“Today is the third day of this octave of Christmas and we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. Yesterday on the 26th, the day after Christmas, we celebrated (if you can call it a celebration) the feast of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr following the resurrection and tomorrow in our liturgy we will remember the Holy Innocents who died at the hand of King Herod. I think it’s fitting that this year today’s feast of the Holy Family falls right in the middle of these two feasts that reminds us that there is sin and evil in this world and that is the very reason why we desperately need and why we so joyfully celebrate the coming of the Christ child for the redemption of all of mankind.
In Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, a painting by a French artist beautifully depicts the Holy Family resting on their flight to Egypt to escape Herod’s persecution. The Blessed Mother with the Christ child nestled in her arms is asleep between the paws of the statue of the Egyptian Sphinx. I invite you to check this out if you haven’t seen it. It’s a beautiful painting. In this painting a short distance away from mary and Jesus at the base of the platform of this statue, this sphinx, St. Joseph is like he’s out cold. He is sleeping. He is near a diminishing fire and a donkey. He’s exhausted from protecting his family, but if anyone tried to get near the Blessed Mother and the child they’d have to go through him first. The positioning of these figures beautifully illustrates the challenges of the Holy family and it’s a symbol to us of our own challenges in every family today.
This morning I would like to focus on the guardian of Mary and Jesus, Joseph and let’s face it when it comes to the Holy Family Joseph doesn’t get much fanfare compared to the other two members, but this year the Church proclaims the year of St. Joseph, so what can we learn from St. Joseph? Well, we do not know a lot about this silent man, but we do know that he was obedient and he was trusting. He quickly acted to protect his beloved spouse and the Christ child when told in a dream that he must flee for the protection of Jesus. Nor did he hesitate to act upon God’s messenger in what was told to him in a dream concerning Mary’s pregnancy and he immediately took her as his wife in order to protect her and the child Jesus. We know nothing about Joseph’s age. In the painting that I referred to, the artist cleverly does not reveal what Joseph looks like or his age whether he is young or old. Especially in classic art, Joseph is usually depicted as an old man. Perhaps portraying him as an old man makes it easier for us to accept Mary’s perpetual virginity. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen put it this way, ‘Art unconsciously made Joseph a spouse chaste and pure by age rather than by virtue.’ Bishop Sheen believed that Joseph was a chaste young man, strong, virile, athletic. I believe venerable Bishop Sheen makes a good point. It’s easy to overlook the virtue of St. Joseph when we think of him as an old man ready to be put out to pasture, but doesn’t it make sense that the man who was chosen to be the protector or Our Lady, of Mary and Jesus would be young and strong? When asked her opinion of Joseph’s age Mother Angelica quipped, ‘Do old men walk to Egypt?’ Please do not misunderstand me, Joseph could have been an old man, but Mother Angelica makes a good point as well. I don’t see an old man working as a carpenter and in those days being a carpenter in that region of the world meant stone cutting, or an old man making the 80 mile journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem maybe as many as three times per year for the major Jewish feasts. Men, we need Joseph as our role model. He’s loving, strong, obedient, just and chaste. We’re all called to holiness, men and women alike. In the Holy Family God was literally, physically in their midst. In our homes and in our families we are to place God spiritually in our midst. After our love of God, men, we are called to love and protect our wives and Jesus loves and protects the Church. This love will then flow to our children who look to us for guidance and protection. We, men, as husbands and fathers are called to be the head of the family, the domestic church. The universal church needs the fatherly protection of Joseph just as he protected the Holy Family 2000 years ago. Our nation and our world need Joseph as a role model for justice and care for the marginalized. St. Joseph is a model saint for both men and women, young and old. Let us turn to his example of obedience, of love and of justice and let us all learn more about St. Joseph this year in the year of St. Joseph and seek his intercession for our Church, our universal church, our domestic church and our nation. St. Joseph, pray for us.”