St. Joseph: Marriage and the Family
Today, the 19th of March, the Church throughout the world usually celebrates the feast day of St. Joseph under the title: Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So it is fitting that we reflect on the place of St. Joseph in the history of salvation and in the Legion in particular. It is especially appropriate at this time in the light of the recent Synods on Marriage and the Family and the post Synodal document ‘Amoris Laetitia’ that we legionaries keep in step with the thinking and pastoral concerns of the Church in this fundamental area of human existence. Also, next year the World Meeting of Families takes place in Dublin and hopefully Pope Francis will come to visit us and this gives the Legion a good reason to re-examine our apostolates in support of marriage and the family and the Christian home.
We think of St. Joseph in the context of marriage and the family. That is the way we must think of every human person. God planned to come among us as a man in and through the heart of a marriage: the Incarnation is a proclamation of the sublime vocation of marriage in God’s plan for the salvation of the world – the salvation of each one of us personally. The family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is the paradigm of the truth that marriage is a salvific covenant designed by God from all eternity. It is the primordial means of enabling the human person to develop and flourish in this life and even more fundamentally to attain eternal life in heaven. It is in the context of the marriage of Mary and Joseph that we begin to understand the pivotal and irreplaceable role of Joseph in the life of Jesus and therefore in the history of salvation.
Let us unpack very briefly some of the implications of the fact that Joseph was the husband of Mary. The truth is so deep and sublime that it is hard to go any further. It means that Mary loved Joseph more than any other human person. He was her confidant, her soul friend; she knew that Joseph was God’s special gift to her. God chose him for her as is abundantly clear in Sacred Scripture. Mary thought of herself and Joseph as a couple, as is clear from some key texts. Mary says: ‘Child, why have you treated us like this?’ or again ‘Your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.’ Mary does not seem to think of herself apart from Joseph It seems to be self-evident that if the spirit of the Legion is the spirit of Mary then there must be a special place for Joseph in the life of the legionary.
We have hinted at the love that Mary had for her husband Joseph. But can we ever do justice to the love of Joseph for Mary? She was surely the most precious human person in his life. It is no surprise that St. Matthew writes: ‘when Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord told him to do; he took his wife to his home’. It is hard to think of a happier man than Joseph. No man ever had or will have a better wife than Mary. We legionaries rightly never cease to talk about true devotion to Mary. May I suggest that we legionaries ask Joseph for some share in his devotion to Mary?
But there was something much greater than their love for each other. It was and is their love for Jesus. Their marriage was absolutely Christocentric. Jesus was not only their child but also God. There is a popular saying that it takes three to get married: a man and a woman and God. This is certainly true of the marriage between Mary and Joseph and that is the ultimate secret of all true marriages. Where God is deliberately excluded from a marriage and the family it will have unhappiness and failure written all over it. In all our human loves and commitments the love of God is the only absolute.
Another point I want to mention is the striking sentence in Luke’s Gospel after the finding of the young Jesus in the temple: ‘He went down with them and was subject to them.’ Jesus was subject to Mary and Joseph. At the deepest level there was a male and female influence in the human formation of Jesus. This is something intrinsic to the relationship between parents and a child. There is a deep message in the episode of the Gospel for the contemporary discussion on the nature of marriage and child rearing.
I realise I haven’t even scratched the surface of the richness of the theme of Joseph and Christian marriage and the family, but I want to finish with some words from St. Teresa of Avila and the power of intercession of St. Joseph. She writes: ‘I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to the glorious St. Joseph, for I have great experience of the blessings which he can obtain from God. I do not remember that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant. I am astonished at the great favours which God has bestowed on me through this blessed saint, and all the perils from which he has delivered me, both in body and soul.
To other saints, the Lord seems to have given grace to help us in some of our necessities. But my experience is that St. Joseph helps us in them all; also that the Lord wishes to teach us that, as He was Himself subject on earth to St. Joseph, so in heaven He does all that Joseph asks. This has also been the experience of other persons whom I have advised to commend themselves to the saint.
I only request, for the love of God, whoever will not believe me will test the truth of what I say, for he will see by experience how great a blessing it is to recommend oneself to this glorious patriarch and to be devoted to him.’
May I suggest that at this time in our history when the marriage and the family are under attack in so many ways that we invoke the patron saint of the Legion under his title Joseph husband of Mary and head of the Holy Family? Amen.
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