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Sunday Readings for Dec. 19, 2010 (4AdvA)
By Fr. Alex McAllister
This is the last Sunday of Advent and we now move into the more immediate phase of our preparation for the great feast of Christmas.
Today we focus on St Joseph, the silent man of the New Testament. He does not speak one word in the scriptures and yet he had a crucial role in the great mystery of the incarnation.
Joseph is presented to us as a just and honourable man. Indeed if he had insisted on his rights, as he had at first contemplated, Mary would have been divorced and swiftly cast aside. But Joseph listens to the voice of God and does what is right.
A little later on in Matthew’s Infancy Narrative we hear how Joseph, again responsive to a dream, takes the necessary precautions and takes Jesus and his mother to safety in Egypt.
These are the actions of a good and responsible man, one who puts his own interests in second place. As someone said recently —Joseph is the forgotten hero of the Nativity.
Traditionally we Catholics have called Joseph the foster-father of Jesus. This is in acknowledgement of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. We have also taken St Joseph as a model for all fathers not just foster-fathers.
But with the changing circumstances of family life there are many more men today who find themselves providing parenting for children who are not their own. And there are an equal number who because of family breakdown have to find ways of exercising their parental responsibilities at long distance.
So perhaps we ought to see the example of Joseph as especially important today for all fathers, whether they are natural fathers, foster fathers, stepfathers or indeed separated fathers.
In the scriptures we see St Joseph as acknowledging his parental responsibilities. We see him in a protecting role, taking prudent steps to shield his family from the wrath of Herod. Later on we find him in Nazareth working as a carpenter to provide a living for the three of them. He is also an educator, teaching Jesus his trade.
These are the essential elements of fatherhood: protector, provider and educator.
But we also see Joseph as a man responsive to the Spirit of God. The dreams Joseph has are symbolic of his attention to the things of the Spirit, of his wish to discern the will of God. There is a deep spiritual side to St Joseph, perhaps a quiet and unshowy spirituality but one which proves to be worthy enough for the foster father of Jesus Christ.
St Joseph has always been important to Catholics and down through the centuries he has been an example of love and care. At different times one or other aspects have come to the fore according to the needs of the age. This is most recently shown in the action of Pope Paul VI who gave him an extra feast day on 1st May, St Joseph the Worker. This was, in part at least, to give a religious dimension to a Communist inspired day to mark the rights of workers.
But perhaps in our own day we need to look more at the role of Joseph as foster father and think about those who have accepted parental responsibilities in all kinds of circumstances. Anyone in this role needs support and good role models; we followers of Christ in the 21st Century ought to be sensitive to their needs.
Anyone who accepts the duties and responsibilities of a parent also needs someone to pray for them and they could ask for no better patron than Joseph, the protector, provider and educator of the child Jesus.
Fortunately Jesus certainly had a good foster parent; let the same be so for the many children who need one today.
We are in the immediate run up to Christmas. It is a busy time for us all; with so much to do to make this great feast a suitable occasion for our families.
But we must be sure to make the right sort of preparations. Yes, the gifts and the food all have to be bought, the cards sent and the house decorated. But we, of all people, should be careful not to neglect the spiritual aspects of our preparation.
Christ comes into our world to save us from sin and to open for us the way to new life. We who are baptised Christians are already living that new life. But, of course, we still live in a sinful world and we are highly conscious of the sin in our own lives. For this reason an important part of our preparations for the feast of Christmas should be the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
I urge you not to neglect this. There are so many barriers we human beings put up, so many excuses we can make to avoid this sacramental encounter. And don’t think it is any easier for me than it is for you! It is hard for us all.
Christ comes at Christmas and by coming as a tiny baby in the manger he comes to us in complete and utter vulnerability. This is highlighted by the account in Matthew’s Gospel of King Herod and his massacre of the innocents.
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we too present our vulnerability. In this sacramental encounter we open ourselves up to another human being who acts in the name of Christ and we speak about our weaknesses and our wrongdoings.
Christ came into our world to bring healing and salvation and we experience both of these in a concrete way in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Make this Christmas a holy feast. Make this Christmas one in which you experience the gifts of healing and salvation that Christ alone can give. Make this Christmas a real time of peace, reconciliation and love.