18 December 2010

'You are to name him Jesus.' Fourth Sunday of Advent Year A, 19 December 2010

The Dream of St Joseph, c.1640. Georges de la Tour

Readings (New American Bible, Philippines, USA) l

Gospel (Matthew 1:18-24)

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.

Vision of St Joseph, c.1694, marble. Domenico Guidi

The late Scripture scholar Fr Raymond E. Brown SS in his commentary on this passage speaks of Joseph as the legal father of Jesus, since he acknowledges the son of Mary as his own son by naming him. In Jewish law this is what happened. Father Brown prefers the term ‘legal father’ to ‘foster father’ or ‘adoptive father’, even though they are positive expressions.

St Joseph is the person who taught Jesus in his humanity how to grow into manhood. I remember when my late father, whose baptismal names, like my own, were John Joseph and who, like the saint, was a carpenter, visited the Philippines in 1981. He spent most of the time with me in Tangub City, Misamis Occidental, where I was in charge of Paul VI Formation House at the time. The seminarians there were on a spiritual/pastoral formation year. One evening, with some of the parishioners, I visited a family with my father. As we were slowly strolling home, someone pointed out that we were both walking in exactly the same way, with our hands behind our backs. I had never averted to this before but realized that I must have unconsciously learned this from the time I had learned to walk. My father often took me and my younger brother for a stroll on Sunday morning after Mass.

But I learned much more than how to walk on those Sunday mornings. When my brother was still very young and my parents could not attend the same Mass it was my father took me to church while my mother went to a later one. My mother did take me on occasion but it was usually my father.

I also learned from my father what respect for others means by the way he treated my mother, and everyone else, with courtesy. From both my parents I learned to be honest. If I found a coin I was first to try to find out who owned it before I could claim it as my own.

I saw my father go to Mass every day of his life very early in the morning. When my mother was alive he would come home after Mass, prepare my mother’s breakfast and bring it to her in bed, a treat. (For me that is something that happens when you’re sick. I would never dream of asking for breakfast in bed!) He did this even on occasions when relations between them were a little strained, as she always had his dinner ready when he came home for work. This was their way of loving each other, no matter what their day-to-day feelings were. One of the things we learn in Worldwide Marriage Encounter is that ‘Love is a Decision’. It isn’t a feeling, though feelings surround it.

The Church honors St Joseph above all as the Husband of Mary, the title that goes with his major feast day on 19 March. In other words, this was his vocation from God, to be Mary’s husband and, as such, to be the legal father of Jesus. The primary vocation of a married couple is to be spouses to each other. Within that vocation they are usually called to be parents. Being a parent is meant, in God’s plan, to be a consequence of being a spouse. I remember once coming across someone referring to ‘the love of my life’. I thought at first that she meant her husband. No. She meant their only child, a son. I felt sad.

There is no conflict in being a spouse and a parent. But there can be when the fruit becomes more important than the tree. The tree is marriage and the fruit is the children.

Today’s gospel focuses on Joseph’s call to be the legal father of Jesus – as the husband of Mary.

I am eternally grateful to God for the parents he gave me. I am especially grateful to God for my father. When I was young I used to be irritated by stories we read in schoolbooks where the father usually worked in an office. Mine didn’t. He worked with his hands on construction sites, and took great pride in his work, as I’m sure St Joseph did.

I still get annoyed at the stereotype of the mother as being the one who passes on the faith to the children. Both parents are called to do so. In my case my father had the deeper influence. He wasn’t ‘pious’ or demonstrative in the way he lived his faith. He lived it quietly. Last Sunday the disciples of St John the Baptist, on his behalf, asked Jesus if he was really the Messiah. Jesus told them to tell John what they saw: the blind see, the deaf hear and so on. That was the kind of evidence I saw in my father’s life.

Neither he nor my mother ever suggested that I should be a priest. They enabled me to have the best education they could afford and simply asked me when I was near the end of high school what I wanted to be. When I told them I wanted to be a Columban missionary priest they gave me their full blessing.

May St Joseph, Husband of Mary and legal father of Jesus, obtain for every married couple the grace to be loving and faithful spouses above all and, as such, to be loving parents.



Biblical Reflection for 4th Sunday of Advent Year A 

By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

TORONTO, DEC. 14, 2010 (Zenit.org).- On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we listen attentively to the words of the prophet Isaiah, to the dream of Joseph, and the promise of the eternal God that takes flesh in the womb of the Virgin. The birth of Jesus into human history was the true fulfillment of the hopes and longings, dreams and desires of the people of ancient Israel.

Sign of Isaiah

In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah (7:10-14), King Ahaz expresses in a hypocritical way his preference for depending upon the might of Assyria rather than upon God (v 12). The sign proposed by Isaiah (v 14) was concerned with the preservation of Judah in the midst of distress but more especially with the fulfillment of God's earlier promise to David (2 Samuel 7:12-16) in the coming of Emmanuel as the ideal king (cf. Isaiah 9:5-6; 11:1-5).

The Church has always followed Matthew's Gospel story in seeing the fulfillment of this verse (7:14) in Christ and his Virgin Mother. The prophet Isaiah need not have known the full force hidden deep within his own words. Some have sought a preliminary and partial fulfillment in the conception and birth of the future King Hezekiah, whose mother, at the time Isaiah spoke, would have been a young, unmarried woman "almah" in Hebrew. The Holy Spirit was preparing, however, for another birth which would fulfill Emmanuel's mission, and in which the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God was to fulfill the words of this prophesy.

Full text here.

How Inscrutable His Ways

Timothy Gardner OP

In his Letter to the Romans, several chapters after the portion appointed to be read as the second reading today, St Paul waxes lyrical over the utterly mysterious nature of God, 'O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!'

St Matthew, on the other hand, seems to have a rather matter of fact style - 'Now the birth of Jesus took place in this way…' - yet what he goes on to describe is mysterious, the central mystery of the Christian faith: the incarnation.

Full text here.

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