Feast of St. Joseph, husband of Mary
2 Samuel 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16
Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22
Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a or Luke 2:41-51a
"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." Matthew 1:20
Joseph knew with certainty that Mary was his wife.
However, he was afraid to take Mary, his wife, into his home. He was afraid to do this because he did not know with certainty whose child Mary was carrying in her womb.
Joseph, being a just man, was confused. Not only was he confused, he was paralyzed and unable to make a decision. He had three options, take Mary, his wife into his home, divorce Mary, his wife, in a public manner and bring her shame or divorce her quietly.
Who was he supposed to talk to in order to make a good decision, a decision a just man would make under these circumstances? Should he talk to his parents? Should he talk to Mary’s parents? Should he talk to Mary herself? Certainly, he was not going to talk to his or Mary’s friends about this situation. Maybe he should talk to his Rabbi, but maybe he was not so sure about that either. It was a very difficult and confusing time for him.
We do not know how long Joseph wrestled with this dilemma. Was it days, weeks, or even months? We just don’t know. What we do know is that he had finally made up his mind, and that was to divorce his wife quietly so that Mary would not be exposed to shame. This is what a "just man" does, he believed.
In our culture, it seems to me that we have lost the sense of shame. It is easy for us to shame and blame others. The easiest of all places for this to occur is within our family home. In a home setting, there is no outside world to question the way we shame and blame others, be they wife or husband, child or parents, the ones we are supposed to love the most. We can accuse and we can abuse or we can strike out and we can strike down just because we believe that we are within the safety of our homes and we have the power to do so. Some become so expert in casting shame, that it is not shameful for them to do this outside the home. Some even flaunt it, on the radio, the television or in public forms. The more powerful and untouchable we become, the more shameless we can also be. Those we shame become non-persons for us, in reality, nobodies, worthless creatures that have no human dignity.
What God teaches us through Joseph is that his intuition is correct. It is not right to shame someone, especially someone you love. God also teaches us that things are not always what they seem to be. Mary was with child through the Holy Spirit, and this is what Joseph was called to believe. He had to make this leap of faith when God presented to him that truth in a dream. Joseph had to let go of his decision to divorce his wife, Mary, quietly and then to decide to take her into his home.
God never shames us. On the other hand, we can become ashamed of God. We can become ashamed of being what God asks us to be. We are to be loving, forgiving, respectful and caring, even when we believe the other has done something very wrong. Out of human respect, we can become ashamed of standing up for the poor, the outcast and the nobodies of this world. If we listen carefully to our visions and dreams, we will learn what God is saying to us, just as Joseph, Mary’s husband, learned.
Fr. Clemente Barron, C.P. is a member of the General Council of the Passionist Congregation and is stationed in Rome.