First Vespers of the Solemnity of St. Joseph
Basilique Marie Reine des Apôtres, Yaoundé, Cameroon
March 18, 2009
I wish to reflect on the figure of Saint Joseph, setting out from the words of Scripture offered to us in this evening’s liturgy. Speaking to the crowd and to His disciples, Jesus declared: “You have only one Father” (Mt 23:9). There is but one fatherhood, that of God the Father, the one Creator of the world, “of all that is seen and unseen.” Yet man, created in the image of God, has been granted a share in this one paternity of God (cf. Eph 3:15).
Saint Joseph is a striking case of this, since he is a father without fatherhood according to the flesh. He is not the biological father of Jesus, whose Father is God alone, and yet he lives his fatherhood fully and completely. To be a father means, above all, to be at the service of life and growth. Saint Joseph, in this sense, gave proof of great devotion. For the sake of Christ, he experienced persecution, exile and the poverty which this entails. He had to settle far from his native town. His only reward was to be with Christ. His readiness to do all these things illustrates the words of Saint Paul: “It is Christ the Lord whom you serve” (Col 3:24).
What is important is not to be a useless servant, but rather a “faithful and wise servant.” The pairing of the two adjectives is not by chance. It suggests that understanding without fidelity, and fidelity without wisdom, are insufficient. One quality alone, without the other, would not enable us to assume fully the responsibility which God entrusts to us. . . .
Origen writes that“Joseph understood that Jesus was superior to him even as He submitted to him, and, knowing the superiority of his charge, he commanded Him with respect and moderation. Everyone should reflect on this: frequently a lesser man is placed over people who are greater, and it happens at times that an inferior is more worthy than the one who appears to be set above him. If a person of greater dignity understands this, then he will not be puffed up with pride because of his higher rank; he will know that his inferior may well be superior to him, even as Jesus was subject to Joseph.” (Homily on Saint Luke XX, 5; S.C. p. 287). . . .When Mary received the visit of the angel at the Annunciation, she was already betrothed to Joseph. In addressing Mary personally, the Lord already closely associates Joseph to the mystery of the Incarnation. Joseph agreed to be part of the great events which God was beginning to bring about in the womb of his spouse. He took Mary into his home. He welcomed the mystery that was in Mary and the mystery that was Mary herself. He loved her with great respect, which is the mark of all authentic love.
Joseph teaches us that it is possible to love without possessing. In contemplating Joseph, all men and women can, by God’s grace, come to experience healing from their emotional wounds, if only they embrace the plan that God has begun to bring about in those close to Him, just as Joseph entered into the work of redemption through Mary and as a result of what God had already done in her. . . .
Dear brothers and sisters, our meditation on the human and spiritual journey of Saint Joseph invites us to ponder his vocation in all its richness, and to see him as a constant model for all those who have devoted their lives to Christ in the priesthood, in the consecrated life or in the different forms of lay engagement. Joseph was caught up at every moment by the mystery of the Incarnation. 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.
The life of Saint Joseph, lived in obedience to God’s word, is an eloquent sign for all the disciples of Jesus who seek the unity of the Church. His example helps us to understand that it is only by complete submission to the will of God that we become effective workers in the service of His plan to gather together all mankind into one family, one assembly, one “ecclesia.”. . .
In conclusion, let us now turn to the spouse of Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mary, “Queen of Apostles,” for under this title she is invoked as Patroness of Cameroon. To her I commend the consecration which each of you has received, as well as your desire to respond ever more faithfully to your calling and to the mission entrusted to you. Finally, I invoke her intercession for your beautiful country. Amen..