Saturday, December 21, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Looking forward

Our readings for this Fourth Sunday of Advent truly point us to the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that is, His Incarnation, His taking on human flesh, blood, and bone, becoming one of us, not only in appearance, but in substance. Let us never forget that Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of the Father, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, is also consubstantial with His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. As Bl. Pope John Paul II began his first encyclical letter, Redemptor Hominis, way back in 1979: "The redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history" (par. 1).

Jesus' coming into the world was not without difficulties. Perhaps foremost among these was His blessed mother, who was betrothed to the "righteous man," Joseph, turning up pregnant before going to live with her betrothed. The Greek word for "righteous" in this verse is dikaioß, or, transliterated: dikaios. In the context of Matthew, this means that Joseph was an upright, righteous, and virtuous man, someone who sincerely kept God's commandments. This was why Mary's predicament, even before he was informed in a dream that the child was not the son of another man, but was conceived by the Holy Spirit, was a dilemma for him. He did not wish to shame, or disgrace Mary, let alone subject her to the harsh penalties prescribed by the Law. So, he was determined to handle the matter quietly, privately. Unlike Luke, who twice tells us something about the Blessed Virgin's interiority, namely that she "kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" and she "kept all these things in her heart" (Luke 2:19; Luke 2:51b), neither Matthew nor Luke give us even one brief glimpse into Joseph's soul.

Three times in St. Matthew's Infancy narrative Joseph is the recipient of divinely-sent dreams. First, concerning the conception of Mary's baby. Second, being directed to flee to Egypt. Third, to return from Egypt. His name, Joseph, and the Holy Family's destination, Egypt, along with divine communication given in dreams ought to put us in mind of another Joseph, the son of Jacob, sold into slavery, who wound up in Egypt, and who rose to become the most powerful man in Egypt after the Pharaoh as the result of his ability to interpret dreams.

Every Christian husband and father should look to St. Joseph as an exemplar of manhood, the essence of which is not self-assertion, but selfless giving. Hence, we should daily seek his intercession. There are many means the Church places at our disposal to do this, two of which are listed in The Handbook of Indulgences: the prayer to St. Joseph, the Ad te, beate Ioseph, and the Litany of St. Joseph. He is the patron saint of the Universal Church, of fathers and husbands, of a happy death, of casting out demons, etc.

I think both St. Matthew and St. Luke do a masterful job of conveying St. Joseph's righteousness, his quiet dignity, nobility, all of which indicate his self-sacrificing nature. Even though the sacred author of Luke's Gospel tells us they did not understand what Jesus said to them ("Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?" Luke 2:49-50)when they found him, after frantically returning to Jerusalem to look for Him upon their discovery that He was missing and finding the 12 year-old boy more than holding His own with the doctors of the Law in the Temple, Jesus, nonetheless "went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them" (Luke 2:51a).

Of course, all of this is to get ahead of the story, which only brings us round full-circle to my initial observation- that our readings for this Fourth Sunday of Advent point us ahead, that is, forward. The whole season of Advent points us ahead, ever forward, until, as the previously cited second antiphon for Evening Prayer I for the First Sunday of Advent points out: Know that the Lord is coming and with him all his saints; that day will dawn with a wonderful light, alleluia. Will that day find us as watchful, attentive, and discerning as St. Joseph was found to be at our Lord's Incarnation?

St. Joseph, pray for us.

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