High School Baccalaureate Mass
Ateneo de Naga University
Feast of St. Joseph, March 19. 2011
It is a very happy coincidence, is it not, that this day falls on the Feast of St. Joseph. I hope that means that in recalling the joy of your finally “passing through the pillars” on the day of your high-school graduation, you also recall that you graduated on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph. It is a special grace. It is as if St. Joseph has volunteered himself as your special graduation Patron, so that in life you might call on him as you special guardian and friend.
The Gospel for today re-counts the story of Joseph well, and brings out the relevance of his life experience for us. Joseph was a carpenter. He was a skilled craftsman, worked successfully with his hands, worked enough to make a modest living not only for himself but also for his future family. Joseph was also a Jew; he worshipped one and only one God, and lived according to the Scripture, the Torah. In the days after the Babylonian Exile, he lived in expectation of the coming Messiah. He belonged to the royal House of David, from whom, it was said, the Messiah would come!
He was a skilled carpenter, a practicing Jew, a healthy, young, good-natured man who, like all men of his age, looked forward to raising his own family. He was in love with a woman. Her name was Mary. Formally, they were betrothed – engaged to get married.
In thinking about Joseph’s relationship to Mary, or Mary’s relationship to Joseph, you may be helped by recalling your own relationships of love. Joseph and Mary were probably about your age. And they were in love. That is why they were publicly preparing for marriage.
The Gospel narrates: “When his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the power of the Holy Spirit.” That too, should not be difficult for you to imagine. Supposing, one day, you find your one-and-only beloved, to whom you are engaged to be married, pregnant – “by the Holy Spirit”! That could fill you with shock, anger, jealousy, fear – fear of having been betrayed, feared of having been lied to and disgraced, fear of having to retaliate in a manner allowed by the Law, but thoroughly repulsive to you, because, after all you love this person with all your heart, soul and body.
The Gospel then says: “Joseph, an upright man unwilling to expose her to the law, decided to divorce her quietly.” “Upright” here means loving and kind, not just stoically just. He did not want to deliver her to the harsh penalties for infidelity imposed by the Law. Quietly, he simply decided to divorce her, to call off the marriage. How would you have responded? The contrast may highlight Joseph’s remarkable goodness. He responded with restraint, kindness and love, even though he had not yet understood what had happened.
That understanding only came with the message of the angel: “Joseph, son of David, have no fear about taking Mary as your wife. It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this Child. She is to have a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The greatness of Joseph, it seems to me is in his immediate goodness to Mary, but then also his ultimate obedience to the Angel’s message, the message of God. He feared. He feared the consequences of the situation. He feared what he might have to do to defend his honor. But he was commanded not to fear. So he placed his mind and will into accepting the Angel’s message: Mary was not pregnant by another man; she was pregnant mysteriously by the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, who, in God’s inscrutable ways, was working out salvation. This Child would be the awaited one, the one to save us from our sins, the Messiah.
Joseph overcame his fear, and aligned his heart, his mind, his body, his soul, his strength to accepting the salvific will of God, accepting thereby to accomplish his role in this plan. The Messiah was born under his care. The Child survived the persecution of Herod under his protection. The Child was hidden and saved in foreign Egypt under his guidance. The Child grew in wisdom, age and grace in the loving presence of Mary and Joseph.
You graduate today from the happy familiarity of this campus into a messy, confusing, and painful world. You would be naïve if you did not fear it. Especially if in you, you have a sensitivity for human be-ing, an appreciation for human values, a love for the Church! Many in the past have walked away from these Four Pillars thinking it was theirs to change the world, to make it a better, more humane place to live, only later to discover in disappointment that it was they who were changed. Many were changed into corrupt thieves, hateful spouses, irresponsible citizens. You would be naïve if you did not fear this. Yet, the message that came to Joseph in today’s Gospel is the message that is also given to you: Do not fear! Do not fear to accept Mary and her Child into your lives. Do not fear to face the violence of the world that wills to slay this Baby and preserve itself against any radical transformation. Do not fear to be smiled at, to be snickered at, to be laughed at! Stand up for Jesus! Stand up for the Father’s will! Stand up for the humanity that he became part of and saved! Do not fear to merge your careers and lives with the energy and force of the Divine Will, which is much more powerful than money, much more effective than all corporate planning, much more powerful than all governments put together.
St. Joseph overcame his fear and obeyed God. With him at your side as you walk through the Pillars of this university this evening, may you be filled with courage as you again take to heart the school motto: Primum Regnum Dei – First the Kingdom of God! “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Paul asked. If God is for you, and you for God, God will surprise you with his Power, empower you with his love, and make you all effective servants of his Kingdom!