A reflection by Fr. Idara Otu, MSP, on Matthew 1.16,18-21,24
Today, we celebrate the solemnity of St. Joseph, the spouse of Mary, the patron of the Universal Church and the principal patron of Canada. Today also marks the second anniversary of the installation of Pope Francis as bishop of Rome and the successor of Peter. St. Joseph is the patron of all biological fathers, of the dying, of carpenters and of social justice crusaders. Many nations and religious communities are placed under his patronage.
Very little is said about Joseph’s life, except for the narratives recorded in the second chapter of Luke and the first two chapters of Mathew. From these gospels, we know that Joseph is a descendant of David, the husband of Mary, and a carpenter. Joseph is presented as a quiet, devout, humble, compassionate, just, faithful and obedient man. Most striking is the fact that no direct word or speech is attributed to Joseph in these gospels. Yet the life of St. Joseph bears witness to all ends of the globe. Joseph is loudly quiet.
We listen to Joseph’s silence in today’s gospel. We heard loudly how Mary and Joseph were engaged. Prior to their marriage, Joseph found out that Mary was with child. Being an upright man, Joseph did not want to subject Mary to humiliation. He decided not to publicly disgrace Mary, but chose to divorce her quietly. Before he could carry out this plan, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him that the child conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit, and that Mary would bear a son who would be named Jesus.
This gospel narrative is often regarded as the second annunciation of the birth of Jesus. The first was the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary. At the first annunciation, Mary interrogated the angel, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” And she went on to say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” Now, in response to the angel’s message, Joseph asks no single question and utters no single word. The only word Joseph speaks is silence. Silence is Joseph way of saying “Yes” to God’s call to be a foster-father to Jesus and earthly-protector of Mary. Silence, backed by loving presence and actions, are the means through which Joseph lived his vocation and bore witness to Christ.
Professor Roger Schroeder of Chicago tells the following story. A bishop with a group of school children before their first Holy Communion asked them, “What is the most important part of the Mass?” A little girl raised her hand and when called upon, she pointed to the “EXIT SIGN.” Witnessing is not only from “inside the Church to the outside, but also from outside to the inside of the Church.” As missionaries, the silent witness of St. Joseph is an invitation to reclaim the value of contemplation. Contemplation draws us into the world of others and enables us to see the world through God’s dreams. In contemplation, we bring the needs of the world to God. In silent actions, we can teach the world more than any eloquent sermon. Pope Paul VI once said, “Modern man and woman listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”