Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Nativity of the Lord – At the Vigil Mass

December 24, 2020
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

1 Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29
Titus 3:4-7
Matthew 1:18-25

For this celebration of the Vigil of Christmas, the Church offers for our reflection the annunciation of Saint Joseph as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. One of the noteworthy aspects of this reading is the silence of Saint Joseph. He responds to the announcement by the angel of the first Christmas with silence. The silence of Saint Joseph is not born of confusion regarding what this news means for Mary and for him.

It is not like the silence imposed upon Zachariah when he is told by the Archangel that he is to be the father of John the Baptist despite his advanced years and those of his wife Elizabeth. In that case Zachariah asked Gabriel the question, “How will I know this is so?” seeking reasons to verify and prove God’s ways before Zechariah would trust God. The silence of Joseph is not imposed, it is born of his righteousness before God and man.

Scripture and tradition reveal to us that Saint Joseph was a righteous man. His righteousness was not born of perfection and self-sufficiency. His righteousness was born of his fidelity to and knowledge of the Word of God — both of the Law and of the Prophets. This enabled him to understand the dream that he experienced: the annunciation by the angel of his vocation to be the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the paternal guardian of the Infant Jesus Christ. Saint Joseph’s hesitancy to accept Mary into his home was because of his attentiveness to the saving power of God and his awareness of his own unworthiness, not because of his suspicion of Mary’s moral integrity and worthiness.

The temptation to separate and divide where truth calls us to integrate and unite can also affect our understanding of Saint Joseph. This tendency can wrongly prompt us to make Saint Joseph simply a bystander in the stable in Bethlehem and in the domestic life of the home in Nazareth — that somehow because Jesus was uniquely conceived in the womb of Mary and knew God to be His Father, Joseph simply becomes a figure of functional usefulness and not with any familial relation or sense of belonging with Jesus and Mary.

Christmas calls for our silence born in awe of God’s power and mercy in making Himself so small as a tiny baby. Christmas calls for our presence and attentiveness to Christ’s presence in the home especially among men entrusted with the responsibilities for belonging and of being husbands and fathers as was Saint Joseph. Christmas calls for a confident response because Christ is born in Bethlehem, God saves us in Jesus, and He is Emmanuel, God is with us.

Saint Joseph responds to the call of God not with words but with love that shows itself in deeds. They are attentive actions; they are courageous deeds, and they are hopeful signs. His response is born of love and cultivated by silent meditation and obedience. They are confident and decisive actions. Saint Joseph was confident because he was obedient. He sought only God’s will and not his own. That is the path to fidelity; fidelity is the path to peace; fidelity is the path to joy.

Saint Joseph is proof that there is joy to be found in sacrifice, there is joy to be found in service; there is joy to be found in surrender; and that is the place where we receive hope born this Christmas in the Divine Infant.

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