The Roamin' Roman

Benvenuto! You have happened upon the blog of a wandering Catholic American college student studying for a year in Rome, the Eternal City. You will find here my pontifications, ruminations, reflections, images, and ponderings on my life in Rome. Ciao!

Tuesday, March 21

Fr. Carola's homily on St. Joseph

Ok, yeah, I have dispensation to interrupt my Lenten observance of only once-weekly blogging... because I forgot to post something on the Solemnity of St. Joseph...

Below is a homily of Fr. Carola's, originally preached for the deaconate class over at the PNAC (college here in Rome for the American seminarians) last fall. I think I'm supposed to mention that not only is St. Joseph the patron saint of Fr. (Joseph) Carola, but the patron for the deaconate class as well! So, please keep them in your prayers, too as they begin their ordained ministry and look ahead to their priestly ordinations fast approaching. St. Joseph, pray for us!

A. M. D. G.

Father Joseph Carola, S.J.
The Obedience of Saint Joseph
Sermon for the Deacon Class of 2005
The Pontifical North American College
Vatican City
10 January 2005

Matthew 1:18-25

In his rules for thinking with the Church, our Father Ignatius wisely insists that “we must put aside all judgment of our own, and keep the mind ever ready and prompt to obey in all things the true Spouse of Christ our Lord, our holy Mother, the hierarchical Church.” Your heavenly patron and mine, Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary, provides an evangelical model for such ecclesial obedience, setting aside as he does his own private judgment, no matter how ostensibly righteous, in prompt obedience to the fuller and indeed final revelation of God.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was betrothed to Joseph, but had yet to live with him when she was found to be with child. Although the marital contract had been engaged, no one save Mary knew better than Joseph that their union had not been consummated. How, then, did Joseph the just man receive the news of his young bride’s pregnancy? No doubt, it was Mary who made it known to him. Did he allow her to continue much beyond simply stating the fact? Did he deny her any opportunity to explain her condition in his desire to spare her the indignity of recounting her adulterous act? Did his own righteousness refrain him from making further inquiry? Indeed, even if Mary had had the opportunity to explain that “the holy Spirit [had come] upon her and the power of the Most High [had overshadowed] her,” would Joseph the righteous Jew have understood her without any further revelation? Although for millennia the Law and the prophets had prepared the way for this unique event, God’s Incarnation radically transcended the covenant which had prepared it. The signs which had indicated God’s becoming man revealed the depths of their true meaning only in the light of the event itself. Longed for, the Incarnation could never have been anticipated. How, then, without an additional revelation could Joseph, no matter how righteous, have understood Mary’s more than mystical explanation?

Mary’s obedience to the Divine Word angelically proclaimed had rectified Eve’s disobedience diabolically arranged. But Mary’s obedience upon which the world’s salvation hinged appeared to the righteous as an act of gross infidelity violating the Law whose fulfilment her newly conceived Child would soon reveal. We can only marvel at such signs of contradiction which marked our salvation’s every turn. Moses had prescribed that in cases of adultery the townsfolk should bring the guilty to the entrance of her father’s house and before the horrified household stone her to death. Certainly, no one would have blamed the righteous Joseph sadly cuckolded for casting the first stone. But Mary’s obedience unlike Her Son’s was not to end in death. For mercy tempered Joseph’s justice. Given the evidence at hand, the Law legitimately demanded Mary’s ruthless execution. But Joseph, “unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.” Perhaps, the first-century Jew would have commended Joseph’s magnanimity, but suddenly in the Incarnation’s radically new light, the Law, even when mercy-tempered, proved woefully inadequate. The Old Dispensation had passed away unbeknownst even to the most righteous of men. The first rays of Christ’s light had dawned upon the world, disturbing, in fact, Saint Joseph’s sleep.

“The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” In this act, O Just Man, fear not the Law’s betrayal. For, Mary has conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Old Law had known its miraculous births, Isaac and Sansom among them, but the New Dispensation proved radically different. The angel’s further instruction makes this fact abundantly clear. “She will bear a son,” the angel explained, “and you are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” Now Joseph, the Just Jew, knew full and well that God alone could forgive men’s sins. The Holy Name thus revealed Mary’s Child God’s Son. In the Virgin Mother’s womb, the Word had become flesh and dwelt among us. The prophesies were fulfilled in a manner radically beyond even what the righteous could have foreseen. In God’s revelatory light, Joseph came to understand that a Virgin, no adulteress she, was indeed with child and would bear a son whom he would name Emmanuel, God-with-us beyond our wildest dreams. Upon waking Joseph gave no further thought to his intended divorce, but rather “he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” Joseph’s private judgment, righteous by all accounts, promptly gave way before the Incarnate Word of God revealed. Obedience proved Joseph just.

My brothers, before the new year’s end, you, too, shall be called to prove your justice in obedience. In this college chapel and in Saint Peter’s Basilica, you will publicly profess, pledge and promise your obedience. The formulas, in fact, will leave no stone unturned. You will profess the Church’s faith in the words of the Nicene-Constantinoplian Creed with the triple appendix of firm faith in the Word of God recorded in Scripture, handed on in the Tradition and taught by the Magisterium; of firm acceptance of definitive teaching on faith and morals; and of adherence with religious submission of will and intellect to magisterial teaching proclaimed in non-definitive acts. You will swear an oath of fidelity to preserve communion with the Catholic Church; to exercise your ordained ministry with the greatest care and fidelity; to hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety, avoiding any teachings opposed to that faith; to follow and foster the Church’s discipline; and to unite yourselves with the bishops in their teaching and governance. During the ordination rite itself, you will solemnly promise respect and obedience to your Ordinaries. My brothers, if you be men of your word, you will by this threefold act of profession, pledge and promise effectively remove from your lives all future possibility of dissent and disobedience. Moreover, your humble submission to Christ in His Church will further the cause of salvation won for us through the God-man’s humble obedience unto death upon a cross. Whereas death entered the world through Adam’s disobedience, life has been restored through Christ’s obedience. Indeed, obedience pulsates in salvation history’s heart. In this salvific drama, your own obedience will play its vital role.

As you commit yourselves to obedience in matters of both doctrine and discipline, you rightly take Saint Joseph for your model and guide. Once God’s Word had been revealed to him in a dream, he promptly ceased to entertain doubts about Mary’s purity and the Divine Child whom she bore. He believed with firm faith, and through his faith he came to understand the depths of the true meaning contained in Isaiah’s prophetic word. Upon waking, he acted in obedient faith and did the very opposite of what he had previously intended to do.

In his famous thirteen rule for thinking with the Church, our Father Ignatius counsels: “If we wish to proceed securely in all things, we must hold fast to the following principle: What seems to me white, I will believe black if the hierarchical Church so defines. For I must be convinced that in Christ our Lord, the bridegroom, and in His spouse the Church, only one Spirit holds sway, which governs and rules for the salvation of souls. For it is by the same Spirit and Lord who gave the Ten Commandments that our holy Mother Church is ruled and governed.” Note carefully. Ignatius does not pretend that white is black nor vice versa. He is not legislating that we violate the law of non-contradiction. Rather he calls us in obedience to a higher truth which faith alone perceives. Let us turn again to Saint Joseph. Employing his natural reason and applying the Law’s just criteria, he, the righteous man, beheld in Mary the dark stain of adultery. Despite the legitimate means of judgment at his disposal, however, Joseph erred. Only through God’s grace in obedience to the revealed Word did he come to recognize as immaculately white what he had previously deemed shamefully black. Mary was a Virgin Mother, not an adulterous spouse. As the Lord led Joseph to the truth, the Spirit of Christ guides the Church infallibly in questions of faith and morals. Given this assurance, our ecclesial obedience in matters of doctrine becomes a yoke easily born, for despite apparent contradictions which our own personal resources, no matter how just, may fail to resolve, we rest assured that faithful obedience to the revealed Word recorded in Scripture, handed on in the Tradition and taught by the Magisterium will bring us ultimately to a deeper meaning and a higher truth.

In Saint Joseph we see, moreover, the perfection of obedience as regards ecclesiastical discipline. His reversed course of action undertaken in obedience occurs at the levels of execution, will and judgment. Joseph not only takes his wife Mary into his home---something that previously he had been adverse to do. But he wills to do so in conformity with God’s will operative in the plan of salvation. Moreover, seeing Mary in the revelatory light granted him, he comes to understand her situation according to the mind of God. His obedience, therefore, is complete.

Merely to perform an act which a superior commands hardly merits the virtuous name obedience. Slaves do as much. Had Joseph done nothing more, one can only imagine how dysfunctional that Nazareth household would have been---Joseph never seeing in Jesus anything more than the adulterous fruit of Mary’s misconduct. But Joseph’s obedience did not stop at mere execution. Rather, through grace, he came to will and judge in obedience to the divine decree. Holy obedience as Joseph practiced it does not do violence to the will. On the contrary, it calls for the free sacrifice of our will in conformity to the divine will made manifest to us by those who govern us in God’s place. We will to do what we do because we will to do what God would have us do. This desire to will the divine will freely is itself the gift of His grace. If, however, we judge the situation contrarily to the one who commands, the sacrifice of our will, although made freely, will not for long be made lovingly and cheerfully. In matters of judgment, we must also strive to follow Joseph’s example. The intellect naturally gives its assent to what is presented to it as true, and therefore even the most devout individuals will not always succeed in bending their understanding. But where evidence does not impel us decisively one way or another in a given situation, the truly obedient man should conform his thought to the thought of his superior. Where conformity of judgment is lacking in matters neither ostensibly opposed to the divine will nor manifestly sinful, we must turn fervently to prayer, beseeching the Lord to enlighten our intellects. Such contemplation will find its inspiration in Joseph’s dream.

In sum, my brothers, why do we obey? We obey because we wholeheartedly believe that “whoever does the will of God remains forever.” It is a matter of salvation. At life’s end we long to hear Our Lord say: “Well done, my good and faithful servant; come, share your Master’s joy.” With firm faith, we turn, then, to Christ our Lord, who teaches us through the Church and whose voice we hear in our legitimate superiors, and we say: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Like Joseph we may be called upon to modify or even reverse a decision of ours, whether doctrinal or disciplinary, by all accounts well made. But in faith we recognize God’s providence operative in the command, and we humbly open ourselves to the many gifts the Lord would bestow upon us in our mission and through our obedience upon those whose salvation we seek. Joseph’s obedience built the house where Mary’s Son dwelt. May our obedience build up the Church where her Son’s salvation reigns.


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