Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:20
22 December 2019, 4th Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 7:10–14, Psalm 23(24):1–6, Romans 1:1–7, Matthew 1:18–24
The Holy Spirit is what gives us the ability to cry out from the heart, “Abba Father!” This means that the Holy Spirit is the very interior life of the Son of God—who unfailingly trusts in his Father’s goodness, will and plan for his life.
It is no coincidence, therefore, that the angel Gabriel said to both Mary and St Joseph that the work of Christ’s conception was the work of the Holy Spirit, thereby giving the incredible grace of faith to St Joseph to do as God asks.
We cannot follow God’s plan for us without the Holy Spirit. If we try it on our own, we rely upon our own spirit which is weak and often ignorant of how deep and intense God’s love is for us. The Holy Spirit brings about an end to the fears that cause us to timidly follow Jesus, because the Spirit of God cries out from our heart with full trust and deference to God.
Heavenly Father, with your Son, send your Holy Spirit into our souls and refresh them. Give us a new trust in your plan for us, even when the way seems hard. When our families, friends and world would steer us in a different direction, let us seek first the path of the Holy Family, guided by your Spirit. Holy Spirit, come. Amen.
Fr Chris Pietraszko
Joseph the Carpenter – Georges de La Tour (1593–1652)
“Joseph the Carpenter”, c. 1645. Oil on canvas, 130 x 100 cm. Louvre, Paris. Public Domain.
We have entered Year A, the Year of Matthew, and so it is from his Gospel that the Advent readings are taken. This explains the question that is on many lips today—why the annunciation to Joseph rather than to Mary that the Church has chosen?
Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience. He is keen to show that Jesus is indeed the fulfilment of Jewish hopes, that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah. But, it all comes about in a totally unexpected way. Mary, Joseph’s betrothed, is pregnant by another.
“Betrothed” does not equal “engaged” in our culture. Betrothal, according to Jewish law, is the first stage of marriage. The couple already have the status of man and wife. But, because Jewish girls were frequently married at an early age, as young as 12 years old, they continued to live in the parental home for a year or so. Once they had adjusted to their new status, a husband would take his wife to his own home and consummate the marriage.
There are many theories as to Joseph’s age (was he a widower? His children would then become Jesus’ legal “brothers and sisters”.) But, Mary’s age is most probably 12 to 15 years—what maturity she had gained to handle such a delicate situation!
Mary’s schooling from the age of three in the Temple school at Jerusalem (a commonly accepted belief by the Churches of East and West) would certainly have prepared her to see the workings of God in her life—a reminder to us all of the importance of a thorough knowledge of Scripture.
And, Joseph is described as a “just” man—a man at rights with God; a man after God’s own heart; the very person to influence the growing Messiah.
Joseph’s tenderness with Mary will be reflected in Jesus’ tenderness with all whom he encounters. When Jesus encounters the woman taken in adultery, would he have looked back on his foster-father’s treatment of his mother?
This background might help us to “see” into the painting we are contemplating. We have met Georges de La Tour before—the cover of the 2015 Advent Program. He died in A.D. 1652, a French Baroque painter, and he uses again a scene lit by candlelight. The child Jesus holds a candle to aid St Joseph, but the light actually falls upon himself—the Light of the World.
This scene was used recently by John Carroll, professor emeritus of sociology at La Trobe University in Australia, in an article he wrote for The Weekend Australian on the changing status of fatherhood.
He argues that the modern father is much more engaged with his children, perhaps due to the flexibility of work hours, leading to “some development in the psychic quality and meaning of the paternal bond”. The article is worth reading (2–3 February 2019).
Carroll sees this “psychic” quality exemplified in the relationship of Joseph and Jesus—de La Tour tries to bridge the visible and the invisible. It is night. Joseph is bent over a beam into which he bores a hole with his gimlet, the precursor of the drill. On his right, his son holds a candle which flames-up almost unnaturally.
Joseph is concentrating, for what he is making is a cross. Jesus is seven years old, perhaps a little more. At this stage of his life, Jesus would have seen crucifixion. Hundreds of Jewish people were crucified on the roads near Nazareth for insurrection against Rome. As a carpenter, it would have been logical that Joseph had been conscripted to make those crosses.
This scene is filled with poignancy. Joseph does not yet know Jesus’ future (although, with Mary, he would have heard Simeon’s prophecy that this Child would divide the world and thus break Mary’s heart.) There seems to be a deep intimacy between father and son—Jesus looking up with admiration. But, the candle illuminates the Child’s hand, alluding to the nail that will one day be hammered into it.
Who knows what is going through Joseph’s mind? The picture paints a thousand stories. The viewer will choose his own, but one theme dominates—those with an inner eye will see all life as redemptive.
Monsignor Graham Schmitzer
Fr Chris Pietraszko grew up in the Diocese of London Ontario, Canada. He always gravitated towards learning more about the philosophy of the Church, and in his teenage years, he got involved in apologetics and eventually surrendered to a call to the priesthood and entered seminary where he was introduced to the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas. Ordained in 2012, Fr Chris continues to use social media to present both a philosophical and theological platform of discussion and reflection on the faith. He has a podcast called Fides et Ratio, and he is also a regular guest on Matt Fradd’s podcast, Pints with Aquinas.
Monsignor Graham Schmitzer recently retired as the parish priest at Immaculate Conception Parish in Unanderra, NSW. He was ordained in 1969 and has served in many parishes in the Diocese of Wollongong. He was also chancellor and secretary to Bishop William Murray for 13 years. He grew up in Port Macquarie and was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph of Lochinvar. For two years, he worked for the Department of Attorney General and Justice before entering St Columba’s College, Springwood, in 1962. Fr Graham loves travelling and has visited many of the major art galleries in Europe.
With thanks to the Diocese of Wollongong who have supplied the weekly Advent and Christmas 2019 reflections from their publication, The Way – Advent & Christmas Daily Reflections 2019. You can read the reflections as they are published here.