This year, even as important events call for our prayer and reflection, the month of March is overflowing with headlines claiming our attention. The mystery of the incarnation is announced, and we see the way in which God deals with us, making use of all that is familiar to us to communicate his divine life and grace. The availability of Mary sets in motion the events of our salvation. God also sends Joseph to be with Mary as she lives out her total, unconditional and complete response, as she says her ‘yes’ – pronounced with faith. Mary’s ‘yes’ is the word that changes everything.
But this year, 2018, is not merely any other year. This year, we Divine Word Missionaries will hold a General Chapter in June, with the theme chosen for it: “The love of Christ impels us” (2 Cor 5: 14) – Rooted in the Word; Committed to his Mission”. That event is a Kairos for our SVD family. This year has an added significance because next August the global meeting of families will take place in Dublin. It is hoped Pope Francis will be able to attend. Who can help us be better prepared for participation in these events?
It is suggested we reflect deeply on Joseph of Nazareth, husband of Mary. Joseph was given his mission, he was rooted in silence, he was wholly committed to his mission, he was rooted in the Word, and he was a family man. He may have much to say to us this year. Arnold Janssen had a very filial devotion to Saint Joseph as is seen, for example, in his letters to Fathers Anzer and Freinademetz soon after they set out from Steyl to China. A few years later in July 1886, in one of his letters to Bishop Anzer, Janssen wrote this: “… The Steyl house is another house of Nazareth, where St. Joseph takes over the responsibilities as protector and provider for the sons of Steyl….” And let’s remember ‘Family and Youth’ is amongst our Congregational Directions (CD), and most of our PRMs around the world have this CD as a priority in their intercultural life and mission.
When it comes to Joseph, we know so much, and at the same time, we know so little. We have the infancy accounts given to us by Matthew and Luke. We have the more extended period of years grow- ing up in Nazareth which Luke mentions. Much has been written about Joseph, yet we do not have enough knowledge about his family upbringing and how much of that upbringing reveals itself in the life he lived with Mary. We read about his sense of responsibility. ‘Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Joseph got up, took the child and his mother and left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.’ There was no argument from Joseph, just compliance without demanding details. That period in exile reveals and conceals so much about the world of the exile and what the reality of the migrant entails and demands.
We meet Joseph both as a parent and a husband. Joseph lived both roles. We can wonder whether Joseph in his exile years got encouragement from his namesake ancestor, Joseph, sold in captivity in Egypt. That Joseph was a handsome man and well-built as we read in Genesis, but he also lived with the rea- lity of female enticements entering the journey. To be faithful consistently is a lifelong challenge the Joseph – person in each situation faced – humanity where it can be most challenging today. But all that belongs to the past; we live in our day with the social environment of today. We live a historical faith; we leave our footprints on a historic path. When it comes to details, the Scriptures can only give us so much. And it is the intention of the Scriptures just to provide us with so much in the circumstances we desire to know. But we do have our own human experience, and that is our prime posses- sion and maybe the most significant resource in our life search. We can ask where we have personally met on our journey through Joseph, the husband of Mary, the faithful husband who has said so much by saying so little. God continues to reveal the salvation story of the people we meet along the way. God is very personal, direct and sincere in dealing with us. How can we be authentic unless we are equally personal? We may not always read the encounter clearly, but we are given the encounter for our nourishment; so too with our search for Joseph, the husband of Mary. We go again to the sources, what we are told about Joseph in his public life and what we may try to understand even about what we are not told.
A confrere shared this story with us the other day: “In 1954 I was present at the wedding of a Joseph to Mary, my sister. He was a lifelong sheep farmer, who bred and reared hundreds of them; he knew them all individually. Every time they saw him coming, they followed him, always with some expectation of ani- mal food in some form or another. Joseph and Mary together played their part in their marriage union. After 63 years of togetherness, Joseph died some months ago; he had reached 97 years. But they never had their child despite their desires and their efforts.
The smell of the sheep was tangible in that family, but that family of Joseph and Mary never carried their child.” In a real sense, every family is a Joseph and Mary couple trying to live out the conditions in which Jesus is willing to be born and in which Jesus chooses the way in which he will be born.
An African couple whom we know was blessed with six children, all girls. Regarding providing the means for all the girls to get their school education the father was somewhat wayward, so the girls grew up always slightly resentful towards their father. But as years passed and the young women reached marriageable years, they began to notice a difference in the way they saw their father. What they realized was that the father was always with them, always nearby, ever present. They realized none had been abused by someone with evil intentions. They realized their father was a protective father to them despite all the limitations in other ways. He too was a Joseph. It is so easy to misinterpret, but the silence of Joseph is with us in the interpretation.
One of our confreres, a weekend-chaplain in a hospital, narrated this pertinent experience recently: “In the breaking dawn in the mission hospital on Christmas morning last year, I met a solitary preg- nant woman wandering about in the corridors. I said to myself, what a unique blessing to meet a pregnant woman about to give birth to her child on Christmas day; an experience of Christmas at its best, full of divine reality. Having given her my Christmas greeting, she told me she had a problem. When I asked her what the problem was, she said her real problem was how to clear the hospital bill for the expense of her delivery. She did not have that much money on hand, and maybe there was no Joseph in her life. That was Christmas for her at that time… God-with-us”!
An elderly confrere, now retired but still a missionary in a land far away from his homeland, shared with us this interesting piece from his souvenirs: “While I was still a very young missionary, my mother unexpectedly died, all unknown to me at the time, due to lack of adequate means of instant com- munication. Much later I got a short message from a friend called Joseph. In it, he simply said it was a privilege for him to dig the grave of my mother.” It is believed that Joseph died while Jesus was in his Nazareth years. Would it be out of the question to imagine and say Jesus dug the grave of his father, Joseph? A family man committed to the Word carrying out his mission.
Reflecting on Joseph as parent and husband, there seems to be a close connection with being rooted in the Word, committed to his mission. The Word can always surprise us.
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