26 December 2020

'WITH A FATHER’S HEART: that is how Joseph loved Jesus.' Sunday Reflections, The Holy Family of Jesus,Mary and Joseph, Year B


St Joseph and the Christ Child

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Luke 2:22-40 [or 22, 39-40] (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they [the parents of Jesus] brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord [(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons”. Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;

    for my eyes have seen your salvation
    that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
    a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

And his father and his mother marvelled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.] 

And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favour of God was upon him.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

The Census at Bethlehem
Pieter Bruegel the Elder [Web Gallery of Art]

My late father visited me in the Philippines for six weeks in 1981, arriving on 16 February, one day before St John Paul II made his first visit as Pope. My Dad spent most of the time with me in a small seminary for diocesan seminarians that I was in charge of for two years in Tangub City, Misamis Occidental. Before that I had spent less than three months as parish priest of Tangub, the last Columban priest to hold that position.

One evening a family invited my father and myself to visit their home. We went with some other parishioners. When we were walking home slowly someone commented that my father and I were walking in exactly the same way, with our hands behind our backs. I had never been conscious of that before. I recalled Sunday mornings when I was a child when my father would take my brother and myself for a walk in the Phoenix Park, the largest enclosed park in any capital city in Europe, which was about ten minutes' walk from where we lived. Our walks in the Park were usually more of an amble or a mosey rather than the determined 'keep fit' type of walk that so many engage in today.

Pheonix Park in the summer

But my friend's comment in Tangub City made me realise that I had unconsciously picked up this kind of ambling from my Dad.

I learned a lot more from him without being aware of it. When my brother Paddy, who is three years younger than me, was very young my Dad would take me to Sunday Mass while my Mam stayed at home withe the baby and went to a later Mass. I gradually became aware that my father went to an early Mass every day of his working life before going to work on construction sites. (Like St Joseph he was a carpenter and was named 'John Joseph'.) I noticed that after Mass he prepared my mother's breakfast and I often saw him during winter cleaning the grate from the fire the day before, taking away the ashes, and preparing it for the fire that would be lit later in the day. All of this before going to work.

I saw how he deeply respected my mother, and everyone else he met, most especially the men who worked under him on construction sites. I worked with him on one of those during the summer of 1967 when I was a subdeacon. I was ordained the following December. I saw at first hand what I already knew. He never swore, never raised his voice, was a real mentor to young workers, and led by example. He was a quiet man, with a sense of responsibility that he carried lightly and with a quiet sense of humour.

The Census at Bethlehem (detail)
Pieter Bruegel the Elder [Web Gallery of Art]

In a number of places Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that St Joseph is the legal father of Jesus: Therefore let us venerate the legal father of Jesus (cfCatechism of the Catholic Church, n. 532), because the new man is outlined in him, who looks with trust and courage to the future. He does not follow his own plans but entrusts himself without reserve to the infinite mercy of the One who will fulfil the prophecies and open the time of salvation. This is because he named Jesus, as the angel had instructed him in Matthew 1:21 - She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sinsOn 19 March the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Today's gospel refers to Joseph and Mary as his father and mother. Jesus in his humanity learned how to behave as boy and as an adolescent from St Joseph. He learned  the trade of a carpenter from St Joseph. Most likely he walked like St Joseph. And we can be sure that St Joseph took him to the synagogue on the sabbath. In today's gospel St Joseph and Mary take the infant Jesus to the Temple to present him to the Lord. They took him again to the Temple when he was twelve. These two events are marked in the fourth and fifth Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.

It was Joseph as husband of Mary who led the pregnant Mary to Bethlehem as shown in Pieter Bruegel the Elder's painting above, The Census at Bethlehem. The artist shows the Holy Family coming into a 16th-century Netherlands village in the depths of winter, nobody noticing them. This shows on the one hand that He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him (John 1:10-11). It shows on the other hand that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). God who became Man threw in his lot with us. He came into our townland, our village, our town, our city. The villagers in Bruegel's painting haven't rejected Jesus but they haven't yet recognised him.

St Joseph is central to all of this. He exemplifies the vocation of the husband and its consequence for most husbands, the vocation of the father, to an extent that no one else has done. He was the man whom Mary honoured as her husband and whom Jesus called Dad / Papa / Tatay.

Pope Francis, who has a great devotion to St Joseph, has declared 8 December 2020 - 8 December 2021 a Year of St Joseph. In his apostolic letter proclaiming this, Patris corde [With a Father’s Heart), he begins with this sentence: WITH A FATHER’S HEART: that is how Joseph loved Jesus, whom all four Gospels refer to as ‘the son of Joseph’.

Pope Francis writes: The greatness of Saint Joseph is that he was the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus. In this way, he placed himself, in the words of Saint John Chrysostom, ‘at the service of the entire plan of salvation’.

The letter of Pope Francis has much to say about fatherhood. One example reminds me of my own father: Being a father entails introducing children to life and reality. Not holding them back, being overprotective or possessive, but rather making them capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities. Whenever I would have an important examination or was doing something for the first time he would never put pressure on me. He would simply say, The experience will be good for you. I still find that to be true and to be encouraging.

There is much food for reflection and prayer in Patris corde.

Pope Francis and the Sleeping St Joseph

Extraordinary Form of the Mass

Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) 

Sunday Within the Octave of the Nativity of Our Lord.

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 12-27-2020, if necessary).

Epistle: Galatians 4:1-7. Gospel: Luke 2 1:33-40.

Authentic Beauty

Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond.

Pope Benedict XVI meeting with artists in the Sistine Chapel, 21 November 2009.

Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil
(To That Night in Bethlehem)
The Chieftains
English translation recited by Burgess Meredith
Original Irish sung by Kevin Conneff

This is a very old Irish Christmas carol.

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