Feast of Saint Joseph
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
"When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home." (Matt. 1:24a)
I write this reflection in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG), just after attending one of the Sunday Masses at St. Joseph’s parish, a Passionist ministry here in PNG. It is about a two minute walk from our community residence, and I arrived as the previous Mass was ending, a Mass celebrated in Pidgin. The Church was full to overflowing and it holds a good 600 parishioners. I concelebrated the next Mass and even more people attended. Extra chairs were brought in.
The people of PNG have a special devotion to St. Joseph. It may be because they find it easy to identify with this humble man who is so central to our redemption. As I reread the Scripture reading for this Mass amidst the simple but highly complex life of PNG, I can begin to appreciate some of the reasons why the people here have fallen in love with St. Joseph. He represents a man who was obviously not highly educated but greatly skilled at listening to God and at understanding what God was asking of him. And Joseph was not afraid to act, to follow through on what God wanted from him.
Life in the United States can be quite complicated. Because so many of us are highly educated and at the same time, so many are school drop-outs but educated in the streets and/or by the media, we tend to believe that we have life figured out, how life should be lived, especially how others should live their lives, how others should behave, how others should organize their lives so that we don’t have to suffer personal discomforts and deprivations. The law is the law, and there are no exceptions, except when it comes to our own lives, of course. We can have friends of ours "fix" our speeding tickets, defraud our government by finding loop holes in the tax system and take advantage of gullible consumers by short-changing them in our business deals. But on the other hand, others have to abide by the letter of the law when it comes to our rights, our lives. Our self-centeredness can lead us to set up two sets of ethical and moral norms, one for ourselves and another for the rest of the world.
All of us face ethical and moral decisions during our life-times, and sometimes those decisions are very difficult ones to make indeed. St. Joseph faced an ethical and moral decision concerning his wife Mary, when he found out that she was with child, and the child was not his. By law, he needed to divorce her, either publically or privately, but divorce her nevertheless. But Joseph, a just man, a man of integrity, paid more attention to the voice of God than to the letter of the law. He did not arrive at this decision by just looking at his own self interest. His attitude was not, "how can I get out of this mess I’m in without getting hurt, while still looking good in the eyes of others?" Rather, his attitude was, "God seems to be asking me to do something that goes beyond the law, beyond the traditions. Should I do it?" Discernment, prayer, integrity, God-justice is what Joseph based his decision on to take Mary into his home.
One of the reasons why St. Joseph can be one of our best role models in life is because he was not a man who sat on his hands once he decided on a course of action. He took Mary into his home. He fled to Egypt when he had to. He came back to Nazareth when God said it was alright for him to do so. These were no small decisions. Yet, he carried them out. St. Joseph is a man of principle that we can all understand, no matter where we live, a Saint that we can admire, and most of all, a Saint we can pray to when we are having ethical and moral dilemmas. St. Joseph, pray for us!
Fr. Clemente Barron, C.P. is a member of the General Council of the Passionist Congregation and is stationed in Rome.