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Following Joseph in receiving God’s revelation

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When Joseph first learned that Mary was with child before he had taken her into his home, he was troubled. In Matthew’s Gospel, we see both his compassion in not wanting to expose Mary "to public disgrace" and his faithfulness to the Law in the decision to "dismiss her quietly" (Mt 1:19). Joseph even seems afraid, perhaps unsure of his future and Mary’s.

Then, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel encouraged, "Do not be afraid!" and instructed Joseph to name the child Jesus (Mt 1:20-25). Awaking, Joseph did as the angel commanded. He took Mary into his home, and after she bore a son, he named him Jesus. Thus, Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled: "and they shall name him Emmanuel" (Is 7:14).

After Jesus’ birth, the angel appeared again in a dream, this time directing Joseph, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt" (Mt 2:13-15). Herod had threatened the lives of all children in Judah and so, too, the Holy Family. Awaking, Joseph obeyed, and rising, took Jesus and Mary to Egypt. Thus, Hosea’s prophecy was fulfilled: "Out of Egypt, I called my son" (Hos 11:1).

In Egypt, the angel once more appeared in a dream, announcing, "Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel," for Herod had died (Mt 2:19-21). Awaking, Joseph obeyed, and rising, he took Jesus and Mary to Israel. However, Joseph grew fearful because Herod’s son had begun to rule harshly.

So, the angel came a fourth time, warning Joseph to go to Galilee (Mt 2:22-23). Awaking, he obeyed and went with Jesus and Mary to Nazareth. Thus, the Scriptures were fulfilled: a bud shall blossom from the roots of Jesse (cf. Is 11:1).

These events recall how God has revealed Himself throughout history, speaking again and again of His will for loving communion. For example, they recall an earlier man named Joseph, the son of the patriarch Jacob, who has a dream in which God foreshadows His will for the people of Israel (cf. Gn 37). Yet there is a sense of fulfillment in the dreams of Mary’s spouse, for the revelation that Joseph receives is not a foreshadowing of what will come, but instead it is an acknowledgment of what has already happened. Jesus, as an unborn child, was already the fulfillment of the Scriptures!

Joseph responds with obedience to the revelation of God’s plan for him, his family and indeed the human race. Unfortunately, some today are reluctant to be "obedient," thinking it means blindly following an order or giving up free will. However, we are called to the kind of obedience that Joseph manifests. Obedience is an attentive listening to God’s word ("obedience" comes in part from the Latin "audire," meaning "to hear"). We are called to an "obedience of faith," meaning we are guided by the Holy Spirit and we commit our whole selves, will and intellect, to God (see Vatican II, "Dei Verbum," no. 5).

Joseph committed himself in this way to God, and he expressed his commitment through his actions. Interestingly, Joseph is never quoted in Scripture. We are only told of his actions. This too is a reflection of his humility and his obedience to God. His silent works exemplify that God reveals Himself in both words and deeds, and the deeds of Joseph speak volumes. Truly, Joseph’s actions at the beginning of Jesus’ life were the instruments through which God fulfilled in Christ the prophecies of old: naming Jesus, protecting Jesus and Mary in their exile in Egypt, and taking them to Nazareth.

This, therefore, is the example of Joseph that we are invited to imitate in a special way during this year dedicated to him. Reflecting on Joseph’s role in God’s plan and his response to God’s revelation also takes on special meaning as we approach the Sunday of the Word of God (Jan 24, 2021), a day set aside to experience anew the treasury of God’s word.

Like Joseph, we might be afraid, especially in these challenging times. To follow Joseph means turning to God in times of trouble and listening attentively to God’s revealed word. Praying with the Scriptures is very valuable, for here God reveals his plan for us, saying to you and me: "Do not be afraid!" Like Joseph, we are called to respond with the obedience of faith, and we are invited to act: "Rise, take the child and his mother." In your daily life and especially through your struggles, bring Mary and her child, Jesus, with you. Never be without them and you will grow in humility and holiness.

The Sunday of the Word of God provides an opportunity to recommit ourselves to God’s word, to rise and bring Christ into our world today by proclaiming Him in word and in deed. Following St. Joseph and aided by his intercession, may we become the instruments through which God continues to accomplish today all that He has revealed.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021