Wednesday, March 19, 2014

St. Joseph's Fiat | You can say "yes" too!

We hear in Saint Matthew's Gospel, "Joseph her husband...was a righteous man...When Joseph awoke,he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him."  We don't hear too much about Joseph in the Gospels.  We know he is righteous; often called just.  We know that he was obedient, doing what the Lord commanded him through the angel.  We have these vignettes in the life of St. Joseph that have too often left us with an impression of this great saint that is captured well by the beautiful statues of him that adorn our churches, chapels and homes - stony, old and silent.

And yet, this can't be the totality of this great saint.  After all, St. Joseph is not merely window dressing for the Incarnation.  He not an after-thought of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.  Joseph is as central to the plan of the Incarnation as is Mary; as is Jesus Himself.

Appreciating the fullness of Joseph, I think, begins with shedding the statuary and embracing the man.  I came across the following segment of an article written about St. Joseph by another hero of mine, Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who himself is getting closer on his road towards canonization.  Somehow, I had never seen this article before, but was enthralled when I saw this shared by someone else online.  Look at the image of the Saint painted by Bishop Sheen:
That brings us to the second interesting question concerning Joseph. Was he old or young? Most of the statues and pictures which we see of Joseph today represent him as an old man with a gray beard, one who took Mary and her vow under his protection with somewhat the same detachment as a doctor would pick up a baby girl in a nursery. We have, of course, no historical evidence whatever concerning the age of Joseph. Some apocryphal accounts picture him as an old man; Fathers of the Church, after the fourth century, followed this legend rather rigidly. The painter, Guido Reni, did so
when he pictured Joseph as an old man with white hair.

But when one searches for the reasons why Christian art should have pictured Joseph as aged, we discover that it was in order better to safeguard the virginity of Mary. Somehow, the assumption had crept in that senility was a better protector of virginity than adolescence. Art thus, unconsciously, made Joseph a spouse, chaste and pure by age, rather than by virtue. But this is like assuming that the best way to show that a man would never steal is to picture him without hands; it also forgets that old men can have unlawful desires, as well as young men. It was the old men in the garden who tempted Susanna. But more than that, to make Joseph out as old portrays for us a man who had little vital energy left, rather than one who, having it, kept it in chains for God’s sake and for His holy purposes. To make Joseph appear pure only because his flesh had aged is like glorifying a mountain stream that has dried. The Church will not ordain a man to his priesthood who has not his vital powers. She wants men who have something to tame, rather than those who are tame because they have no energy to be wild. It should be no different with God. Furthermore, it is reasonable to believe that Our Lord would prefer, for a foster father, someone who had made a sacrifice rather than someone who was forced to it. There is the added historical fact that the Jews frowned on a disproportionate marriage between what Shakespeare calls “crabbed age and youth”; the Talmud admits a disproportionate marriage only for widows or widowers. Finally, it seems hardly possible that God would have attached a young mother, probably about sixteen or seventeen years of age, to an old man. If He did not disdain to give His Mother to a young man, John, at the foot of the Cross, then why should He have given her an old man at the crib? A woman’s love always determines the way a man loves: she is the silent educator of his virile powers. Since Mary is what might be called a “virginizer” of young men as well as women, and the greatest inspiration of Christian purity, should she not logically have begun by inspiring and virginizing the first youth whom she had probably ever met – Joseph, the Just? It was not by diminishing his power to love, but by elevating it, that she would have her first conquest, and in her own spouse, the man who was a man, and not a mere senile watchman!

Joseph was probably a young man, strong, virile, athletic, handsome, chaste, and disciplined; the kind of man one sees sometimes shepherding sheep, or piloting a plane, or working at a carpenter’s bench. Instead of being a man incapable of loving, he must have been on fire with love. Just as we would give very little credit to the Blessed Mother if she had taken her vow of virginity after having been an old maid for fifty years, so neither could we give much credit to a Joseph who became her spouse because he was advanced in years. Young girls in those days, like Mary, took vows to love God uniquely, and so did young men, of whom Joseph was one so preeminent as to be called the “just.” Instead, then, of being dried fruit to be served on the table of the King, he was rather a blossom filled with promise and power. He was not in the evening of life but in its morning, bubbling over with energy, strength, and controlled passion.”
I love this image of Saint Joseph that Bishop Sheen presents.  A man who is strong and virile; who is chaste and displined; who is a model of faith; not a model of silence and diminishment.  After all, although when we focus on the story of the Incarnation, we tend to look at Mary's fiat, at Mary's "yes" to the Angel's request - "Let it be done to me according to Your Word" we can lose sight of the fact that Mary's "yes" wasn't the only "yes."  Joseph said "yes" too.

As Jesus enters the world, He does so because both Mary and Joseph said yes to God's plan for the salvation of the world.  Jesus enters the world through this first domestic church; the domestic church that is the Holy Family of Joseph and Mary that welcomes Jesus; that welcomes God; that welcomes salvation.  And, this doesn't happen on the basis of Mary's "yes" alone; it happens on the basis of the faith and courage of both she and her blessed spouse, Saint Joseph.

Sometimes, we can be tempted to look at the "yes" of the Blessed Mother and it can feel a bit distant to us because we might feel that she had a spiritual advantage that we don't enjoy - we might feel it was easier for her to say yes because she didn't have the weight of Original Sin to contend with as God asked of her this great mission.  Now, I don't want to feed into that line of thought because, Mary's "yes" was not made easier in any way - she knew how difficult the task ahead was and her yes was just as real and powerful and free.  But, it is a matter of our perception.

So for those of us who might have that perception, today we have placed before us Good Saint Joseph, one like us, who did not share in that spiritual grace of an immaculate conception, and yet, still had the courage and the faith to say "yes" to God's plan - no matter how radical that plan might have seemed at the time. Joseph did as the Lord commanded.

We are reminded today, on his day, that this is all that the Lord asks of us.  When the Lord reveals His plan for our lives - whether through the drama of an Angel, or through the more ordinary circumstances of our daily lives - that just like Mary and just like Joseph, we can say "yes" too.  Say "yes" to God's plan, say "yes" to God's call, say "yes" to wherever it is that God leads.  It can change the world - it will change your world.

St. Joseph, patron of the universal church, pray for us!

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