by Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
Sometimes people do painful things to others without intending or understanding it.
Perhaps an example will make that clearer. In one of my parish assignments, a dance was being held one evening for young people. The neighborhood was culturally very diverse, but everyone tended to get along well. So well, in fact, that one man invited a young Hasidic friend to the party to hear the music. Unaware that it was contrary to his tradition, a young woman prodded him onto the dance floor.
In this age of technology, someone took a video of this young Hasidic Jew who was dancing at a Gentile party (strike 1), with a woman (strike 2) who was not Jewish (strike 3). Unaware that any of this was against his tradition, the photographer innocently uploaded the video onto Facebook.
As it went viral, it was seen by someone in the young man’s community and reported to the authorities. Ultimately, he was shunned by the community for several weeks.
The videographer’s intent was not to cause pain, but his actions led to the punishment. The young Hasid humbly accepted the shunning. He acknowledged that he broke the law and made no excuses. If he had not done what he did, it could not have been filmed. Rather than shift responsibility to someone else, he acted rightly for he was a righteous man.
“Righteous” is the word used to describe St. Joseph in today’s Gospel. He came from a tradition of obedience to the Law and had every intention of following it, but also wanted to follow it kindly. He was going to divorce Mary because she was with child before they came together.
Joseph was going to divorce her quietly, in a way that would not subject her to punishment. Little did he know that this would be the catalyst for a great change in his life, his tradition and all of salvation history.
St. Matthew wrote his Gospel for an audience of Jews and Jewish converts to Christianity. He writes to encourage their understanding that the most loyal Jews are the ones who recognize Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise of a Messiah. Joseph becomes their example. When the angel appears to this righteous, Jewish man, he tells him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife because the child she is carrying was conceived not by man but by the Holy Spirit.
St. Matthew includes the reference to the prophet Isaiah’s announcement, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” Of course, Joseph knew of the promise because it was made to his house, the House of David.
Joseph heard clearly the message of the angel that this child is destined to be the link between the promise (of the Old Testament) and its fulfillment (in the New Testament). Joseph knew his life would change dramatically, but he was a righteous man.
Hearing the messenger of the Lord, he had to respond as a righteous man would. He humbly obeys.
In a few days, we will celebrate Christmas. The birth of the Messiah into this world signifies the birth of a new covenant, based on love.
As we look upon the crib scenes in our churches and homes, may we join in the joy of the angels, the awe of the shepherds, the blessedness of Mary and the righteousness of Joseph. As we adore the promise of the new covenant of love fulfilled in the manger, may we respond as the faithful have been invited to respond throughout the generations. May we worship the Child and promise our humble obedience.
Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 7: 10-14
Psalm 24: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Romans 1: 1-7
Matthew 1: 18-24
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Transfiguration Parish, Maspeth.