Homily for the Solemnity of St Joseph

Our Lord is not a lonely planet. He’s part of a galaxy, the heart of a galaxy, and many stars cluster round him. And of all who orbit the Lord, none are closer than Mary and Joseph. We recall them together now in every Eucharistic Prayer: Mary, Mother of God and Joseph her spouse. This is the original nucleus of the Church, the first cell, the Holy Family that reflects the Trinity and presages the great family of God sprung from Easter and Pentecost, and to which, by God’s grace, we belong.

Today St Joseph comes on screen. He’s special. In a way, he’s in the shade and yet he stands out. He’s other than John the Baptist, the skin-clad prophet out in the desert. He’s not like Peter and Paul or the other apostles, taken away by the Lord from what they were before and flung out into a hostile world. He wasn’t beheaded, like John the Baptist or St Paul, or crucified like Peter or Andrew. We presume he died in his bed. He didn’t leave any recorded words or writings. The Lord spoke to him four times in dreams, and the only word we know for certain that he spoke is “Jesus”. “You will call his name Jesus”, says the Gospel. Joseph is quietly himself. He had his own place in the story, his own providence. He was largely silent and hidden and therefore a great reassurance to us. He’s “an extraordinary figure”, says Pope Francis, “so close to our own experience” (Patris Corde).

We might think this through a little; it could be helpful. HE’s the patron of the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Joseph was engaged to a village girl, called Mary. Nothing unusual in this. He was following the pattern of his day. Of course, he felt she was special, but there it rested, until suddenly she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit and he was told by the angel not to put her away, not to back off but to step up. His life took an awesome turn. He was receiving the vocation of a surrogate fatherhood of the Chosen One. God had plans for him. What was ordinary took on an extraordinary depth.

Again, the angel calls him “son of David”, that is a descendant of David. This was his clan. It was an element of his biography, it was on his CV, he must have been proud of it. Suddenly, though, this fact takes on a new dimension. The ordinary reveals an extraordinary depth. He’s the one who gives Jesus, as it were, his messianic, davidic credentials. IT’s thanks to Joseph’s genealogy that Jesus can be called the Christ. From this point of view too, Joseph’s life turns awesome.

And so it runs through all his life. In every instance of Jesus’ early life, Joseph simply does what a good man would. He goes to Bethlehem to be registered – the bureaucracy of the day. Forty days after the birth, he goes up with mother and child to the Temple to present him to the Lord, the pious thing to do. When Herod turns paranoid, he takes Mary and Jesus to Egypt and then, when matters quieten down, brings them back and settles in Nazareth. In a way, it’s just the usual ups and downs of life, family dramas, political uncertainty; the usual stuff. “Close to our experience”, for all the difference of culture and time. He must have been bothered about accommodation and work, money and food.  But the evangelists, Matthew and Luke, make it clear that, throughout, prophecy is being fulfilled. In other words, God’s plan, God’s purposes underlie it all. As the Collect says, the mysteries of human salvation are unfolding. Something more is going on. Underneath the normal, the awesome is happening.

And this must encourage us, shed light on our lives. They’re this mixture too of the ordinary, the usual, and something more. And if we have the faith of Abraham, of Joseph and Mary, we can see that more. Take this city and this parish, how many are from other countries, here for reasons of study or work, or looking for a place of refuge from war. That becomes part of our CV. Maybe we stay here, maybe we move on. It’s just life, as we say. But there’s something more. Joseph was engaged to a village girl and found himself becoming the husband of the Mother of God. He went to Bethlehem to fill in tax forms, but Mary’s child was born there, in the town of David, prophecy was fulfilled, angels visited the shepherds, a star led magi from the East and God had entered the world. Awesome!

St Joseph can remind us of this. The way the extraordinary lurks under the ordinary, every detail with its meaning. We are busy about this and that, but God is too. We do what human being do, but God is busy too. We get married and it’s not just man and woman, it’s the sacrament of Christ and the Church. We’re caught up in something bigger. We eat a sliver of unleavened bread and we become the body of Christ. We say a good word and a soul is saved. And Joseph, man of Abrahamic faith, embraced it all and saw the glory in the ordinary.

How Mary must have loved him, this rock in her life! How Jesus must have honoured him! How the Church has discovered the scope and power of his prayer! And if we’re part of the galaxy of Jesus, we can, thanks to St Joseph, lose our fear of the plain and ordinary. We can even cherish it knowing that it hides a mystery, our life in Christ, the awesome power of God.

Let me end with something else. A priest was ordained a bishop. A woman who knew him well kept greeting him as “Father” and then apologising, “I mean, Bishop”. He eventually replied, “But what could be better than being a father?” She replied, “Being a mother!”

Be that as it may, a word for mothers and fathers. As Christian parents, you have a great power: that of blessing your children. I encourage you to use it. I mean not just in your heart, but by word and gesture. It’s a simple thing: before the children go to bed, before they set out to school or whatever. A blessing opens the door, as it were, to God’s power in the ordinary.

St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 19 March 2024


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
A registered Scottish Charity Number SC005122