Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Third Saturday of Advent

Mass for the Saint John Paul II Shepherd’s Guild

December 18, 2021
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Jeremiah 23:5-8
Psalm 72:1-2, 12-13, 18-19
Matthew 1:18-25

In Sacred Scripture, we see several instances where God chooses to reveal Himself and His plan for salvation through the dreams of human beings as visions of light amidst the cloudy darkness of the night: Joseph and his coat of many colors, the call of Samuel, the prophet Daniel, and in our Gospel today, Saint Joseph the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the foster father of Jesus.

There is a difference between a dream and a fantasy. Dreams are anchored in our experience of reality in the present moment of daily life, but they are found deep in the human subconscious. Dreams are unclear but meaningful. Dreams require interpretation for understanding what is true about them amidst their obscurity. Dreams, when brought to prayer and discernment, can enable us to envision the future through our desire to know and to love something lasting that is beyond our immediate pleasure or satisfaction. Authentic dreams gradually take shape and develop our lives through our decisive actions in response to the eternal call and promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Fantasy is not based in our experience of reality. Fantasy restricts us from growing and developing as human beings. Fantasy leads us to see the world unrealistically only through the prism of our passions and compulsions. Fantasy numbs us to the sensitivity required for the compassion and empathy needed to flourish as human beings in family life and society. Dreams can reveal a purpose. Fantasies are conjured. The Lord chooses at times to invite us to follow Him to do His will in our dreams; He never speaks to us through our fantasies. As Pope Benedict XVI once observed, “To some extent, this urge to break out of the ordinary is present in every generation. Part of being young is desiring something beyond everyday life and a secure job, a yearning for something truly greater. Is this simply a fantasy that fades away as we become older? No! Men and women were created for something great, for infinity. Nothing else will ever be enough.”

The description of Saint Joseph offered by Saint Matthew in today’s Gospel underscores the relevance of the distinction between dream and fantasy for the purpose of vocational discernment and formation. Saint Matthew’s Gospel reveals that Saint Joseph was a righteous man. This means that Saint Joseph was a man with a moral character shaped not simply by the natural virtue of justice as understood by human reason and developed by the effort of human action. Rather, to say that Saint Joseph was righteous means first to say that he was a man who believed and lived by the Covenant between God and Israel as present in the Law and as given by the Lord to Moses.

Secondly, to say that Saint Joseph was righteous means that he hoped with confidence that God, in accordance with God’s own righteousness, would keep His promise and act in history to ‘vindicate’ His people by saving them from their enemies and oppressors, as they could not save themselves. This righteousness of Saint Joseph would also have included both a personal and a covenantal awareness on his part as belonging to the family lineage of King David about which Jeremiah prophesies, “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land.”

This righteousness of Saint Joseph was what formed his imagination through his faithful worship of God, his study of the Law, and his keeping of the Ten Commandments as the Covenant, confident that God would not tolerate the oppression of His People and that God would intervene victoriously on their behalf delivering them from evil. This well-formed imagination was the necessary condition and the fruit of grace that enabled Saint Joseph to hear the call of God to recognize and to accept humbly his part in God’s plan of salvation as delivered by the angel of the Lord amidst the cloudiness of a dream. The silence of Saint Joseph represents his attentiveness for hearing the call of God.

The benefit of attending to a dream, rather than becoming lost in fantasy, is that a dream can lead to aspiration, to the desire and necessary action to realize the dream. Aspiration without action is merely wishful thinking. Aspiration and a pattern of intelligent action leads to the virtue of magnanimity. The formation program for the seminarian and for the priest helps to inculcate that habit. Righteous Saint Joseph is the exemplar of this virtue, as he is a steward of the dream of redemption on God’s terms and not his own. These same qualities mark a priestly and religious vocation.

Our contemporary times, through our abuse of and over-reliance upon the technology of social media and its noisy absorption of human energy, forms the imagination of our young people in such a way that they are prone to suffer fantasy and to lose the human capacity to dream and to be attentive to any other voice let alone the quiet voice of God. Fantasy blunts their capacity to envision a future that would involve such basic human goods as worthwhile and meaningful employment, a loving and life-giving marriage, a vocation of public service for the common good, and an awareness that they are loved unconditionally by God who has prepared a place for them in His plans including a priestly or religious vocation. Instead, imaginations are too frequently formed and numbed by selfish fantasy that reduces the rich experience of human life with an eternal horizon to become an ephemeral and dark existence of impoverished bleakness shared with no one except the void of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

Our vocation and mission to foster vocations require us to allow God to inform our own imaginations and those of our young men and women with the righteousness offered by Him to us fully in Christ. We do this first through prayer that is attentive in silent adoration of God in His Sacred Word and in His real and sacramental presence. Secondly, we accomplish this through the practice of natural and right reason with the faith of the Gospel as revealed to us in Scripture and Tradition for a moral life lived well. Thirdly, we accomplish this through loving service to the poor and weakest among us including the unborn, the homeless, the imprisoned, the elderly, the terminally ill, the mentally debilitated, and the immigrant and refugee. Finally, and most importantly, we accomplish this in our attentive participation in the worship of God through the celebration and sacrifice of the Eucharist. Today, we ask Saint Joseph’s intercession for vocations to the priesthood in the Diocese of Fort Worth. We ask his protection over each of us and all of us as the Church in North Texas. We ask his intercession for our seminarians and for our priests and bishop for the gift of his righteousness that formed his imagination and enabled him to recognize and answer his call clearly, decisively, and silently amidst the cloudiness of a dream. We ask his protection of each of us, especially our young people from the deception of fantasy that we might dream and envision the future in the light of the new and Eternal Covenant established through the clear “yes” expressed in the “fiat” of the Blessed Virgin Mary and fulfilled through the cross and Resurrection of the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, made present through the Eucharistic sacrifice presided over by His priests.

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