ST JOSEPH, A TRULY FAITH-FULL PERSON
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 SM 7:4-5, 12-14, 16; ROM 4:13, 16-18, 22; MT 1:16-21, 24 ]
We celebrate the Solemnity of St Joseph today. This is an important feast for the Church, so important that she allows this feast to break the spirit of the Lenten retreat. That this feast is given the celebration of solemnity speaks of the importance of St Joseph in the life of the Church.
The question which we want to ask is: what is it that makes St Joseph such an important figure in the Church? This is a difficult question to answer because we have scant information about Joseph. Only a few lines are mentioned about him in the scriptures. Furthermore, Joseph never spoke at all. He is portrayed as someone who is totally silent in scriptures. And the rest of the information about Joseph is purely from legendary and apocryphal sources. Hence, on what basis should we then bestow such honour on Joseph?
Did St Joseph get this honour simply because he happened to have the right connections? That is to say, since the Messiah, Jesus, had to come from the House of David in order to fulfill the prophecy of Nathan in the first reading, Joseph was blessed to be that link between Jesus and the House of David. This seems to imply that Joseph was just fortunate and therefore had nothing really to contribute. In one sense, it is true because God had providentially chosen him to be the foster father of His Son. However, without faith, he would not have come to realize his calling. He might have taken the other extreme by reacting to his “misfortune” in marrying Mary who was impregnated by someone else. He might have joined the rest in condemning Mary as an adulteress and had her stoned to death.
Then again, could it be because Joseph was such a chaste man, a man who sacrificed his rights to a coitus relationship with his wife that he was honoured? But this would imply that there is something evil in sex and that all our married couples cannot be pure if they express their love physically. We know that sexual love is blessed by God. It is right that in marriage, love of the spouse is expressed physically; not just spiritually. That Joseph chose the path of celibacy together with Mary therefore also requires a deep love and faith in God to give up what is so vital in a marital relationship. Celibacy is very difficult to live unless one lives for the kingdom of God. Celibacy presupposes that God’s love is experienced in a deeper manner than human love.
Finally, could it simply be because Joseph was needed in case Jesus was ridiculed as an illegitimate child, since He was without an earthly father? But to have to carry someone else’s baby would have been a grave injustice to Joseph, unless he knew that this baby truly came from God and that it was a miraculous conception. Once again, it was because of his faith in God and his docility to the prompting of the Holy Spirit that he could accept in faith that the role he had been called to play was part of the providential plan of God, as was in the case of Mary.
In the light of what we have just said, if St Joseph is such a great saint, it boils down to the fact that Joseph was a just and righteous man because of his faith in God. This faith in God is seen both in his contemplative life and in the way he lived out this faith of his.
What is clear from the scriptures is that firstly, St Joseph was surely a contemplative. He must have been a very quiet person. He hardly talked, but we know that he dreamt a lot. Perhaps because he talked so little, he was able to listen clearly to God. His dreams were his visions; it was the way in which he listened to God. Indeed, this is one area we can learn from Joseph. Like him, we need to be contemplative. We need to talk less and listen more, not simply to what is going in the world around us, but also deep inside us. And of course, dreams are a symbolic way of stressing the need to reflect deeper within ourselves.
Secondly, although Joseph was a contemplative, it would not be fair to say that he was a dreamer. He was an activist as well. He was a doer of the Word. Whenever Joseph recognized something as coming from God or that God wanted him to do something, he acted decisively. Once he was convinced of something, he acted promptly. This can be seen clearly in the way he decided to put Mary away when he found her to be pregnant; and to keep her when the angel revealed to him the plan of God; or when he was told to flee to Egypt because of the persecution. Indeed, Joseph is considered as one who truly hears the word of God in the fullest biblical sense. For the biblical meaning of hearing implies obedience as well. Obedience is always the consequence of having heard the Word of God. Without obedience, it shows that we have never heard the Word of God in our hearts. Joseph was a righteous man because he heard and carried out what the Lord commanded of him.
In the final analysis, the whole life of St Joseph can be summarized in his faith. For this reason, the Church has inserted the letter of Paul to the Romans in today’s readings, which speaks about the faith of Abraham and how Abraham’s faith resulted in his being conferred the position of father of our faith. Similarly, Joseph, by his faith in God, has indirectly enabled us to find faith in Jesus. It was through Joseph’s faith that the salvific plan of God could be realized in a most perfect manner. Without faith, he would not have submitted so humbly and cooperated with God and Mary so that Jesus could fulfill the promise that the Messiah would come from the Davidic Dynasty.
But what is so special about his faith? In other words, what kind of faith did St Joseph have? His faith is simply a total surrender to the mystery of God in his life. We can be certain that many things must have puzzled Joseph. For instance, how could Joseph in his right frame of mind believe that Mary had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit; or how could the supposed Saviour of the world be born in a manger; or having the need to flee to Egypt under persecution. Yes, undoubtedly, these matters could have puzzled Joseph.
But yet, Joseph never became bitter with all these apparently unfavourable events in his life. Instead, he accepted all these events as part of the mystery of God’s plan. He embraced them as mysteries; indeed too lofty for man’s comprehension. He did not feel the need to resolve all these mysteries. In humble acceptance, he lived the mystery and found meaning in them. Of course, it was his faith in God’s love and providence that gave him the strength to adopt such a stance towards life, God and others.
As we journey in life, we too can learn from Joseph his attitude towards life. Like him, we need to be more faith-full so that we can be faithful to God and His plan for us. With the faith of Joseph, we will be able to accept life in our stride, living in confidence and with trust in God, responding to Him in a way that is appropriate. Like him, we will simply continue to do our work quietly without seeking attention and recognition. Such a life indeed is a peaceful and anxiety-free lifestyle. And truly, we will become great by being unimportant, modest and unknown. Most of all, we need first to acquire the habit of listening attentively to the Lord in silence at prayer, especially when we read the Word of God.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.