December 16, 2022                                                             O.E.P.S. Christmas Message, Volume 17

As we approach the fourth Sunday of Advent, and the Christmas season, we find ourselves busy and perhaps fearful we’ll forget something. Yet, it is good for us to take a few moments to remember a most important, yet too-often overlooked, character in the Christmas story – St. Joseph. He is conspicuously absent from many of our Christmas carols, cards, art, and stories.  And even when he is present, iconography often presents him as an elderly, white-bearded figure – more as foster-father or protector, than as husband to Mary.
We don't really know a whole lot about Joseph from the Gospels.  Jesus is called the "son of the Carpenter", so we can deduce Joseph’s primary occupation. Matthew also tells us that he is descended from the line of David, so we can trace his family tree.  Beyond that, nothing much.  But in Matthew 1:19, we receive a key detail about Joseph, one which helps us understand and appreciate the special role God would give him in Jesus' birth and upbringing.  We are told that "Joseph is a tzaddik, a righteous man", a man of  "integrity". Joseph’s life was inspired by the search for God's will and determination to letting that will guide his decisions - even when it meant making hard choices. 
In Matthew, Joseph faces a major dilemma.  On the one hand, he loves Mary, and wants to take her home as his wife; on the other hand, as a law-abiding Jew, he is faced with the knowledge that Mary is pregnant, and he knows that HE isn't the Father.  What to do?  We can sense his ambivalence.  He wants to stand by his fiancée, but he feels torn: perhaps betrayed, certainly confused.  Because he has had no involvement with this newly-conceived life, he wants to leave Mary her freedom, while protecting her reputation - not to mention her life.  Under Jewish law, Mary could have been accused of adultery and stoned, because a betrothal contract already existed between her and Joseph.
Just as Joseph is about to withdraw from the picture, we are told that "an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream."  "Angel" is merely the Hebrew word for "messenger", and it is in this dream that God communicates something about his plan for Joseph’s life. Joseph responds to God's call to become part of this family which we now call Holy: Jesus, Mary, Joseph.  It's important for us to see the three of them together.  We often call Jesus son of God, son of Mary.  As if his divinity came from God, and his humanity came from Mary.  Biologically speaking, I suppose this is true.  But there is so much more to being human than just your flesh and blood, your genetic code, your DNA.  It has to do with belonging to a family, with relationships, with being a member of a people and sharing its history, culture and faith.
And being a father is much more than just siring a child.  It is a lifelong commitment to love, care, protect, and provide for your child, to be present in good times and in bad.  Joseph was a true father to Jesus.  In giving Jesus a name, in assuming legal paternity, he gave him what Mary might not have been able to do by herself in those times: provide Jesus with a home, with security, support and love.  Through Joseph, Jesus will be recognized as son of David, son of Abraham.  Jesus will belong not only to God, but also to a human family.  Because of the "yes" Joseph and Mary give to God's messenger, Jesus truly becomes one of us.
Joseph listened within himself for an answer.  And deep inside, he hears a voice of truth. The Scriptures call this voice the "angel of the Lord".  We have other words for it - "conscience", "integrity", "the will of God."  Like Joseph, we too must listen to it and respond.  This kind of listening is called discernment.  It includes major, once-in-a-lifetime decisions, but also the ongoing process of living in fidelity to those commitments.  Joseph models this for us.
Joseph made his choices, accepted his responsibilities, as a good father, and husband, a righteous man.  And in so doing, he, like Mary, becomes a model of faith for all of us. While Joseph, in his humanity, probably questioned his capabilities and wondered why God chose him, through it all, he trusted that this family, this life with Mary and Jesus, with all its twists and turns and adventures, was to be the dwelling-place of God.  And so, he continued to pay attention, to listen to that still, small voice within.
“With a father’s heart: that is how Joseph loved Jesus”. In Pope Francis’ inspiring opening to the Apostolic Letter Patris Corde (December 8, 2020), marking the beginning of a special Year dedicated to St Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, he outlined seven qualities of St. Joseph which can inspire all the church as we seek to grow in integrity and wholeness.  He refers to Joseph as a “beloved son, and a model father: tender and loving, obedient to God’s word, welcoming, creative, courageous, hardworking, humble, and self-giving.”  All of these, Pope Francis stresses, can inspire us on our journey of faith, no matter what our particular vocation.
Joseph’s Song
by Michael Card

Soon, it will be Christmas.  Life is so busy and hectic, and it's hard to find time to be quiet, to reflect on the deeper meaning of the new life God desires for each of us as we celebrate the birth of his Son.  But let us try.  For like Joseph, each of us has an angel: a messenger of God inside me, speaking God's unique truth for my unique life.  To hear this voice, we must be still and listen deeply.  And when we do, we will discover that our homes, our families, our hearts are the place where Emmanuel – God-with-us – Jesus the Son - has come to dwell.  Like Joseph and Mary, let us make space for his arrival. 
On behalf of the Office for English Pastoral Services, have a happy, holy and peace-filled Christmas.
Fr. Raymond Lafontaine, E.V.
Episcopal Vicar for the English-speaking Faithful
Director, Office for English Pastoral Services
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Montreal
A Christmas Blessing
by John Purifoy
 - Pope Francis, "Patris Corde"
Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
Show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
and defend us from every evil. Amen.

Prayer: © Libreria Editrice Vaticana
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