Dec 23, 2014

St. Joseph and his dream

As the final days of Advent are upon us, tomorrow being the Eve of Christmas, let's take a moment and reflect on Joseph the husband of Mary.  Joseph appears little in the New Testament and nothing of what he said is recorded.  However, the Scriptures imply his goodness, faithfulness, obedience to the will of God and his love and respect for Mary.  We can therefore assume that he took great care not only for his husband responsibilities but for protecting his wife Mary and her mysterious child, Jesus.  As time went on and they lived a normal existence in the obscurity of Nazareth the scriptures also allude to the fact that it was always assumed that Jesus was the biological child of Joseph and Mary.  When Our Lord appeared on the scene at the synagogue in Nazareth, the assembled crowd questioned about Jesus: "This is Joseph's son, surely."  (Lk 4: 23).


But the greatest test of Joseph's faith was certainly when he discovered that Mary, his espoused wife, was already with child before their formal marriage ceremony.  In short, he was confronted with the shocking fact that Mary had committed adultery and was subject to be stoned to death. We don't know what went on in his mind and heart when that news, evidently from Mary herself who related her angelic encounter to him, but it seems at first blush he didn't buy Mary's story.  Why would he?  There was no precedent for such a strange event. 


Joseph's true character is shown in the way he decided to handle this moral dilemma.  Rather than publicly shun and humiliate Mary, as most men of his time may have done, he decides to "divorce" Mary quietly and turn her loose.  In short, it took him off the hook, spared Mary humiliation, and set her free to marry the man who had fathered her child. 


What anguish Mary must have felt as well when she realized of Joseph's disappointment and shock. When we read these Christmas stories we tend to idealize them and turn them into paintings and Christmas cards.  While that is not a bad thing, to realize the human drama here is most helpful because it reveals people of great faith.  It tells us of a God who mysteriously and quietly inserted himself in to the world while respecting his own creation.


But Mary and Joseph and all the other figures were not holy cards or plaster statues.  They were not olive wood carvings in a sentimental nativity scene.  They were true human beings who wrestled with these strange events and wondered what was the best thing to do in this situation.  Not unlike ourselves who often deal with struggles, albeit far less mysterious. 


In the end, angelic intervention came again, this time to Joseph himself.  And with the reassurance of the Angel's story, as a man of trusting faith and respect, he took Mary into his home as his wife and cared for her child as if he was his own.  Joseph: a man of faith, goodness, integrity. Joseph's response to the angel is significant.   


Did you ever wonder where the Gospel writers, Matthew and Luke in particular, learned of these detailed events leading up to the birth of Jesus?  Most scholars that I have searched say that it was most likely from Mary herself.  At some time after the resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, a strong tradition takes Mary to Ephesus, Turkey, under the watchful care of John the Apostle, for the remainder of her life. 


Could it be that at some point, the writer of Luke's Gospel sought an interview with her and there she laid out the details.  Who else could have done so?  We may say, then, that Mary is a co-author of the Gospels as well. Yes, there are some apparent similar stories in pagan myth about a virgin goddess,
etc. but who's to say that God didn't use such stories familiar in some circles at the time but now enflesh them with true human beings in real time and history.  We have adopted in our Catholic faith, for example, certain ancient practices of Roman times (the date of Christmas for example) but now "Christanized" them with the true and living God.


Peace in these final day. 


Read of Joseph in :  Matthew 1: 18 - 25