Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fr. Andersen: Advent Mini-Retreat III

An Advent “Mini-Retreat” by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, St. Louis in St. Louis, OR.

Dec 15, 2012  2nd Saturday in Advent: Mini-Retreat #3

Joseph has no idea that Mary is born Immaculate and without sin. Joseph is betrothed to this beautiful and holy young woman, and he knows that she is holy, and he now knows that there is trouble ahead, but he has no idea what blessings God has in store for him. What he does know is that which every Christian man knows: that his vocation is to protect and guard the purity and reputation of all women, especially those entrusted to his care; whether a mother, a sister, a wife, or a daughter. In this case, Joseph is betrothed to Mary. This means that he is entrusted by God with her temporal well-being, and to guard and protect her reputation and the purity of her soul and body.

He tenderly loves his spouse and he blesses God for having entrusted such a treasure to his keeping. Little does he know that the angels crowd around the house in which she lives. Little does he know that she has been visited by the Archangel Gabriel and that she is bearing within her womb the Incarnate God of all Creation. Dom Prosper Gueranger writes that “God has decreed to visit (this family) with a heavy trial, in order that He may give an occasion to Mary to exercise heroic patience, and to Joseph an occasion of meriting by his exquisite prudence” (The Liturgical Year, Vol. I: Advent, pg. 30).

Mary is patient. She had to be patient because God allowed her to suffer so many sorrows and trials in her life. In her revelations, St. Bridget of Sweden recalls that an angel said to her: “As a rose grows up among thorns, so did the Blessed Virgin grow up among tribulations.” But St. Teresa of Avila writes: “Those who embrace the cross do not feel it…Once we have made up our minds to suffer, there is no more pain” (cf. St. Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary, p. 354-355).

St. Bonaventure writes: “See how God permits His servants to be afflicted and sorely tried, that they may so receive their crown. . . . Now Joseph did look many times on Mary, and grief and trouble of heart fell upon him, and his displeasure was seen in his face, and he turned his eyes away from her as one that was guilty of that which he. . . suspected” (Gueranger, 31).

Let us consider Mary. She did not reveal anything to Joseph. She did not tell anyone, neither her cousin Elizabeth, nor her betrothed husband, about the Annunciation of the Angel: “Better did it seem unto her that evil should be thought of her than that she should reveal the divine mystery, and say aught of herself which would come nigh to boasting. Therefore did she beseech our Lord that Himself would right this matter, and make pass this grief from Joseph and herself” (31-32).

St. Alphonsus says that it is characteristic of humility to conceal heavenly gifts. Mary wished to conceal from Saint Joseph the favor which made her the Mother of God. At the same time it seemed necessary to reveal the secret to him, if only to remove from his mind any suspicions as to her virtue which he might have entertained on seeing her pregnant. Saint Joseph, on the one hand, did not wish to doubt Mary’s chastity; and yet on the other hand, being unaware of the mystery, he was minded to have her put away privately” (The Glories of Mary, 330).

Then God answered her prayer and the angel appeared also to Joseph in a dream. Mary did not have to boast to him, but was able to preserve the virtue of modesty in her soul. In this is an example of how God allows us to experience trials for the good of our soul. We know that after this, Mary and Joseph experienced many trials, including traveling to Bethlehem in the winter, not finding a place to stay and giving birth in a cave; fleeing to Egypt and many other trials that became swords of sorrow in their hearts.

When we consider the character of St. Joseph, we might ask how he endured such trials. We know that Mary was Immaculate and therefore she suffered no concupiscence. In other words, she was never even tempted to sin. But what about Joseph? He was not immaculately conceived. Joseph’s state of soul has not been formally defined by the Church. It is defined that St. John the Baptist was sanctified in his mother’s womb and born without original sin. St. John the Baptist was not immaculately conceived, but he was given the gift of the Holy Spirit in the womb. Therefore he enjoyed the gifts of the baptism without needing to be baptized. This was a privilege given to him for the purpose of preparing the way of the Lord.

It has been said that St. Joseph experienced a similar gift from God. This is not defined by the Church, and we cannot claim that it is Catholic doctrine either, but it is a consideration of the Theologians. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that “those whom God elects and designs for some great work, He also prepares and disposes so as to fit them for its performance”; and the Angelic Doctor adds that God gives to each grace proportioned to the office which he is chosen to fill. St. Bernardine of Siena lays down the same doctrine, and he then proceeds to say that this was verifed in the person of St. Joseph, who was the reputed father of Jesus, the true spouse of the Queen of the world and Lady of angels, and was elected by the Eternal Father to be the faithful guardian of His two greatest treasures. If, then, Joseph was elected to such an office, which, after the divine maternity, has none to equal it in Heaven or on earth, he must have received of God for its discharge a fullness of corresponding grace, superior to that vouchsafed to any other saint” (The Glories of Mary, 40).

Following this line of thought, there were theologians in history who have proposed that St. Joseph was also sanctified in his mother’s womb, and thus like St. John the Baptist born without Original Sin. This would help explain how St. Joseph was so courageous and pure in living out a virginal marriage with Mary. Joseph is said to have the purity of a holy angel. Giovanni di Caragena, preaching in the 16th century, devoted 13 homilies to honor St. Joseph. He wrote that “the office of the angels …is the guardianship of men; but to Joseph was committed a far higher and more excellent office, since he was chosen to be the guardian, not of a simple man, but of Christ the Lord, God and Man, and to be the most faithful spouse of His Mother” (Thompson, The Life and Glories of Saint Joseph, 48).

So we reflect today on the patience, the humility, and the purity of Mary and Joseph during the time of expectancy. They experienced great trials and also great joys. Although Christmas is a joyful season, the Cross is present in it from the very beginning. We must remember that God came to us because we need a Savior. This is not cause for shame. It is cause to rejoice that God would love us so much that He would condescend to come down to us in such a humble manner. Let us be vigilant as we approach this last week of Advent. Let us prepare our souls with the virtues of patience, humility, and purity for the coming of God.

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