A number of people said they found my homily on St Joseph on the Fourth Sunday of Advent helpful. I did not have it properly written out but preached from notes. Here is an attempted reconstruction.
On the Fourth Sunday the Church directs our thoughts to Our Lady. The prayers of the Mass refer to her and the Gospel Acclamation and Communion Antiphons both refer to the prophecy that a maiden is with child whom she will call Emmanuel. In Years B and C the Gospel is taken from Luke who dwells on the Annunication (Year B) and the Visitation (Year C). In Year A, however, the Gospel comes from Matthew who directs our attention much more to the 'dilemma' that Joseph faced.
The Entrance Antiphon of today's Mass says: "Let the clouds rain down the just one, and the earth bring forth a Saviour." (Is45:8)
Naturally this prophecy refers to the Just One who is Christ the Saviour. And yet other just ones are sent by Providence to lead and inspire us. Joseph was such a just man and Matthew describes him precisely as a just man. What is it to be a just man? The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines justice as
A cardinal moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbour.
The Catechism continues:
The just man, often mentioned in Sacred Scripture, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbour.
So we can expect that all these strengths, these virtues, would be found in St Joseph.
The Fathers discuss Joseph's dilemma, many of them facing up to the fact that he might have considered the possibility that Mary had somehow been unfaithful and that therefore he must separate from her. Others conclude that Joseph was well aware of the holiness of his bride and that he considered himself unworthy of being involved in such a wonderful event as the incarnation. And that this was why he decided to separate from Mary.
Let us examine the question of 'shame' that Matthew refers to: that Joseph did not wish to expose his betrothed to shame.
To have divorced Mary formally would have put her to shame. She would have been publicly accused of infidelity. Because of his delicate love and esteem for his bride and his "habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbour" (Cathechism) Joseph could not contemplate such an action.
However, by putting Mary away informally, without going through proper courts, no apparent ground for his separation from Mary would have been proven. Society might consider that he had abandoned his wife and he would incur the shame of being thought of as unmanly, disloyal. Joseph chose to risk taking the shame upon himself rather than allow his bride to be exposed to such a risk.
Joseph knew about Mary's promise of virginity. But a young girl could not live alone. On a human level, Mary's parents would have been concerned to find for their daughter a husband who would be the custodian of her chastity. In this readiness of Joseph to accept this role, we see a manly Joseph in whom the parents of Mary had full confidence, who would protect his young bride, who was able to love his wife with the utmost purity.
Joseph was also a man who was attentive to the voice of God in discerning how to behave in challenging circumstances. Seeing the workings of God in Mary, Joseph was bound to wonder and even worry. This often happens when one sees God working in others. Sometimes it arouses jealousy or confusion. In Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, Charles Ryder, the atheist agnostic, never fails to ridicule Lady Julia Flyte's Catholic beliefs that never leave her in spite of the fact that she has not managed to live fully in accord with them. In the end Julia calls for Charles to stop his unceasing mockery and she decides that they cannot remain together and marry as both have been previously married. The story ends with Charles embracing the Catholic faith.
Similarly, in Rome Sweet Home, Scott and Kimberley Hahn describe their conversion to Catholicism. At one point, Kimberley becomes jealous as Scott, still a protestant, disappears from the house to say his rosary. The love of this other woman Mary provokes a kind of envy in Kimberley. It is however Kimberley who becomes a Catholic first and Scott follows.
In his dream, Joseph learns that the child Mary is carrying is of the Holy Spirit and that the natural desire for fatherhood that he had renounced would be fulfilled by a real - albeit adoptive - fatherhood. He must name the child. And finally that he should have no fear in taking Mary to himself.
We men have much to learn from St Joseph. We need to be more like him, just men: giving what is due to God and neighbour; distinguished by habitual right thinking and uprightness of conduct towards our neighbour.
We are blessed here in the parish by the wonderful example of so many married men who are strong for their wives and children: chaste - treating their wives in accordance with their dignity; protective and nurturing; who give a great example of living faith to their children.
But some women have not been fortunate to meet a man like St Joseph: wives have been abandoned by their husbands; some women have placed their trust in a man only to find he was not truly a man, leaving them hurt and betrayed, sometimes even leaving them with a child, or perhaps planning for the deliberate killing of the child that is his too.
And some of these women might still be looking for a just man like St Joseph.
In my pastoral experience, there has been more than one single woman in a parish who perhaps has gone with a man and it has all come to tears and the woman is left with a child. And by her own admission she either will never trust a man again, or considers herself a fallen woman whom no self-respecting man will come near. I have often prayed: if only a good man in the parish would accept her and her child. It could make a man out of him! He could be a true Joseph to that woman and child.
We have much to learn from this wonderful man, St Joseph. Not one of his words is recorded in the Gospel. He is known simply as "the husband of Mary - of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ" and he was set over the Holy Family.
St Joseph is also set over the Church and over each one of our parish families. May he help us in our preparations to be one with Mary and with the child she bears in her womb.