By Christopher Wells
In difficulties, in troubles, in darkness, we learn from St Joseph who knew “how to walk in darkness,” “how to listen to the voice of God,” “how to go forward in silence.” That was Pope Francis’ reflection during the morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, commenting on the day’s Gospel. Jesus, he explained, was born of Mary, the spouse of Joseph, the son of David.
Joseph believed and obeyed
The Pope reflected on the emotions felt by Joseph when the signs of Mary’s pregnancy appeared after she returned from the house of Elizabeth: He spoke of his “doubts,” his “sorrow,” of his “suffering,” while all around him people began to murmur – the “gossip of the neighbourhood.” He “did not understand,” but he knew that Mary was “a woman of God”: and so he decided “to send her away quietly,” not accusing her publicly. Such was his intention until “the Lord intervened,” through an angel, in a dream, who explained how the child had been conceived in her through the Holy Spirit. And so “he believed and obeyed”:
“Joseph fought within himself; in that struggle, the voice of God [is heard]: ‘But get up’ — that ‘Get up’ [which is heard] so many times in the Bible at the beginning of a mission — ‘Take Mary, bring her to your home. Take charge of the situation; take this situation in hand, and go forward.’ Joseph didn’t go to his friends to be comforted, he didn’t go to a psychiatrist so that he could interpret the dream. No… He believed. And he went forward. He took the situation in hand. But what must you take in hand, Joseph? What was the situation? What was it that Joseph had to take up? Two things: fatherhood, and mystery.”
Taking charge of "fatherhood"
First, the Pope continued, Joseph had to take charge of “fatherhood.” And this is already implied in the genealogy of Jesus, which explains how He “was thought to be the son of Joseph:
“He took on a paternity that was not his own: it came from the Father. And he went ahead with that fatherhood and all it signified: not only supporting Mary and the Child, but also raising the Child, teaching Him his trade, bringing Him up to manhood. ‘Take up a paternity that is not yours, but God’s.” And this, without saying a word. In the Gospel, there is not a single word spoken by Joseph. A man of silence, of silent obedience.”
Taking in hand the mystery of leading people back to God
Joseph is also the man who “takes in hand” the mystery. The first Reading explains that it is the mystery of “bringing the people back to God,” the mystery of the re-Creation — which, as the liturgy tells us, is “even more wondrous” than the first.
“Joseph took in hand this mystery and helps: with silence, with his work, up to the moment when God called him to Himself. It is said of this man, who took up fatherhood and mystery, that he was the shadow of the Father: the shadow of God the Father. And if the man Jesus learned to say ‘daddy,’ ‘father,’ to His Father Who He knew as God, He learned it from life, from the witness of Joseph, the man who took care of [Him], the man who raised [Him], the man who carried forward every paternity and every mystery, but took nothing for himself.”
This, Pope Francis said, is “the great Joseph,” who God needed to carry forward “the mystery of leading the people anew to the new Creation.”