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Day 1: Sunday of the 1st Week of Ordinary Time
What kind of city was Nazareth?
Luke and Matthew’s Gospels have their own lens through which they tell the story of the nativity. Thus, the Gospels end differently. Luke has the nativity concluding with the presentation in the Temple (Luke 2:22-38), while Matthew has the nativity end with the flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-22). However, both Gospels agree with the place chosen for Jesus’ childhood home: Nazareth.
The Scriptures tell us very little about Nazareth, and what we do know isn’t very flattering. In John 1:46, Nathanael scoffs as he asks, “What good can come from Nazareth?” In Luke 4, Jesus returns home to his native synagogue and proclaims the well known passage from Isaiah 61:1-2. Luke 4: 22 says that immediately following the reading, “And all spoke well of him”. However, soon after, Nazareth’s leaders “were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong.” (Luke 4:28-29) It seems that Jesus struggled to minister in Nazareth, lamenting, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country.” (Luke 4:24)
With all her imperfections, Nazareth was home. While Joseph’s ancestral roots were in Bethlehem, Joseph considered Nazareth home (Luke 2:4). While Mary had relatives to the south in Judah, Mary considered Nazareth home (Luke 1:26). Nazareth was imperfect, but Nazareth was home. It was imperfect, but the Mary and Joseph never expected it to be. They knew the gift of Jesus, of Christmas, of Emmanuel. They knew that God was with them. Nazareth was imperfect; however, that’s where God led them; that’s where God was. And, if that’s where God was that’s where they wanted to be.
It’s important for us to consider the city of Nazareth, and all her imperfections, as the home of the Holy Family. Why: Because many of us also find ourselves in imperfect cities, imperfect homes, and imperfect situations. In other words, how do you feel about where you are in life? Your priesthood … your marriage … your celibacy … your family … your parish … your job … your assignment … your kids … your health. How do you feel about where you are in life?
The temptation whispers like this: “If I were ‘there’ and not ‘here’, then I’d be happy.” If I had another job, then I’d be happy. If I had another parish, then I’d be happy. If I could just be somewhere else or with someone else, then I’d be happy. Reverently may I invite us to consider that our circumstances are important and to be honored; however, essentially what’s important is to start with where God is. If God has led us to where we are, then our happiness won’t essentially come from the place. Happiness and fulfillment come from God. God was in Nazareth because that’s where the Holy Family was. God was with them, so God was in Nazareth. God is with you; therefore, God is where you are.
Spend some time with the Holy Family today and ask them about Nazareth … and all its imperfections. Talk with them about where you are in life.
FOR YOUR PRAYER
Imagine how Mary and Joseph would have prayed with the prophet Isaiah as they eventually settled in Nazareth. Begin by slowly reading Isaiah 49:13-16. Read it a few times. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in Luke 2:39. Be in the scene. Be with Mary and Joseph and Jesus. Ask them to “show” you Nazareth. Talk to them about “where” you are. Talk to them about how you feel about “where” you are at this stage of your life.
Today’s Prayer: “Father, I desire know you in a deeply personal way. Give me the grace today to find joy and fulfillment in you and you alone.”
Day 2: Monday of the 1st Week of Ordinary Time
Who is Mary? What kind of person was she?
As we get to know the story of Nazareth we will come to know the people of Nazareth. Today, we ask “Who is Mary? What kind of person was she?”
The Scriptures give us an insight into the remarkable woman God chose as the mother of his Son. We know that after being born in Nazareth, Mary was presented in the Temple at a very young age. (1)
Numbers 30:4-6 outlines prescriptions for a Jewish woman vowed to perpetual virginity and total consecration to the Lord. Consecrated from her childhood, Mary most likely grew up in the Temple. Mary’s whole life was for God; her whole heart was for God. In the Temple, she grew to know the voice of the Father before she ever heard the voice of her son. She would have stayed there until she was 14 years-old and then returned home to live with her parents. It was there in Nazareth that the angel Gabriel was sent “to a virgin” … “And coming to her, he said, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:27-28) The Greek connotation of her being a virgin describes her total availability to God as much as it describes her chaste purity. In addition, nowhere else in the Bible does an Angel respond as such. In every theophany in Scripture Angels refer to others by the first name only; however, Gabriel greets Mary by her title, the “Most Favored One”.
She was consecrated from the earliest moments of her life. She grew up in the Temple. Consecrated and a virgin, she was totally available to God such that the Angel doesn’t even mention her name. Instead, she is declared the “Most Favored One.” Simply: Mary loved God.If we are to know who Mary is we must understand just how much Mary loved God.
Nothing describes Mary more than the prayer from Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J.: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” Mary fell in love with God in a quite absolute, final way. Her love for God determined everything in her life.
Perhaps you and I didn’t grow up in the Temple. For sure, you and I weren’t immaculately conceived. However, just as Mary fell in love with God in an absolute, final way, you and I are being called by God too. God wants us. God wants a relationship with us. And, Mary wants a relationship with us. She can teach us … just as she taught her son.
Listen to the words that she shared with Juan Diego in Guadalupe, for Mary today says these words to you: ”Know for certain, littlest of my sons [and daughters], that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, mother of the true God through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near and far, the master of heaven and earth. … I am your mother. The merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow, and will remedy, and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes. Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest and dearest son, that the thing that frightens you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing: do not let it disturb you? Am I not here, I who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am 1 not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need something more? Let nothing else worry you or disturb you.”
FOR YOUR PRAYER
To know Mary’s heart we listen to the words that poured forth from Mary’s heart: the Magnificat. Begin by slowly reading Luke 1:46-56. Read it a few times. Now, prayerfully imagine the “hidden scene” of Nazareth. Imagine an ordinary evening in the home of the Holy Family. Jesus is still an infant. Mary is a new mother. The day has come to a close. Mary lays next to the infant Jesus to help him fall asleep. In the silence Mary quietly sings the words of Luke 1:46-56. She loves to sing … and sings tonight as Jesus falls asleep. Imagine how many nights Jesus would have fallen asleep to the sweet sound of his mother singing her praise to God. Be there. Be in the scene. Listen to Mary’s voice singing. How much does she love God?
Today’s Prayer: “Jesus, I desire know you in a deeply personal way. Today I ask that you would allow me to grow in my relationship with your mother so that I might know her as you did.”
(1) see the Memorial of the Presentation of Mary celebrated every November 21st
Day 3: Tuesday of the 1st Week of Ordinary Time
Who is Joseph? What kind of person was he?
As we discussed yesterday, as we get to know the story of Nazareth we will come to know the people of Nazareth. Today, we ask “Who is Joseph? What kind of person was he?” The Scriptures tell us much less about Joseph as they do about Mary; however, what the Scriptures do say is significant. In Matthew 1:19 we read “Joseph her husband … was a just man”. What is a “just” man and why is this significant?
Pope Benedict XVI writes: “The designation of Joseph as a just man … gives an overall picture of Saint Joseph and at the same time it aligns him with the great figures of the Old Covenant- beginning with Abraham, the just.” (2) Abraham was the greatest father figure in the Old Testament, and he was just. Joseph, when described as just, he is described in such a way that paints him to be an equally great father figure of the New Testament.
The Psalms give us an idea of what the Scriptures are saying when they describe Joseph as just. Again, looking to the Holy Father we learn: “Psalm 1 presents the classic image of the ‘just‘ man. We might well think of it as a portrait of the spiritual figure of Saint Joseph. A just man, it tells us, is one who maintains living contact with the word of God, who ‘delights in the law of the Lord’ (v. 2). He is like a tree, planted beside the flowing waters, constantly bringing forth fruit. The flowing waters, from which he draws nourishment, naturally refer to the living word of God, into which he sinks the roots of his being. God’s will is not a law imposed on him from without, it is ‘joy.’” (3)
When the Scriptures paint Joseph as just, we learn that Joseph was more than a simple carpenter often depicted with a white lily. A just man loves the Word of God. He embodies virtue. A just man’s will is adhered to God’s heart such that obedience is a gift that fosters intimacy. A just man loves to pray. He lives quiet “on the inside”. He can hear the Father’s voice. He loves God. Unfortunately, many of us think of Joseph through a skewed Catholic imagination because many of us assume that he had to be convinced to marry Mary. However, Matthew chapter 1 is much more about Joseph’s holiness than it is about God sending an Angel to “convince him”. When you think of St. Joseph think of Abraham. Joseph was a saint; Joseph was just.
Consider this: The Catechism says that parents are “representatives of God for man.” (4) God the Father chose only one man in the history of humanity to “represent” fatherhood for Jesus. Yes, that’s Joseph. When God the Father wanted to “show” young Jesus what real fatherhood “looked like” he chose Joseph. Why? Joseph is more than that white lily. Joseph was an icon of virtue; Joseph was a saint; Joseph was just.
FOR YOUR PRAYER
To know Joseph’s heart we listen to the words that most describe a just man. Begin by slowly reading Psalm 1, especially verses 2-3. Read it a few times. Now, prayerfully imagine the “hidden scene” of Nazareth. Imagine an ordinary morning in the home of the Holy Family. Jesus is still an infant. Joseph is a new father. It is early, before sunrise. Mary lies next to the infant Jesus as they are both asleep. Joseph wakes up. He kneels beside the bed. He gazes at this awesome infant. He is stunned with awe. Then … Jesus’ eyes open. In utter silence, the infant Jesus looks at Joseph … and Joseph looks at Jesus. Imagine how Joseph must have felt to be chosen by the Father to father Jesus. Be in the scene. Be with them. Joseph looks at you and asks you to kneel beside the bed with them.
Today’s Prayer: “Jesus, I desire know you in a deeply personal way. Today I ask that you would allow me to grow in my relationship with St. Joseph so that I might know him as you did.”
(2) Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, pg. 39
(4) Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 239
Day 4: Wednesday of the 1st Week of Ordinary Time
Mary. . .a wife
In this first week of Nazareth, as we get to know the people of Nazareth, we ask “What was Mary’s marriage to Joseph really like?” Now, if we’re going to talk about the beauty of Mary’s marriage, I’m going to need a little time to help us understand the rich depth of her heart. You deserve the depth of today’s reflection … stay with me.
The Scriptures tell us very little about Mary and Joseph’s marriage. What we know comes from Matthew’s infancy narrative, “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.” (Matthew 1:24-25) To the common Catholic, Matthew’s description on one hand makes sense, yet on other hand raises questions. That Joseph “took his wife into his home” clearly states that Mary was indeed married to Joseph. However, as the Church professes Mary’s perpetual virginity, many may struggle with Matthew’s description that “He had no relations with her until she bore a son”. What does “until” mean?
If Jesus really is the Son of God, Mary’s conception had to be Divinely inspired. Thus, both Matthew and Luke make it clear that Mary was a virgin at the moment of her conception. (4) Thus, when Matthew writes “He had no relations with her until she bore a son” this emphasizes that Joseph had nothing to do with the conception of Jesus. However, the literal translation from Greek actually implies nothing as to what happened afterward. So, why remain a virgin? In 1964 the Second Vatican Council released Lumen Gentium. After presenting Mary as “pre-eminent and as a wholly unique member of the Church”, the Council fathers describe her to be the Church’s “type and outstanding model in faith and charity”. (5) When the Church defines Mary as the ”type” it means she “represents” of all humanity. So, in Christ we see God perfectly revealed and in Mary we see all of humanity represented.
One final prelude … stay with me here. If Mary represents all of humanity, Mary represents all vocations. The only way to understand our vocation on earth is to understand our ultimate destiny in heaven. The Gospels repeatedly referred to Jesus as the Bridegroom. (6) Furthermore, the Bible clearly states that, once we get to Heaven, we (the Bride) will be united forever with Christ (the Bridegroom). (7) Therefore, to understand our vocation we must understand that our souls were made for marriage: the ultimate marriage with God in heaven. When speaking of vocations, the Church describes two fundamental “states” in life, two ways of preparing for our ultimate marriage in heaven. Either we are married to a person through the Sacrament of Matrimony or we forgo earthy marriage, choosing celibacy as a partial tasting on earth of our inevitable marriage to God in heaven.
So … if Mary “represents” of all humanity, Mary must embody both marriage and celibacy all at the same time. Many of us struggle to understand Mary as a wife of Joseph because we struggle to understand how Mary, as a wife, would remain a virgin. Consecrated to God in the Temple as a child, Mary’s heart was totally available to God. Her entire being was postured toward God. Thus, when Mary opened her heart to Joseph, she drew Joseph into the purity of her heart which drew Joseph into the mystery of God in their marriage. Mary knew her ultimate destiny was to be with her son in heaven. Her heart was consecrated to God. Her life was open to God. Her marriage was pointed towards God.
Our hearts will ultimately be satisfied by God alone. Our vocation only makes sense if it is understood through God. Our marriages are healthy if they are rooted in and lead us back to God. Celibacy only makes sense through intimacy with God.
Now … I’m sure that learning more about Mary’s vocation elicits many emotions about our vocation. Be encouraged, for we need not be afraid to be honest with what’s in our hearts. Whether your marriage is fulfilling or your heart is yearning for more, today it’s important to take your marriage to Jesus. Whether your celibacy is fulfilling or your heart is yearning for more, today it’s important to take your celibacy to Jesus. Be not afraid, Mary knows you; Mary knows your heart. She is faithful. Her son is faithful. They are with you. They are with you in your vocation.
FOR YOUR PRAYER
Imagine how often Mary would have prayed with the prophet Isaiah. Imagine how many times Mary would prayed with her husband Joseph. Begin today by reading Isaiah 62:1-7. Compliment Isaiah with Ephesians 3:14-21. Read both a few times. What word or phrase is God using to speak to you? Now, prayerfully imagine the “hidden scene” of Nazareth. Imagine an ordinary evening in the home of the Holy Family. Baby Jesus is sleeping. Mary and Joseph are enjoying the evening together. What are the kinds of conversations they would have with each other? How does a married couple enjoy each other with God as the center? Be with them. Listen to them. Now … they turn to you … and ask you to talk to them about your vocation. What do you want to say to them?
Today’s Prayer: “Jesus, I desire know you in a deeply personal way. Help me to know where you and Mary are in my vocation.”
(4) see Matthew 1:20, “For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her” and Luke 1:27; 34-35, “to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary … ‘How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?’ And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The footnote in The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament states: “The Greek heos does not imply that Joseph and Mary had marital relations following Jesus’ birth. This conjunction is often used (translated “to” or “till”) to indicate a select period of time, without implying change in the future (2 Sam 6:23 [LXX]; Jn 9:18; 1 Tim 4:13). Here Matthew emphasizes only that Joseph had no involvement in Mary’s pregnancy before Jesus’ birth. * Mary’s perpetual virginity is firmly established in Church tradition. Its doctrinal formulation is traced to the Lateran Synod of A.D. 649 and was reaffirmed in 1968 by Pope Paul VI (The Credo of the People of Cod, 14; CCC 499-501)”
(5) Lumen Gentium, no. 53
(6) see John 3:29; Mark 2:18-20; Ephesians 5:25
(7) see Revelation 21:2 and 9; Mark 12:25; Matthew 22:30
Day 5: Thursday of the 1st Week of Ordinary Time
What kind of husband was Joseph?
Yesterday we asked “What was kind of wife was Mary?” Today, we ask “What kind of husband was Joseph?”
As with Mary’s identity as a wife, the Scriptures say very little about Joseph’s identity as a husband. However, what the Gospel of Matthew does tell us is very significant. In Matthew’s infancy narrative we read, “When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18) ”According to Jewish custom, marriage took place in two stages: first, the legal, or true marriage was celebrated, and then, only after a certain period of time, the husband brought the wife into his own house. Thus, before he lived with Mary, Joseph was already her ‘husband.’” (8)
Wow. Joseph is already a husband; he is already married to Mary. Already married, “she was found with child”. (Matthew 1:18) What type of husband loves his wife so much that he would honor her as her husband and not “divorce her quietly”? (Matthew 1:19) A just man. A holy man. A man who listens.
“Addressing Joseph through the words of the angel, God speaks to him as the husband of the Virgin of Nazareth. … God’s messenger was clear in what he said to Joseph: ‘Do not fear to take Mary your wife into your home.’ … In the [words from the Angel] Joseph not only heard the divine truth concerning his wife’s indescribable vocation; he also heard once again the truth about his own vocation.” (9)
Joseph listened to God. Joseph wanted to be a holy husband because Joseph was a holy man. He loved God; therefore, when it came to being a husband, the only voice Joseph listened to was God’s voice. In the opinion of the “world”, or the accepted culture around him, Joseph had a “right” to walk away from his marriage. The unexpected conception wasn’t in his plans. However, Joseph wanted holiness more than he wanted himself. Joseph loved Mary. Joseph loved God. Joseph loved to listen to God.
Unfortunately, the voice of “the great American Dream” is often louder than the voice of God. “You can have it all.” “You’re in control of your own destiny.” “Be your own man.” In fact, perhaps nothing describes the culture seducing American husbands more than the recently publicized statement “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” If these are the voices American husbands are listening to is it any wonder over 50% of American husbands no longer want to be husbands?
What kind of husband was Joseph? He was a husband who wanted to love his wife so much that he was determined to listen to the voice of God. Imagine what our nation would like if every husband were listening to God more than they were listening to themselves. Imagine what our marriages would look like if every husband were listening to God more than they were listening to their memories of being a bachelor. Imagine what America would look like if every husband were listening to God more than they were listening to “the great American dream.”
Who do you listen to? Who are we really listening to as husbands … as wives? Who are we really listening to as celibate priests called to be “husbands” just like St. Joseph?
Now … here’s the Good News. Listen to the truth. God is listening to you. Mary is listening to you. Joseph is listening to you. Regardless of what your marriage looks like, regardless of what kind of husband or wife you’ve been, today is the most important day of your marriage. God is listening to you. Mary is listening to you. Joseph is listening to you. Listen to them … after all … look what happened to the world when Joseph listened to God.
FOR YOUR PRAYER
Imagine how many times Joseph would have prayed with his wife, Mary. Imagine how often they would have prayed the Psalms. Begin today by reading Psalm 61. Read it a few times. Listen to the word or phrase God is using to speak to you. Now return to Psalm 85. Read it a few times. Again, listen to the word or phrase God is using to speak to you.
Now, prayerfully “imagine” the “hidden scene” of Nazareth. Imagine an ordinary evening in the home of the Holy Family. Jesus is sleeping. Mary and Joseph are enjoying the evening together. Joseph and Mary long to pray with each other. Imagine Mary singing Psalm 61. Joseph follows her as he sings Psalm 85. Then … together … in silence … they listen to what God is saying to them about their marriage. Then, they turn to you. They ask you, “What’ s on your heart today?” What do you want to tell them? Listen to what they say in reply.
Today’s Prayer: “Jesus, I desire know you in a deeply personal way. Help me to know where you and Joseph are in my vocation.”
(8) Blessed John Paul II, Redemptoris Custos, no. 18
Day 6: Friday of the 1st Week of Ordinary Time
What kind of marriage did Joseph and Mary have?
In these early days of Nazareth we have unpacked the essence of Mary as a wife and Joseph as a husband. The natural progression would thus lead us to ask “What kind of marriage did they have?”
We can learn much about the way they lived their marriage but paying attention to the details that led to their receiving their marriage. Both Mary and Joseph were called “out of themselves” through their encounters with the Angel Gabriel. In her Annunciation Mary is called to focus on the other. Gabriel draws her attention to the child conceived in her womb through the Holy Spirit. Although Mary had been consecrated to God since her childhood, she is called by God to live her life for the other. Her life is to be given to Jesus, and through Jesus to Joseph. In his Annunciation, Joseph is also called to focus on the other. Gabriel draws his attention to God’s intervention in Mary’s life, her divine conception, and his need to not be afraid. Since Joseph is a just man, he is able to receive the immense call to live the rest of life focused on the other. His life is focused on the Messiah he is to father and the wife he is to love with unparalleled purity.
Mary and Joseph had a real marriage, a sacred marriage. Their marriage was whole and holy because it wasn’t focused on them, it was focused on the other. Mary gave herself to Joseph. Joseph gave himself to Mary. They lived, not for themselves, but for the other.
On the day of their wedding, spouses give their lives to the other; yet many of the struggles in marriage will be because they are trying to take their life back. On the day of his ordination a priest gives his life to God; most of the struggles in his priesthood will be because he’s trying to take it back.
Marriage and celibacy only make sense if we are willing surrender the attitudes of the bachelor. Bachelors live for themselves: they do what they want, when they want, and how they want. Bachelors enjoy “their” time. Bachelors don’t have to sacrifice everything. Spouses are not married bachelors, they have to live for the other.
There is a reason Braveheart, Gladiator and Saving Private Ryan are movie blockbusters. They capture the anthropological adventure in the masculine heart. Every man wants a battle, an adventure. Every man wants to die for the cause. However, most men choose the wrong battle. Instead of fighting the spiritual battle, many men “fight” on “the ballfield, the bedroom, or the boardroom.” (10) They fight the wrong battle, thus they run from masculine maturity: to die to self, to die to “their” dreams. If a husband doesn’t stop living like a bachelor he’ll never live the way Christ asks husbands to live. (11) A husband must give his life away on the day of his wedding … and, he must continue to do so every day thereafter. Joseph models for husbands the need to live not for themselves, but for the other.
The feminine heart naturally desires to be in the adventure also; however, the feminine heart desires to be the one pursued, the one rescued. Epic legends such as Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty are timeless because they capture the feminine heart’s desire to be pursued and rescued. (12) Most wives desire to give their hearts away; most women desire to live for the other. However, if a woman’s heart is wounded and learns not to trust, wives will struggle to live for the other out of self-protection. Mary models for wives the need to live not for yourself, but for the other.Who are you living for? Have you really died to yourself? Are there patterns in your marriage or celibacy that still have you protecting yourself or living for your personal desires? What is the “model” for your marriage or celibacy? Mary and Joseph want to be with you. They desire to teach you. Can you let yourself be taught? Can you live for the other?
FOR YOUR PRAYER
Imagine how many times Joseph and Mary would have prayed together as a married couple. Begin today by reading Galatians 2:20 and John 3:30. Read them a few times. Pay attention to all of your thoughts, feelings, and desires as you slowly read the text.
Now, prayerfully imagine the “hidden scene” of Nazareth. Imagine an ordinary evening in the home of the Holy Family. Jesus is sleeping. Mary and Joseph are enjoying the evening together. You are there, with them. They turn to you. They ask you, “What’s on your heart today? How do you feel about your marriage or your celibacy?” What do you want to tell them? Listen to what they say in reply.
Today’s Prayer: “Jesus, I desire know you in a deeply personal way. Help me to know where you and Joseph and Mary are in my vocation.”
(10) see John Eldredge, Wild at Heart
(11) see Ephesians 5:25-32
(12) see John and Staci Eldredge, Captivating
Day 7: Saturday of the 1st Week of Ordinary Time
What kind of marriage did Joseph and Mary have?
If there’s one thing every one of us can attest to it’s the truth that life doesn’t always meet your expectations. There are curve balls, bumps along the journey, and unmet expectations. Life can be tough. Celibacy can be tough. Marriage can be tough. If we simply adore Mary and Joseph’s marriage through the lens of sentimentality we could assume that their holiness shielded them from the ordinary struggles that so many of us face. However, considering the reality of life, even Mary and Joseph experienced tough times.
Right from the beginning, their marriage faced trauma. Lest we forget, “According to Jewish custom, marriage took place in two stages: first, the legal, or true marriage was celebrated, and then, only after a certain period of time, the husband brought the wife into his own house. Thus, before he lived with Mary, Joseph was already her ‘husband.’” (13) They are already married when the Angel Gabriel comes to Mary with news of great joy and informs Mary that she is with child. (Luke 1:26-33) However, Joseph struggled with the news so much that he actually considered divorce. (Matthew 1:19) Of course, Joseph surrendered to God; however, it was tough at the beginning.
There’s also the famous Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve. As Jesus stays behind in the Temple, let us remember that Mary thought she had lost Jesus. She was so anxious that she greets Jesus with the firm words of a mother, “Son, why have you done this to us?” (Luke 2:48) Mary indicates that she and Joseph had been looking for him “with great anxiety”. (Luke 2:48) While nothing is said about what Mary and Joseph talked about as they frantically searched for Jesus, we know this: it was a tough time in their marriage.
And, of course, there is St. Joseph … and his death. Nothing is said in Scripture of Joseph’s death; however, there is no mention of Joseph during Jesus’ public ministry. Thus, we assume Joseph died somewhere prior to Jesus’ 30th birthday. A wife grieves the loss of her husband differently than a child or a sister or a mother. Mary loved Joseph. While Mary had confidence in her son’s Messianic mission, she no doubt felt the sting of death, even if it were for a moment. Joseph’s death was tough.
The key in our understanding Mary and Joseph’s marriage is to not disregard the reality of tough times. We must understand their hearts during the tough times. No matter what they faced they always faced God.
Holiness has less to do with what you’re facing and more to do with where you’re looking. Struggles have less to do with what you’re facing and more to do with where you’re looking. Your marriage or your celibacy has less to do with what you’re facing and more to do with where you’re looking. You and I will struggle, we will face tough times. The question is: “Where are we looking in the tough times?”
It’s important to be honest with what has stirred within during this first week of Nazareth. It would be easy to compare our holiness to that of the person of Mary or Joseph. It would be easy to compare ourselves or our spouse to Mary as a wife or Joseph as a husband. It would be easy to compare our marriage to the marriage of Mary and Joseph. Life in Nazareth can certainly shed light on our life at home. And, if your life is like mine, we don’t live in perfection. I live in a world where bad things happen to good people. I live in a world where celibacy and marriage is tough. I live in a world where family and raising kids is tough.
Yet, Nazareth has much to teach us. Nazareth teaches that life has less to do with what we’re facing and more to do with where we’re looking. In the tough times look at God, for He’s looking at you. I promise you: God is with you; Mary is with you; Joseph is with you. They are with you always, especially in the tough times.
FOR YOUR PRAYER
Imagine how many times Joseph and Mary would have prayed together as a married couple. Psalm 23 had a special place in Jesus’ heart perhaps because it was one he heard his parents praying so many times. Even if you’re really familiar with Psalm 23, read it today as if it were the first time you had ever read it. Read it a few times. Pay attention to all of your thoughts, feelings, and desires as you slowly read the text.
Now, prayerfully imagine the “hidden scene” of Nazareth. Imagine an ordinary evening in the home of the Holy Family. Jesus is sleeping. Mary and Joseph are enjoying the evening together.You are there, with them. Then, they turn to you. They ask you, “What’s on your heart today? How do you feel about your marriage or your celibacy?” What do you want to tell them? Listen to what they say in reply.
Today’s Prayer: “Jesus, I desire know you in a deeply personal way. Help me to know where you and Joseph and Mary are in my vocation.”
(13) Blessed John Paul II, Redemptoris Custos, no. 18