Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C
December 10, 2006
“St. Joseph Gets His Due!” That was the large print caption on the front page of last week’s National Catholic Register. It introduced the review of the recently released film: The Nativity Story. The whole article was very positive, approving the way in which the producers have brought the gospel to life and in doing so, have enriched our experience of the Christmas mystery, focusing especially on the indispensable role and the quiet heroism of St. Joseph. With Matthew’s Gospel as its guide, the film moves Joseph out of the shadows and places him where he surely belongs - front and center in the story of Jesus’ Birth.
Even without viewing the film, we can applaud its focus and acknowledge the tendency so to concentrate our attention on the Mother and Child that we all but lose sight of this God-chosen man without whom the Nativity story would have been vastly different. St. Joseph is truly an Advent-Saint - a Neglected Advent-Saint. Even the liturgy sells him short, if we can so express it. In preparing this homily, I searched in vain through all the gospel readings and all the proper prayers for all the Advent Sundays for all three Cycles - and I could not find even the mention of his name!
There is one small Joseph-opening - one for which we can thank Good Pope John XXIII (whose baptismal name was Giuseppe ).By a special papal decree, rather belatedly, he directed that St. Joseph’s name be added to the Roman canon of the Mass, the one we will be using this morning in our eucharistic prayer. Over all the Catholic world, wherever this canon is used, we will “honor Mary, the ever Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and God” and in company with her, “we honor Joseph, her husband.” Taking our cue from Blessed Pope John, in our homily today, we propose to do just that - to find time, however brief - to honor our Advent saint - Joseph.... What better company can we find as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Our Lord?
In the lovely scriptural expression, Joseph, like his ancestor, King David, was truly “a man after the heart of God”. What was it that so claimed the divine endearment? St. Teresa of Avila, a tireless promoter of devotion to St. Joseph, gives us a comprehensive answer when she describes him as a person of Radiant Faith, a person totally turned toward God, completely His to command. The Heavenly Father found in him a perfect conformity - heart and soul, mind and will. He wanted only what God wanted for him and from him. He embodied in himself the first and the greatest commandment.
Certainly the gospels verify St. Teresa’s glowing description. Both Matthew and Luke give us the picture of a person totally available to God - a man upon whom God could and did depend.. We read through their Nativity chapters with due focus and we see Joseph - a central presence, willing and able, always where he was needed, lending strength and reassurance, quietly - faithfully following wherever God’s way leads him - God’s Man for God’s Redemptive Work.
And it was no easy. well lit road which he followed. Both gospels show him to us as a Man of Steadfast Courage and Trouble-Tested Trust.. He breaks into print just four times in the gospel story - and every time he is in some sort of difficulty. First, we see him at Nazareth, pacing upclass=Section2>
and down his little carpenter shop, perplexed at the mysterious pregnancy of Mary, the lovely girl to whom he is espoused. It is impossible for us to appreciate how the heart of Joseph must have been weighed down by the seeming infidelity of her whom already he had come to esteem as blessed among women. It took an angel from heaven to solve that first great difficulty for him. Then, at Bethlehem, we see him going from door to door, and one door after another closed in his face, till finally he must hang his lantern in a broken-down cattle stall - that poor shelter for the Birth of the Divine Babe. Next he appears in headlong flight into the land of Egypt, just a step ahead of the storm-troopers of King Herod, their swords dripping red with the blood of the slaughtered Innocents. And finally, twelve years later, up and down Jerusalem’s streets and back alleys, he trudges, looking into doorways, inquiring of passers-by, he searches for the Lost Boy Plenty of trouble for anyone - more than his share. We might even expect to see him represented in Christian art with an anxious, apprehensive expression and a brow furrowed with worry. But quite the contrary. For whatever good reason, do we not think of Joseph as our Quiet Serenity Saint, his face radiating a contagious peace of soul? The reason is clear enough. Joseph could walk upright and confident in the midst of trouble because he lived in Total Trust - in a Lived-Out Dependence upon God. When things became difficult, he didn’t panic. He pressed on, using the good judgment and the abilities God had given him. He would do his best. And leave the rest to God. He knew that if he did not have all the answers - God Did. It was that simple.
Radiant Faith - Total Availability - Steadfast Courage - Quiet Trustfulness - all these enter into the composite picture which the gospel gives us of Joseph, Man after God’s own heart!
In our reflections this morning, our purpose has been to give St. Joseph his due and to deepen our own appreciation of his central role in the Nativity Story. Now we turn back to our altar to celebrate together the one eucharistic prayer in which St. Joseph finds a place of honor. As we do so, we turn to our Advent Saint and make our prayer:
St. Joseph, heavenly patron,
be our companion in our Advent journey to Bethlehem.
Share with us your own Radiant Faith.
Guard and Guide us on our pilgrim way
With the same paternal love with which you protected
Your Holy Spouse, the Mother of Our Savior and cradled in your arms,
the New-born Infant to Whom you were privileged To give the Name - Jesus.