By Deacon Roger Carr-Jones, Marriage and Family Life Coordinator
With all that has happened over the last twelve months it is quite easy to overlook that we have been celebrating the Year of St Joseph. Pope Francis declared this year in his Apostolic Letter Patris Corde in which he writes 'Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.’
This year, as we set out on our annual journey to greet Jesus at Christmas, share this trip with Joseph. As Joseph moved from a settled life in Nazareth to the margins and beyond, how will this have reshaped his deep faith and understanding? How has our experience of the pandemic changed us? Do we harbour any sense of loss of what we once had, or has our call to enter a liminal time created a new sense of security and meaning fed by the virtues of faith, hope and love? Joseph became the person God intended him to be by his ‘yes’ and that same invitation to share in the work of the Lord is offered to us daily.
Joseph only has short walk-on parts in the gospel and his voice is not heard. He is one who listens, a quality much needed in life. Again, Joseph’s role is that of a silent witness to great events, whose presence is still essential as he fosters, guides, and protects the child Jesus. As we travel with Joseph, what would we want to share with him? We might, in this life, think that our contribution is minimal, yet be unaware of the small differences we make each day through our words and actions. It is our quiet and unassuming expressions of a lived faith that frequently touch and transform the heart of another.
Looking at the Nativity from the vantage point of St Joseph allows us to discover new insights about him and about ourselves. Although there is very little mention of him in the gospel accounts, we can sense his presence in the life and ministry of Jesus. When we look at Jesus, we see that everything he did was in harmony with the fulfilment of the Law and of the prophets. This trait is revealed in the character of Joseph, whose actions highlight that his response to what is being asked was always in harmony with the fulfilment of the prophetic past. How does our regular reading of, and reflection on, the scriptures form and inform us?
Jesus was to have the blessing of an adoptive parent in Joseph, who will have an influence on the growing child. Whatever our model of parenting, through baptism we have our own adopted Father in God. Just as God adopts us, Joseph adopted Jesus, taking him into the heart of the home. What questions would you want to ask Joseph about this experience as we continue on the track to Bethlehem?
If Jesus was happy to be invited into Joseph’s home, just imagine his excitement when we ask him into our lives, to sit with us at the table and just chat. He is not worried about the state of our home, He only wants to share, in love, the ups and downs of our life. Imagine how Joseph adjusted from his former life to become an adoptive parent actively involved in the life of Jesus.
What thoughts come to your mind about your father? Reviewing our upbringing can be bittersweet, so why not ask Joseph to intercede for us, with gratitude for the good and compassion for what still needs to be healed. Whether we accept or reject all or part of the model provided by our biological, adoptive, or surrogate fathers, they do have that tendency to resurface when a word, image, aroma, or action triggers a memory. As you walk with Joseph what would you share with him? Perhaps you recall how the nature of your relationship with your father figure changed as you began to grow.
At times this was gradual, at other times possibly fraught as both parent and child accept new identities with different responsibilities. As Joseph now prepares for the birth of Jesus his mind will be on the immediate need. How will he feel when he discovers Jesus is missing from the baggage train at the age of 12, and then again where he finds him? As our early formation fades into the background, we grow into and own our unique identity. Even if you, like me, grew up without a father, how often have others noticed in us responses that mirror our father’s behaviour, or similar idiosyncrasies in our own character.
Think for a moment how the caring and gentle ways of Joseph, as an adoptive parent, placed his love at the service of Jesus. Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia reflects on the special spirituality that is born of the family (AL313), in which ‘family cares should not be foreign’ to that spirituality . Whilst Jesus will grow up in a loving and supportive environment it will not be one free from fear and terror. In the same way it is good to know that ‘the Lord dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes' (AL 315).
As we edge closer to the manger on Christmas morning share those experiences with Joseph: he is a good listener. Chatting as you walk with someone avoids the need for eye contact and provides the space simply to share. Whilst my model of parenting has improved through learning by my mistakes, I am drawn to the grounded nature of Joseph’s character that peeps out from the short glimpses we have of him in the scriptures.
Like us, Joseph is an ordinary person called by God to be extra-ordinary. During the pandemic, we have become aware of the actions of the wider supporting cast, the ordinary people, those without whom society cannot function yet go unnoticed. It will be the shepherds who visit the Christ-child first, not the temporal rulers of the earth. Joseph did not seek the limelight: instead, he patiently got on with things, offering hope to others. How has our attitude been reshaped in the pandemic to notice the quiet figures in our hospitals, medical research, schools, shops, etc?
Whilst it is the role of the supporting cast to provide the backdrop for the main players, they are essential to add life, richness and colour to the whole. The supporting cast is attentive to the roles of all the other small parts. Joseph may be the silent one, but it is a role that we can emulate through our silent but diligent witness to Christ in our world.
Image: Ira Thomas