, 1).

How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.

How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own. This is what God asked of David, as we heard in the first reading. God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit. Joseph is a “protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!

The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!

Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically, in every period of history there are “Herods” who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women.

Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be “protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!

Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!

Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!

In the second reading, Saint Paul speaks of Abraham, who, “hoping against hope, believed” (Rom 4:18). Hoping against hope! Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope! For believers, for us Christians, like Abraham, like Saint Joseph, the hope that we bring is set against the horizon of God, which has opened up before us in Christ. It is a hope built on the rock which is God.

To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!

I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me! Amen.

Pope Francis,
Beginning of the petrine ministry

Joseph, a word from a profound silence

St. Joseph is the key figure in understanding some of the essential dimensions of the Christian vocation There are four of them: protecting life, living fairly, letting God be the protagonist in our life, cultivating the mystical dimension (Matthew 1, 18-25; 2, 1-23).

In the heart of Lent, on 19 March, the church celebrates the festival of St. Joseph. Like Mary’s, in the period of Advent (8 December, the fest of the Immaculate Conception). Frequently represented as a venerable old man with a beard and white hair, looking sad and distant, with a worried countenance, bent over with the weight of his destiny… you could say he mirrors the mood of a certain “Lent spirit” of other times!

The values that characterize him – silence, obedience and service, are also not fashionable. It is not therefore surprising that devotion to this saint has been declining for quite some time. And this is in spite of the apostolic exhortation of John Paul II, the Redemptoris Custos, in 1989, considered the “magna carta” of St. Joseph’s theology, and the fact that “After Mary, the Mother of God, no saint is mentioned more frequently in the papal magisterium than Joseph, her spouse.”(Pope Francis, Patris corde).

Pope Francis, since the beginning of his Petrine ministry, has been drawing attention to the figure of this saint, culminating in the recent proposal of the “Year of St. Joseph” on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Catholic Church, made by Blessed Pius IX on December 8, 1870, and with the publication of the Apostolic Letter Patris Corde, With a father’s heart, which aim is “to increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal”.

In any case, St. Joseph is a key figure in understanding some of the essential dimensions of the Christian vocation. Let us see four of them: protecting life, living fairly, letting God be the protagonist in our life, cultivating the mystical dimension.

Servant of life

Model of PATERNITY – In Hebrew, the name Joseph means “God adds,” “God increases you.” A vocation for fruitfulness, overabundance of life, by consequence!

He is a descendant of David (“son of David”), originally from Nazareth, a “carpenter” (tékton), a profession linked to construction. In the Gospels he is presented, at times, as “Mary’s husband,” which is unusual because generally it was the wife who belonged to the husband. But it is also said that Mary was “Joseph’s wife” (Matthew 1, 18).and that Jesus was the “son of the carpenter” (Matthew 13, 55).

Joseph foresees and lives the word of Jesus: “you have only one Father” (Matthew 23, 9). He incarnates in a singular manner this unique divine paternity (cf. Ephesians 3, 15). He is the father without exercising carnal paternity. But for all intents and purposes he is the father, because “being a father is above all being a servant of life and of growth” (Pope Benedict XVI).

Like the old patriarchs, he also, three times, receives God’s communications through dreams,. The sign of a singular vocation and of a particular relationship with God.

Joseph is the last of the ancient patriarchs, but the first of a new generation, of those who “were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself.” (John 1, 13).

This “paternity” is one dimension of the Christian vocation. We are called, like Joseph, to adopt and protect life. To be fecund, to live to serve life, without taking possession of it, detached. Joseph teaches us how we can love without “possessing” people.

Fatherhood/motherhood is a value that we need to discover today, in a society of “vagrant experiences,” rich in “prodigal sons,” but poor in “fathers” and “mothers” capable of patiently waiting at home to embrace their children when they return, disappointed with life and famished of love. So often they find the house empty, with nobody waiting for them!…

Knowing how “to adjust”

A model of JUSTICE – The Gospel defines Joseph as a “upright man” (Matthew 1, 19). He is upright because being “faithful,” he “adjusts” his life in accordance with the Word of his Lord. But also because, being “wise,” he is able to “adjust” to reality. In fact, when he realizes Mary is pregnant, his first reaction is to comply with the Law (disowning Mary), but he decides to do it in secret. In this way he introduces a new element, of prudence and wisdom. He continues to trust Mary. He is not carried away by “suspicions.” Why? Because he has “for a long time been hearing other words that touch and penetrate him” (Frédérique Oltra, Carmelite).

Being “upright,” he is the “wise and trustworthy steward whom the master will place over his household” (Luke, 12, 42). Joseph knows he is the “servant” and that he must serve well. Goodwill is not enough. Therefore the Biblical text speaks of a man who is “wise and trustworthy” (Matthew 24, 45). “Intelligence without faithfulness and faithfulness without intelligence are insufficient” to take on the responsibility that God entrusts to us (Benedict XVI).

Being upright is part of our vocation. Being “upright” like Joseph. An uprightness that leads us to adopt “upright” behaviour and occupy an “upright” place in life, that of serving. An uprightness illuminated by love, “the fulfilment of the Law” (Romans 13, 10). A quality that is also lacking today. There is a lot of talk of uprightness, but a lack of “upright men.”

Staying out of the picture

Model of DISCRETION – Joseph is a discreet man, a reserved person. He is always “out of the picture,” as one author quite cleverly comments: “Two sisters were flicking through the new book about religion, when they see a picture of the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus. “ Look,” says the older one, “this is Jesus, and this is his mother”. “And where is his father?” asks the younger one. The sister thought for a moment and then exclaimed: “Ah, he’s taking the photograph.”

A man of silence, the facts speak for themselves. A man of obedience, the Gospel highlights his perfect compliance with the arrangements he receives in his sleep from the angel (Matthew 1, 24). As it says in Song of Songs: whilst he is sleeping, his heart is awake (5, 2).

Forgetting himself, he lives for “the child and his mother” (Matthew 2, 13. 19). Like John the Baptist, he considers it good that he diminishes and that they grow. His life belongs to them totally. And so, to a certain point he “disappears”…so as not to overshadow his son!

Each one of us to called to follow this testimony. Discreet like Joseph, making our life serve Christ’s mission. Knowing how to step aside, retreat to the backstage. It is neither easy nor obvious. We live in a society that favours “personal fulfilment” and prominence. Since small, we design our own life project, what we want to be “when we’re big.” Vocation implies abandoning this human dream (like Joseph with Mary) to embrace the divine. Knowing how to eclipse ourselves to let God’s project be carried out in us!

Inhabiting the mystery

Model of CONTEMPLATION – Joseph is the saint of silence. He never speaks. But it is a rich profound silence, which challenges us. Why this silence? Because Joseph lives in mystery! It is not a question of words, but of his attitude to life, of his whole person.

Faced with the unexpected fact – for him incomprehensible and a “mystery” – of Mary being pregnant, Joseph thinks of retreating, in silence. It is the word of the angel: “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1, 20), which introduces Joseph to the mystery, as Gabriel had done with Mary.

These words do not eliminate the mystery, do not explain what really happened, or how. They introduce Joseph to the mystery Mary had already absorbed. Joseph is not facing the mystery but inside it. It is not like the people of Israel in front of the cloud in the desert, entering the cloud, like Moses or like the three apostles on Mount Tabor” (theologian Borel).

Before he was “outside” of the mystery, facing it and therefore doubtful and fearful. Then, he allows himself to be led by it, like Mary after her “fiat.” “Now,” inside “the mystery,” without even understanding it, it cannot be denied.

“Entering” into the spirit of God is the essential dimension of any vocation. This requires availability to let yourself be “introduced” into it. Without this, the devotee remains “outside” and will not find the motivations to live his vocation to the full. He will be, in the best hypothesis, a “good worker” or “self-interested,” and in the worst scenario a “parasite” or an “unfaithful servant” (Luke 12, 46).

To conclude, Joseph is certainly not the man portrayed in a certain iconography. Surrounded in mystery, in the midst of a family he loved and who loved him, identified with his vocation as protector of the Author of Life, competently exercising his profession…. he was and is a happy man!

Fr. Manuel Joao Pereira Correia mcci