Wednesday March 19, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of Saint Joseph
Reading I (2 Samuel 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16)
Reading II (Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22)
Gospel (St. Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a)
As we celebrate today the feast of the glorious Saint Joseph, we look at the Scriptures and recognize that there is very little said about Saint Joseph. But what is said about him is critically important. There are times when we have to be able to look at the fact that when almost nothing is said the little bit that is said has an importance beyond that which many words would be able to say. And so, in the reading today from the Gospel, we see a couple of things.
First of all, we see that Joseph is a righteous man. In the second reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we see that, regarding Abraham, his faith was credited to him as righteousness. And for anyone who has the faith of Abraham that becomes the means of righteousness for them. The fact that Saint Joseph is righteous means that he had achieved a certain level of perfection, and so of great holiness. He had overcome sin in his life and he had become perfect. Not the kind of perfection that Jesus and Mary had because theirs is without sin completely (Jesus, of course, complete perfection; Mary, a relative one). But Saint Joseph, then, achieved a perfection meaning there was no more sin in his life; he had completely overcome all venial sin. I am sure Saint Joseph, due to the holiness of the man, never once committed a mortal sin in his entire life; and his venial sins were probably pretty minute. Nonetheless, he was born with Original Sin and he had sin in his own life; but by this point, he had overcome that and he is now called righteous. And so we see something of the holiness and the perfection of the man that God chose for His mother and for His Son.
We also see with regard to Saint Joseph that he was a man of holy fear, a man of filial fear, because the angel has to tell Joseph, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” Clearly, he was not afraid of having a wife, as he was already betrothed. He was not afraid in the sense that he thought he would get in trouble somehow if somebody found out that Mary was with child and the child was not his. But rather, it was out of a holy fear: the recognition that what was happening in his wife was so holy that he himself was unworthy to be in the presence of something so profound. And out of fear of the Lord – that is, the true filial fear of the Lord – Saint Joseph was willing to get out of the way and was able to recognize: “I do not belong in this because I am a sinner. And who am I?” Just think, if Elizabeth would say, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” what is Saint Joseph’s attitude going to be? “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should be my wife? Who am I that God would be considered my son? Who am I that this would be happening in my life?” He recognized his own unworthiness which made him want to back away so that God’s designs would be worked in Our Lady and Saint Joseph would not interfere in any way.
But then we see the next point: He was obedient. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. This is not the kind of dream where he was lying there at night sound asleep and suddenly having some dream; that is not the kind of dream being spoken of. Those dreams we need to reject. But the kind of dream that is being spoken of is more along the lines of a vision of something that would seem more like a daydream, if you want to think of it that way; but it is not a dream as if we are not aware of what is going on. And so the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph, informs him of what happened for this child to be conceived, and tells him to take Mary, his wife, into his home. Saint Joseph immediately accepts. So we see the faith of Saint Joseph, now the second human person to believe and to know about the mystery of the Incarnation – our Lady being the first. Saint Joseph, without hesitation, believes completely what the angel said and is obedient to the direction of the angel.
We see, then, the pattern that is there. We see the fulfillment of the promise that we heard in the first reading about how God was going to raise up the house of David and keep it before Him always because of the faithfulness and the righteousness of this one Shoot that was going to be raised up; and the pattern for each one of us, because Saint Joseph is the patron of the Universal Church and each one of us is a member of the universal Church, members of Jesus Christ, and he is the patron, the father of Jesus Christ (legally and as the foster father), and therefore, he is the father to each of us and he is our patron. Therefore, we are to learn from our father, just as we are to learn from our holy Mother.
From Saint Joseph, we learn these critically important lessons in this little passage: that we are to be righteous, that we are to be faithful, and that we are to be obedient. If we will learn these three lessons from the man who is never recorded as having spoken in Scripture – yet the essence of this man is captured for us in this one little reading – and if we will be able to be obedient to God, to be faithful to His word, like Saint Joseph our faith will be credited to us as righteousness. We will overcome sin in our lives and we will be holy. And we, as members of that new house of David, will stand before the throne of God forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.