The Universal Church today celebrates two important figures who were and are key models in the salvation history. The Church without these models becomes an orphan and Jesus Christ promises that he “will not leave us as orphans…” (John 14:18). The Year of St. Joseph proclaimed by Pope Francis started from 8 December 2020 and ends today 8 December 2021 on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. It is quite providential that the ‘Father’ and the ‘Mother’ of the Church are celebrated. Pope Francis with the Apostolic Letter “Patris corde” (“With a Father’s Heart”) recalls the 150th Anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as the Patron of the Universal Church. This role of St. Joseph symbolizes the fatherly role he has for the Church. Also, today we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary who is a paradigm and leads us all in holiness that is the Church’s mystery as “the bride without spot or wrinkle.” (Ephesians 5:27) Mary just as St. Joseph is model for us and a mother of the Lord who commissions the Church to be the Sacrament of Love. Therefore, it is apt to celebrate Mary and Joseph today and also draw lessons from their roles to the Church.
The fatherly role of St. Joseph was depicted in the Sacred Scriptures of how he cared and modeled the holy family. He accepted with much challenges the role to become the ‘father’ of our Lord Jesus Christ despites the situations surrounding the betrothal of Mary. Blessed Pope Pius IX’s declared St. Joseph as the Patron of the Universal Church. St. Joseph becomes an example and a faith model for us to emulate. Just as Pope Francis describes St. Joseph as a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father; a father who is creatively courageous, a working father, and a father in the shadows, Mary in her role as the Mother of the Church also shares these qualities of St. Joseph. And we are called to be imitators of these saintly people. The divine motherhood of Mary won for her the Immaculate Conception since “…the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin,…” (Ineffabilis Deus). As we celebrate the Immaculate Conception today and conclude the Year of St. Joseph, we should be poised to become imitators of St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Through their intercessions may we be ambassadors of ordinary beginnings and silently change the world with our fragrance of faith.
The world today is charged with the philosophy that “Man is the measure of all things.” (Protagoras) Many societies and peoples are bent on showing their superpowers without any recourse to God. Secularism and human inventions in religious spheres are ubiquitous leaving Christianity to be a mockery of many. In fact, Joseph was a Silent Mover in the Sacred Scriptures and typical of Mary whose Immaculate Conception we celebrate today, when the whole world hung in the balance she only silently echoed “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Pope Francis in Patris corde describes St. Joseph as “the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence” who nonetheless played “an incomparable role in the history of salvation.” Christians are called to be meditative in their ordeals and be ready to witness the Lord to others. Joseph was a silent mover who welcomed the will of God by creative courage as Patris corde describes. Through this, St. Joseph was a father “in the shadows” centred on Mary and Jesus. Our reflection on this day is to examine our lives as Christians and people who are expected to change the world “in the shadows” as St. Joseph did. Mary also changed the world “in the shadows” as the handmaid of Nazareth who was singularly honoured with grace and privilege to be without original sin. For some who will not accept this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary due to rationalization and sometimes the misinterpretation of Sacred Scriptures, Pope Francis gives as the spirituality of St. Joseph. Joseph’s spiritual path “is not one that explains, but accepts” – which does not mean that he is “resigned.” Those with the same sentiment or even with the question of the Blessed Virgin Mary “how could this be” will have the angels answer “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and God’s power will rest on you.” (Luke 1:26-38) May our minds be enlightened to accept the deposits of faith.
Interestingly, some art works of St. Joseph present him with the carpenter’s square and lily. Mary is called by some saints and Church Fathers as “lilium inter spinas” (lily among thorns). As a symbol of purity and perfect beauty, the lily points to Mary’s Immaculate Conception, which gave her purity, perfect beauty of the soul, and the full endowment of wisdom. The carpenter’s square symbolizes truth which Catholics must uphold in our world today. St. Joseph was not only a father who teaches the value, dignity and joy of work but in all truth he radiates that “there is a renewed need to appreciate the importance of dignified work, of which St. Joseph is an exemplary patron” just as Patris corde delineates. Truth and purity should be the hallmark of the Christian life in an era where these are lacking. Mary’s purity is shown in her Immaculate Conception because of her divine motherhood and the role she played in the salvation history.
As models for Catholics who are universally celebrating the Immaculate Conception and concluding the Year of St. Joseph, the DIVINE DUET – Mary and St. Joseph should encourage us to be collaborators in the Church. When we are able to perform to the divine duet of Mary and St. Joseph, then this will be a springboard for the Church to have a great moment of reflection on the Synodal Process which Pope Francis instituted to reorder the Church’s internal mechanisms for discussion and reflection. For us to have a Synodal Church whose purpose is to commune, participate and be missionary, then Mary and St. Joseph are our coaches par excellence of this journey of synodality. May Catholics who are celebrating today the Immaculate Conception of Mary be imitators of the divine purity in the world that seems to neglect holiness. And may St. Joseph who is the Patron of the Universal Church always guide the Church even as she (the Church) reflects on the Synodal Process with the aim of a Listening Church who is in Communion, Participation and Missionary.
PRAYER TO ST. JOSEPH
Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life
Obtain for us grace, mercy, and courage
and defend us from every evil. AMEN
Source: REV. FR. MICHAEL SELASI COMBEY // Agnus-Dei Media