My dear friends, today the church celebrates the solemnity of Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, foster father of Jesus Christ and Patron of the Universal Church. In the gospel taken from Saint Matthew (1.16, 18-21, 24a), we read that Mary had been betrothed to Joseph of the House of David. Based on Jewish law, Mary was the wife of Joseph because betrothal established a juridical bond between the two parties. But before they lived together, Mary was found to be pregnant. How shocked and disappointed Joseph must have felt given that he never had intimacy with his wife.
Joseph, being a righteous man, decided to divorce Mary quietly without exposing her to public shame and ridicule. An angel of God appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” It is important to note that, when the angel announced to Mary that she will conceive and bear a son ((Lk 1:28), the two actually had a tête-à-tête. Mary had a chance to talk with the angel and to express her thoughts, worries and above all to give her consent with her Fiat (Yes). But in the case of Joseph, the angel of the Lord merely appears to him ‘in a dream-admittedly a dream that is real and reveals what is real’ (Pope Benedict XVI, infancy narratives, Jesus of Nazareth, 41).
Joseph was not just told to keep his pregnant wife, he was dictated the name of the child, Jesus, (YHWH is salvation), he was told the child’s mission on earth; ‘He will save his people from their sins’ (Mt 1:21). He will not become a carpenter like his foster father but a saviour of mankind. In his exegesis of this text, Pope Benedict XVI says, “Only a man who is inwardly watchful for the divine, only someone with a real sensitivity for God and his ways, can receive God’s message in this way.” Joseph referred to in the gospel as “a righteous man,” changed his plan and did as the angel of the lord commanded him (Matt 1:24).
My dear friends, the angel of the Lord entrusted the Holy family to the care and protection of Joseph and Joseph did not disappoint. Rather than silently divorcing Mary, he took her in and protected her and the child. He also protected the child when Herod wanted to kill him. The angel appeared to Joseph again in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you (Matt 2:13).
My dear people, today we are urged to imitate the example of Saint Joseph and to become protectors of our friends, families, neighbours, the elderly, the homebound and lonely people in our communities especially at this time when the world is being threatened by the monster called coronavirus. Consider helping them with grocery, pick up their prescription drugs, and give them a call just to check in on them. Be your brother’s keeper.
In everything you do, respect the recommendations from local health officials in order to stay safe. Our prophetic mission as priests compels us to pray for those infected or affected by this pandemic and also to reiterate the litany of preventive measures put in place by medical experts, political and ecclesial authorities to contain the spread of the virus. Wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer, sneeze and cough into your sleeve, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, avoid contact with people who are sick, stay home if you are sick, avoid gathering of more than fifty people, social distancing etc. Many Bishops have cancelled Public Masses, parish meetings and events for the duration of this medical emergency all in an effort to contain the spread of the disease and save God’s people. Let us pray that Saint Joseph may intercede for our world and keep us safe from the menace of COVID-19.
Fr Eugene Chianain Song, CFIC