17 March 2008

The Mission of St Joseph

I was on the team giving Worldwide Marriage Encounter here in Bacolod, Philippines, from Friday evening until yesterday afternoon. Happily, we celebrated the Mass for the solemnity of St Joseph on Saturday. I was particularly struck by the Preface of the Mass which says of St Joseph:

He is that just man,
that wise and loyal servant,
whom you placed at the head of your family.
With a husband's love he cherished Mary,
the virgin Mother of God.
With fatherly care he watched over Jesus Christ your Son,
conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.

There is a theology of the family there. The husband is called by God to be the head of the family. This headship is one of total service, even to the giving of his life out of love for his wife, just as Jesus gave his life on Calvary for us. St Paul teaches us that Christian marriage reflects God's love for us. Jesus loves his Bride, the Church. Husband and wife reflect that love: Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband (Eph 5:21-33).

The Preface of St Joseph puts his vocation as husband of Mary ahead of his fatherly care of Jesus. The feast itself is that of 'St Joseph, Husband of Mary'. It was as husband of Mary that St Joseph took fatherly care of Jesus. In Jewish law he was the legal father of Jesus since he named him: Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:20-21).

There is a very old theological principle, Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: As We Worship, So we will Live. Above all, the liturgy of the Church is not only the worship of God but it is also forming us according to God's will. And so in the Preface of St Joseph we find God's own understanding of the sacrament of matrimony.

Deacon Keith Fournier has a fine article on Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi and how worship forms us.

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