Saturday, March 19, 2011

St Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Confessor

Ecclesiasticus 45:1-6 / Matthew 1:18-21

At a first reading, the Church seems to have let its piety get the better of itself in ascribing to St Joseph the words of praise Ecclesiasticus offered of Moses. After all, while Joseph did, by the help of angels, escape with his wife and her Son from their enemies, it would be hard to claim that he was magnified by in their fear of him as was Moses against the enemies of Israel, both in Egypt and in the desert. Unlike Moses in whom God ceaselessly worked wonders, Joseph is not claimed, even in apocryphal and pious tales with his words to have made prodigies to cease. One would be hard put to name one king who even met Joseph, much less in whose sight he was glorified, and if he had been given any commandments, it was surely not in the sight of his people. To be fair, he was sanctified ... in his faith and meekness and chosen out of all flesh to be the spouse of the Mother of God, but he was never brought into a cloud nor did God give him commandment before His face, and a law of life and instruction. In short, in nearly every point, we find Joseph to be so unlike Moses and to call into question the wisdom of placing this part of Scripture before us.

However, such a reading misses the significance of St Joseph in the history of salvation. Like Moses, Joseph was the recipient of God's revelation made manifest, but this time not on tablets made of stone, carved by the finger of God, but in the person of his Son, born of a woman, clothed in our flesh. Like Moses he was the guardian of that divine revelation and of the ark in which it was kept, but not for him an ark of wood decorated with gold, but the Blessed Virgin, whom he took as his wife. Like Moses, Joseph was at first unwilling to bear the message God sent, not out of malice, but out of humility and justice, but like Moses was led by a vision, mediated by the angel of the Lord, to receive God's Word and lead it through the wilderness to the promised land.

Indeed, as great as Moses is, we know that while the Law was given through Moses, grace and peace came through Jesus Christ. Whatever virtues may have been necessary to accompany the guardian of the Law, much more profound, while at the same time much more humble virtues are needed to be the guardian of the Incarnate Word, at once his teacher and his disciple, conforming his son to himself as every father tried best, while also and more importantly being himself conformed to the Son. Indeed, like St John the Baptist, Joseph stands as the last of the line of the Old Covenant, doing the best the Old Covenant can offer in preparing and witnessing to the salvation promised by God in his Christ. John stood as the last in the line of prophecy, Joseph last among the patriarchs of old.

This is why we cannot underestimate the virtues of St Joseph, spouse of the Virgin Mother, guardian of the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, and patron of the universal Church. To be charged with the care and upbringing of the Son of God, to be his first earthly model of fatherhood, the experiential image of his Father in heaven, is a burden and a grace more profound than even the grace and inspiration to liberate the people of Israel, present them with the Law, intercede continually on their behalf, and guide them into the Land of Promise. If there is anything unfitting with our reading today, then, it is not that it says too much of St Joseph, but perhaps that it does not, because it cannot, say enough.

Te Joseph celebrent agmina cœlitum;
Te cuncti resonent Christiadum chori,
Qui clarus meritis, junctus es inclytæ,
Casto fœdere Virgini.

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