Tomorrow is the Day of St. Joseph, Guardian of our Lord. Here's a homily to provide some meditation upon this beloved Saint:
He sort of lurks in the background, Joseph does. We know that he’s there, but we tend to forget him. It’s a role fathers are accustomed to at the time of child-birth, and one – truth to tell – that we’re rather comfortable with. After all, the star of the show is the little baby, and if there’s a first-runner-up, it’s the mama. The papa’s joy comes from just standing there in awe and staring at the miracle in front of him.
Of course, for Joseph, it was different. The child wasn’t his. He’d been hurt, of course, dreadfully hurt when he found out that Mary was pregnant. You see, they were betrothed, not married. But in Jewish society of that day, betrothal was so serious that it could be broken only by divorce. And it sure seemed to Joseph that Mary had broken faith with him.
Joseph was a good man. He was torn, as all good men are, over the horrible conflict between justice and pity. His sense of justice wouldn’t let him even consider marrying her. She was just not the sort of person he had been led to believe her to be. She evidently didn’t hold God’s commands in the same high regard that he did, and what kind of a life could be built out of two people who lived by such different values. And yet, in pity, he didn’t want to make a public spectacle out of her. He wasn’t the least bit vindictive; he wouldn’t enjoy abandoning her to public shame. He was just very sad.
And no doubt people were already talking, and given the normal behavior of human beings the obvious answer to Mary’s condition leapt to the mind. Probably there was a good deal of speculation as to who the papa was. Some held out for Joseph. Others said: “That old priss! He wouldn’t touch her until after the ceremony. Trust me, my friend, Mary just couldn’t wait.”
Many were the nights that Joseph lay awake and stared at the ceiling, wondering what to do. Wondering what God’s will was for him in this situation. Asking: “Why me, God? Why have you let this happen to me?” And then it happened. One night after he had finally fallen into a fitful sleep, God answered. You see, there was someone who saw Joseph’s pain and hurt and knew his struggle. There was someone who saw the hurt and fear in Mary’s eyes as well. And that someone in his own time and in his own way did something about it.
It was a dream Joseph had, but as real as could be. The Angel of the Lord stood there, shining and glittering and somehow terrifying in his holiness, and spoke gentle, unbelievable words of comfort. “Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a Son and you are to give him the name JESUS because he will save his people from their sins.”
And suddenly as the dream had started, it was over. Joseph was wide awake again. But now his eyes were filled with tears and his heart with peace. “Why did I ever doubt her, God? And why did I ever doubt you?” Bet he got out of bed and made himself a pot of coffee or some such and waited impatiently for the light of dawn.
As soon as it was light, he ran out of the house and over to Mary’s parent’s home. When she saw him, saw the look in his eyes, saw the smile on his face, she knew that he knew the truth. At last. Old Elizabeth had shared her secret joy, but no one else up to that point. Now Joseph did. Joseph understood – and that meant the world to Mary. No doubt there were awkward attempts at an apology from Joseph, but Mary just brushed them all away. None of that mattered anymore – now that Joseph knew the secret of what and who was growing in her womb.
“I see his plan now, Mary. I am not to be this baby’s father, but his protector and provider. The protector and provider of the Messiah, Mary! The Promised One, the One whose name is JESUS – who saves his people from their sins. The One promised by Isaiah as God with Us – the Virgin-Born. Oh, Mary! God is so good! How could I have doubted?”
Now please note: the sneers and the knowing looks in Nazareth did not cease. If anything they increased when the people saw that Joseph was determined to stand by Mary. And no doubt, half of the people said: “See, I was right. He is the father.” And the other half said: “See, I was right. He doesn’t have the guts to throw her over even after what she did to him.” But Joseph and Mary were beyond being bothered by such comments and looks. They just looked at each other and smiled. A marvelous secret!
Jesus was the name the angel gave. “Because he will save his people from their sins.” As Mary came nearer to term and the child bulged in her womb, Joseph would place his hand on her tummy and feel the baby kick, and say to himself: “This is my Savior. This is the one we have prayed for and hoped for all our lives. He comes to set us free!”
Old Joseph didn’t live to see how that redemption would take place. He’s last mentioned in the temple with Mary and Jesus when the lad was 12. Sometime between then and Jesus’ baptism at the age of 30, he died. He didn’t live to see the shame of the cross, when only Mary and her friends had the courage to stand by him. He didn’t live to see the joy of the empty tomb when Jesus would begin spreading the joy of death’s defeat into all the world. He probably never saw Jesus work a miracle, but that didn’t matter.
He still died full of faith and hope because he knew that in that child, learning to walk, learning to talk, in that child who hugged him and liked to rub his face in Joseph’s rough beard, in that child who ate at his table and looked so peaceful sleeping under his roof, in that child who played with abandon and prayed with glee, in that child God had come to be with us, to save us. And so Joseph closed his eyes in peace and opened them in heaven’s light only to be embraced by his child, his Jesus. While on earth, Joseph had cared and provided for the Child and now in heaven the Child of Mary would forever care and provide for him.
Joseph lurks in the background, true. But how our Lord loved his earthly protector and provider! You and I often know what Joseph felt like. We’re background people, too, for the most part. Maybe often overlooked and forgotten, just doing the tasks the Lord has given us to do. That’s okay. There’s one who doesn’t overlook or forget. One who loves us. One who is waiting to welcome us home. The Child who was born of Mary, nurtured by Joseph; the Child who by his cross and resurrection has opened for all who trust Him – great and small alike – an eternal home. Amen.