Saturday, 17 March 2012

The mystery of St Joseph (1)

Just as a scientist can, by using a microscope on some small piece of matter, discover great truths, so the mind of the Church is able to discover great truths in even the tiniest fragment of Scripture (for example, the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and of the Immaculate Conception, which are implied but not directly stated in Scripture). What can we tell from the few precious lines we possess about St Joseph? These few lines tell us he was a "just man", that he at first doubted his role vis a vis Mary and her Child, but that he successfully protected them both, taking instruction from angels in his dreams. On 18 March 2009, Pope Benedict spoke of him in a homily:

"Not only physically, but in his heart as well, Joseph reveals to us the secret of a humanity which dwells in the presence of mystery and is open to that mystery at every moment of everyday life. In Joseph, faith is not separated from action. His faith had a decisive effect on his actions. Paradoxically, it was by acting, by carrying out his responsibilities, that he stepped aside and left God free to act, placing no obstacles in his way. Joseph is a 'just man' (Mt 1:19) because his existence is 'ad-justed' to the word of God."
Preparing for the Feast of the Nativity, the Pope advised us on 18 December 2005 to "establish a sort of spiritual conversation with St Joseph, so that he may help us live to the full this great mystery of faith.”

The most wonderful book I have ever read about St Joseph, as I mention in my article about the saint, is Saint Joseph: Shadow of the Father by Andrew Doze, a chaplain at Lourdes. As he says there, "The coming of Jesus and the slow process of shaping his personality are linked with Mary and Joseph, this couple that we must learn no longer to separate, since God has united it" (p. 2). Joseph
is associated with the revelation of the love of the Father to the human nature of Jesus. He clears the way for the revelation of the Father precisely by making himself invisible, by standing aside, by accepting with good grace not to be a biological father – an example of humility comparable to that of Mary herself, though in his case we have no "Magnificat". In other words the very humility of Joseph is what reveals the Father as the (invisible) source of the Son.

Andrew Doze calls Joseph not the image or icon of the Father in heaven, but his "shadow" – one might even say his "silhouette", an empty outline through which Jesus could see his heavenly Father. Doze also compares him to the "cloud" in which God both reveals and conceals his presence to the Israelites in the desert and on the mountain. "Joseph is the one in whom the Father conceals himself to welcome this child and, in turn, to hide it, to surround it with love, to protect it, to help it increase in every way" (p. 98). A cloud descends on Calvary, and receives the risen Christ at his Ascension. A bright cloud  also overshadows the disciples at the Transfiguration. Out of it the Father speaks, saying, "This is my beloved Son... Listen to him." This is the very beginning of Jesus's public ministry, after which we hear no more of Joseph – he is assumed to have died a while earlier.

Someone once explained to me that the word for "overshadowed" here (as at the Annunciation, when Mary is told that the "power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow") originally means covering with a tent – which in turn implies the creation of a home in the desert. It is Joseph's role to create such a home for the Holy Family, for example as they flee into Egypt, tracing in reverse the course of Moses, who had himself built the "Tent of Meeting" to shelter the Holy of Holies. Doze describes Joseph as the sheltering cloud or tent who protects against the demons, for they dwell neither in heaven (from which they were exiled) nor earth (since they are immaterial) but "in the air", the "in-between" (p. 104), the world of dreams and visions.

Joseph is the Man of Wednesday, says Doze, associated with the fourth or central day of the seven-day week, on which were created the sun and moon. He is the keeper alike of the music of the spheres and of the divine silence, the dazzling darkness. He represents all that is most mysterious, most esoteric, most hidden in Christianity – the mysteries that are revealed to the saints. Doze says that the "secret of Joseph and of his impossible mission" is the "newness of time" that comes from God alone, he who "makes all things new" (Rev. 21:5). Time, and living in time as in an eternal present, is the Father's secret, and the source of Joseph's mysterious strength.

The Icon of St Joseph is from the Prayer section of the Team Orthodoxy blog.

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