As the Holy Season of Advent winds down, I’ve been pondering the role of Saint Joseph in the life of Jesus. After reading a post today from Father Jason Vidrine (A classmate of mine from the Angelicum), I asked if I might share his homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent. He states so well what has been on my mind in the last few days, that I thought it would be good for you to read too. Enjoy!
On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, all four candles of the wreath are lit…the feast of Our Lord Jesus’ birth – Christmas – is very near! The Church began to pray her annual Christmas novena on Tuesday of this past week…each day the great “O” antiphons were sung – the cry of the nations throughout the Old Covenant: O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O King of the Nations, O Emmanuel…come and set us free! And in these Scriptures on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear how those long-awaited hopes were finally fulfilled, which we’ll celebrate again in two days!
So hopefully by now, nearly all the gifts are wrapped. The Christmas cards are mostly sent and received. Some family members and cousins have arrived. The students’ break from school has begun. The children are looking up the chimney or toward the sky, waiting for the big arrival. With the children, we’re all filled with anticipation.
Could there anything more exciting in our world than children waiting for Santa Claus? While there may not be many…there is one: a pregnant woman waiting for her little love to be born. The Gospel today shows us a central one! We hear that St. Joseph, not yet understanding God’s plan – finds his wife pregnant even though they had no marital relations – and prepares to send her away quietly. The Angel Gabriel comes to him saying:“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt 1:20-21). The Blessed Virgin Mary is overflowing with anticipation…with expectation ever since the Angel Gabriel departed from her. She knew that the baby in her womb would change not only their lives…but the world and all of human history too. St. Joseph is invited to see and embrace this great mystery.
St. Matthew tells us: “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Mt 1:24). Here we see St. Joseph fulfilling the mission God gives him. How? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity…even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time he was betrothed to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the husband of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; during the drama of the flight into Egypt and at the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his work to Jesus. Always present…always faithful…always doing God’s will with haste.
As we gather on the cusp of Christmas, perhaps there’s a final preparation we can make for it…maybe spending a few moments thinking about the great Gift God has given us… and focus on the gratitude we owe Him. The great gift of Christmas, of course, is the gift of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
In his third book on the life of Christ published last year, “Jesus of Nazareth, the Infancy Narratives” Pope Benedict prayerfully considers the stories about Jesus’ birth. He considers these questions: “Is what I read true? Does it concern me? If so, how?”
Pope Benedict notes how St. Joseph does what the Angel of the Lord commanded him (as we hear today) with haste. Of course, Our Lady goes to her relative Elizabeth’s home with haste…and the shepherds also made haste when they heard about Jesus’ birth. So he asks: “How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned? Surely if anything merits haste – so the evangelist is discreetly telling us – then it is the things of God.” A good thought for us today.
Here Pope Benedict put his finger on one of the biggest problems of our modern world. We’re busy – even frantically busy – but when it comes to God and the “things of God”, we tend to be lazy and slothful. Right now…right before Christmas, we’re busy about manythings, but do we stop and ask, “What is Christmas, anyway?”
There’s nothing wrong with Christmas shopping and preparing family gatherings in themselves. Those things are good and they require a lot of work and sacrifice. They are very important in terms of building and strengthening the family. But in light of the Gospel, Pope Benedict’s question becomes so important: “How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned?” There’s lots of anticipation and excitement…but for what exactly?
I think the letters of children are very revealing here. Last year, the Catholic News Agency reported about a Christmas letter to Baby Jesus written by Pope Benedict in 1934 when he was 7 years old; it had been recently discovered during a renovation of a house he used to live in. This is what the letter said: “Dear Baby Jesus, come quickly down to earth.You will bring joy to children. Also bring me joy. I would like a Volks-Schott, green clothing for Mass and a heart of Jesus. I will always be good. Greetings from Joseph Ratzinger.”
At this time, newspapers often publish children’s Christmas letters as the Gazette did today. They write to Santa asking for all kinds of things…from a baby doll, tea set, bike, basket ball, Halo man, X box, 4-wheeler, I-Pad, scooter, fire truck, ferret, I-Pad mini, to a monkey, trampoline, gun, dog, computer, clothes, etc.
But notice the great difference there is between these letters! One is to Jesus…the others to Santa. One asks for joy, clothes to play Mass, and the heart of Jesus…the others for every sort of material thing you can think of. (Don’t get me wrong…I’m not condemning Santa or material things for Christmas!) But I think the difference is much more than simply a “different time”. Once again, I think we can put our finger on one of the biggest struggles of our modern world: not only are we busy about everything but God and the “things of God”…but our very excitement, anticipation, and desires are based on something radically different…Again, “What is Christmas, anyway?”
What were Pope Benedict’s Christmas requests as a child? The first thing he asked Jesus for was joy. It’s one of the themes he returned to again and again his homilies and writings as Pope. Joy is like God Himself…difficult for us to describe. We can understand it more by what it’s not. Joy is the opposite of misery, sadness, grief, sorrow…the literal state of depression and despair that fills the hearts of so many folks in our world today…even though they have everything they want and more! “Joy is the echo of God’s life in us!” (Blessed Columba Marmion, OSB). That’s what little Joey Ratzinger wanted.
The second request for Christmas Pope Benedict had as a 7 year old was a Schott…one of the first prayer books for Mass for children – with the German next to the Latin texts. The little Joseph also asked for “green clothing for Mass.” The Pope and his brothers used to play Mass and their mom, who was a seamstress, would make clothes similar to Mass vestments for them to use. What this shows us was the devotion of their family. The worship of God was a central part of their lives. Even as a young boy, Pope Benedict knew that God is present and that we truly encounter Him here in the Sacred Liturgy.
Finally, Pope Benedict as a boy asked for a heart of Jesus. He was referring to an image of the Sacred Heart, which his family had a great devotion to. But he didn’t just want an image…he also wanted a heart that loved…that could be loved and could give love. (By 1934, the rise of Hitler was in full swing, and surely his hatred and evil was well known.)
Why do I point out this great difference in these Christmas letters of children? Because again, I think the difference is much more than simply one of a “different time”. Christmas brings great excitement, anticipation, haste…but about what?? For what??
As we gather on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, let us ponder the question of the 86-year-old Joseph…now Pope Emeritus spending his last days in quiet and prayer for us: “How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned? Surely if anything merits haste – as the Gospel writer is discreetly telling us – then it is the things of God.” Let us follow the example of St. Joseph. He does the will of God with haste. Let us draw near to him and the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking their prayers for us that this Christmas we might experience a grace: regarding God and the things of God, we might overcome all sloth and laziness…that we might make haste and open our hearts to encounter the only One who can and does give us true life: the newborn King, Jesus Christ the Lord (John 10:10). Amen.
Original Post here.