Solemnity of St Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Witness to justice and love
Readings: 2 Samuel 7:4-5,12-14,16; Psalm 88:2-5,27,29; Romans 4:13,16-18,22; Matthew 1:16,18-21,24 or Luke 2:41-51
Next Tuesday we will be celebrating the Annunciation of the Lord, and we will rightly ponder on the faith-filled words of Mary the Mother of God. Today, however, we celebrate the Solemnity of her spouse Joseph, one of the great saints of the Church, and yet a man from whom we have no recorded words, just his powerful example.
Pope Francis, in the inaugural Mass of his pontificate, described St Joseph “as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in whose heart we see a great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak, but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love.”
We observe many of these qualities in today’s Gospel when we read: [Jesus’s] mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph; being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally” (Mt 1:18-19).
This example is something which today’s society finds difficult to grasp and one which causes difficulties for us in the proclamation of the Gospel. If one opens today’s papers doubtless there will be a callous castigation of some public figure who has failed to live up to the standard demanded of him. This barely disguised glee in censuring the shortcomings of others is something which rightly reviles many; yet the common reaction to this – that we ought to do away with all morality whatsoever – is unhelpful and causes society to fall apart all together. Joseph was a ‘just man’ who saw no contradiction between love and the law, but rather saw that they only fully function when brought into unity.
I think this example of St Joseph is one which Pope Francis is consciously trying to follow in his pontificate. In his inaugural homily he goes on to describe Joseph as exercising the role of protector “discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand”. It is an approach which opens him up to misinterpretation, but in a context where there are divisions in the Church, and between the Church and the rest of society, there is so much that we would all do well to follow in these words.