Crisis at Christmas – A Reflection on the Gospel for the 4th Sunday of Advent

The Gospel today gives us some background for the Christmas feast that we need to take to heart. It speaks to us of a crisis at Christmas. We tend to sentimentalize the Christmas story as we think of the “baby Jesus in the manger.” It is not absolutely wrong to be sentimental about Christmas but we also have to be prayerfully sober about how difficult that first Christmas was and the heroic virtue required of Mary and Joseph in order to cooperate with God in its coming to pass.

 Let’s look at the gospel in three stages: Distress, Direction and Decision.

 1. DISTRESS  – The text of the Gospel says, This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.

The Marriage is off – When we read in this text that Mary was found to be with child before Joseph and she were together, we need to understand how devastating and dangerous this situation is. The pregnancy prior to marriage brought forth a real crisis for both families involved in Joseph and Mary’s marriage plans. Quite simply, it put all plans for the marriage permanently off.

Why is this? We read in the text above that Joseph was “a righteous man.”  To our ears this sounds akin to saying he “was a good man.” Most of the Fathers of the Church interpret “righteous” here refer generally to his gracious character and virtue. And we surely suppose all this of him. More recent biblical scholarship also includes the notion that to say he was “a righteous man” also  means that he was “an observer of the Law.” He would thus do what the law prescribed. And this explains his decision to divorce Mary on account of her apparent lack of virginity prior to the marriage. Here is an example of the Mosaic Law in reference to such a matter:

But if  the tokens of virginity were not found in the young woman, then  they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has wrought folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you.(Deut 22:20-21)

 This of course is quite extreme to modern ears, but we can see too how far we have come in making light of promiscuity compared to ancient times. No one would argue that such a thing be done today, and rightly so. However this was the landscape taht the Law provided Joseph.

 What about stoning? It would seem that Jews of the First Century had varying interpretations about whether stoning was required or simply permitted (cf  John 8). Joseph, on account of his virtue and patience, looks for and senses some freedom in not exposing Mary to the full effects of the Law (stoning). But it does not seem he can see a way that he can take her into his home. Thus, as a “righteous man” (i.e. follower of the Law) it seems he decides that divorce is surely required, even if stoning is not.

 Now this leads us to two important reflections. One about Mary, and one about Joseph.

Regarding Mary, we can see what a difficult and dangerous position her “yes” (her fiat) to angel placed her. She risked her very life by being found in this conception outside the normal marital act with her husband. WE know that it is by the Holy Spirit she conceives, but her family and Joseph and his family do not know this, or at least cannot verify it. And even if Mary indicated exactly how she conceived, do you think YOU would merely accept such a story? Mary’s fiat  placed her in a real danger, culturally speaking  and it is a great testimony to her faith and trust in God that she said yes to his plans.

 Regarding Joseph we can also see the kind of pressure he would be under to do what the Law and custom required. There is no mention of Joseph’s feelings at this point. But we can assume when Mary was “found to be with child” prior to the couple’s being together in Marriage,  the social pressures on him from  family  to be rid of Mary were likely strong, whatever his feeling or plans for her were.

As we shall see, Joseph too will undertake great risk to obey God. And thus we go to the second stage of the story.

 2. DIRECTION – The text from the Gospel says, Such was his intention [to divorce] when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,  “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit  that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,  because he will save his people from their sins.”

Be not afraid – One will note that the principle exhortation of the angel that Joseph “not be afraid” to take Mary as his wife. This exhortation is powerful since fear WAS a very big factor in this whole matter. Joseph had much to fear in taking Mary. Some of the Fathers of the Church indicate that the thing the angel said he should not fear was God’s wrath, since in fact, he would not actually be taking an adulterer or fornicator into his home. One can also imagine however some other fears that also needed to be consoled by the angel. For example, Joseph could  easily be rejected by his family for taking Mary in. Likewise neighbors and others could shun him. As a business man Joseph needed a good reputation to be able to use his skills and ply a trade. All of these threats loom if Joseph bucks the law and custom and “brings evil into his house” rather than “purge the evil from the midst”  of his house. But the angel directs his not to fear. This will take courageous faith.

The angel’s explanation is unusual to say the least. What does it mean to conceive by the Holy Spirit? Not exactly a common occurrence! Would his family buy such an explanation? What of the others in the small town of Nazareth? Yes, people were more spiritual in those days, but it all seems so unusual. Further, Joseph hears all this in a dream. We all know what dreams can be like. They can seem so real, but when we are fully awake we wonder if what we experienced was real at all. Joseph too has to trust that what he was told is real and that he should not fear. God has given him direction. But as is often the case with things spiritual, we have to carefully discern and walk by faith, not by fleshly sight and certitude. Joseph has a decision to make.

 3. DECISION – The text from the Gospel says,  When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

Now given all that we have reflected upon, we can see the strong faith of Joseph and the kind of trust he had to put in God. He had been told not to be afraid, to rebuke fear. Joseph manfully does this. He makes his decision to obey God whatever the cost. We are given no information on how his family and others in the town may have reacted. However, the fact that the Holy family later settles back in Nazareth indicates that God did come through on his promise that Joseph need not be afraid.

Heroes of Faith! But here again note the crisis of that first Christmas and the powerful faith of Joseph and Mary. Quite literally their reputations were on the line, if not their very lives. They had great sacrifices to make in the wondrous incarnation of our Lord. Quite simply Mary and Joseph are great heroes of the faith. For neither of them was their “yes”  easy. It is often hard to obey God rather than men. Praise God that they made their decision and obeyed.

And, as we know their difficulties were not over in the crisis of that first Christmas. There was a badly timed census which required a journey to Bethlehem in the ninth month of Mary’s pregnancy. Imagine walking 70 miles through mountainous terrain in the ninth month! There may or may not have been a donkey, but I doubt riding a donkey in the ninth month is all that comfortable either. Then there was no room in the inn and Jesus had to be born in a smelly animal stable. Shortly thereafter they must flee through the desert to Egypt for Herod sought to kill Jesus.

Jesus is found in a real Christmas, not a hallmark one.  The crisis of the first Christmas prefigures the passion. But this where Jesus is found: in the crisis of the first Christmas. You may hope for the perfect Christmas but there is no perfect Christmas. Yet, Jesus will find you where you are – in real life, in the imperfect Christmas where loved ones may have been recently lost and there is grief, where a job has just been lost and there is anxiety, where health is poor or families are experiencing stress and strife. That’s where Jesus will be found, in your real Christmas. A Christmas of Joy, yes, but also of imperfections, even crises. He is there waiting for you to find him, in the real Christmas of your life.

This song is an old African American Spiritual that reflects on the fact that true discipleship isn’t always easy. Joseph and Mary surely experience and exemplify what the these words say:

I tol’ Jesus it would be all right
If He changed my name

Jesus tol’ me I would have to live humble
If He changed mah name

Jesus tol’ me that the world would be ‘gainst me
If He changed mah name

But I tol’ Jesus it would be all right
If He changed mah name

42 Replies to “Crisis at Christmas – A Reflection on the Gospel for the 4th Sunday of Advent”

  1. Msgr. Pope,

    I had wanted to reply earlier to yesterday’s post on scripture interpretation concerning today’s (12/18) Gospel passage concerning the last line “He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and named him Jesus”. Sunday’s (12/19) Gospel reading is the same passage without the last line so I replying under this post.

    I remember reading a article or post (I believe it was from you Msgr. Pope) concerning the interpretation of the word “until” in the last line of the Gospel passage. From what I remember, the interpretation of the word “until” in Hebrew or Greek is different from the English meaning. I am not a bibical scholar, far from it. The different ways of interpreting scripture is confusing for me. I simply put my faith in the Catholic church’s 2000 years of understanding and interpreting the Bible. I would rather trust people such as St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Pope Benedict XVI and even yourself Msgr. Pope than some college professors who like to hear themselve speak.

    I ocasionally write down certain passages from books or articles I have read that have personal meaning to me and I would like to share one with you. The following passage was written about today’s Gospel reading and is from Joseph of Nazareth by Frederico Suarez.

    There are moments in which one is forced to make a decision which can irreversibly change the course of one’s life and that of others. … One cannot expect Light from God when all the resources one has at their disposal have not been used to arrive at a just solution.

    Just some thoughts I wanted to share. Enjoy reading your blog and listening to you recordings.

    1. I too have read some commentaries that analyze the use of the word “until” and they come to cocnlcusions similar to what you have described. I don’t recall that I have written on this topic. However there are many valuable articles over at the Catholic Answers Webstite.The artcles that deal with the question of “until” are here:

      The bottom line is that until does not exclude a permanent situation. Neither must it imply that after the time period something different ensued. Rather it can also mean that “for the time period under consideration”

      Any way you can read some go articles at the page I cite.

  2. Joseph was a righteous man, a just man. God is also righteous and just, but He tempers His justice with mercy, which, properly understood, does not contravene the Law, but fulfills it. It is interesting, then, that some 30 or so years later, when He was confronted with the woman caught in adultery, Jesus would respond in similar fashion, with mercy.

    It is a mercy born of love. Joseph loved (and loves) Mary, even after the stunning revelation that she was pregnant. Here was evidence of infidelity staring him right in the face, but he did not want to believe it. He loved her, and besides, he knew her character, that she would never do such a thing. So, he acted with mercy, which was the just and righteous thing to do, even if it did not appear so to worldly men, because Mary was, in fact, entirely innocent.

    Such love leads to trust — taking her word for it, taking the word of the angel, which he could have easily dismissed as his imagination. He trusted in her, he had faith in God. Without any evidence — against the worldly evidence even — Joseph had faith.


    Regarding Joseph being a “righteous” man, a “just” man, depending on the translation —

    Comparing that to Mary being “full of grace,” which indicates her Immaculate Conception — I wonder, might Joseph being described as “righteous” and “just” indicate something similar for him? Not that he was immaculately conceived, but perhaps, like John the Baptist jumping in his mother’s womb, he was given the grace of the Holy Spirit?

  3. Another question.

    Regarding the decision to “divorce” Mary — they had not consumated the marriage/betrothal. In the modern understanding, even in the civil law, this would have been grounds for an annulment, not a divorce. Did the Jewish understanding at that time make the same distinction?

    1. I am not sure. From all I have read, Joseph and Mary were authentically married though the Jewish practice of having the girl live with the parents an additional year was in force at the time of this story. Hence they are actually married, not merely engaged, but the marriage is not consummated. I am unaware of any Jewish notion of annulment, especially at the time of Jesus and hence I take the word “divorce” here at face value. I am surely willing to be corrected by others on this however.

  4. The text seems to imply he found her pregnant in a dream, because it says “such was his intention when…”.

  5. This article brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for giving us the reality of what Mary and Joseph went through. My devotion to them is soaring this morning. If we could only hear the real power of the meaning of the Gospels and how Christ’s coming overturned “the wisdom of this world.” Sadly we are under pressure to find the perfect gifts, the perfect table settings, the best Christmas dinner menu, and host the most convivial well orchestrated gatherings. I sometimes think the possibility of contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation in a simple quiet way has been lost to us. I will read this post with my family. Keep up the amazing articles Msgr. Pope.

  6. ‘This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. ‘

    I’m no longer sure that St. Josephs motives to ‘divorce her quietly’ had anything to do with the law regarding adultery and not more to do with the virtues of humility, prudence and the holy fear of God for the following reasons:

    1. The text states, ‘she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.’ I don’t think St. Joseph believed Mary had committed adultery.

    2. Didn’t all devout Jews of that time pray for and expect the coming of the Messiah? Didn’t they know how it was foretold to happen through Scripture? Didn’t parents of daughters at that time hope and pray it would be through their daughter?

    3. Knowing of the foretold Messiah through Scripture, could it perhaps be more a case of fear of God, prudence and humility regarding being worthy to be the foster father of God on St. Joseph’s part?

    I have to admit, regarding this text, my paradigm has changed after reading ‘The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ The visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich and another blog I read recently on this issue has given me pause regarding St. Joseph’s motives regarding the virgin birth.

    1. I think your points are interesting specualtion and one could hold them piously. However the plain meaning of the text suggests soemthing a little more earth-bound. If it is so that Joseph actually accepted her innocence in this matter why leave her bereft of a husband which she, as a woman at that time, would need. If it is only humility, then it seems it is humility to a fault. And perhaps this is why the angel corrects Joseph. However, again, the fact that the angel repeats that “it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child” indicates that Joseph either did not know this or had disbelived it or did not understand it.

      However, some of what you say here is hinted at by a few of the Fathers of the Church especially insofar as what Joseph actually fears. How Chrysostom et al. specifies the fear a little differently. You may have already consulted the Catena Aurea but in case not it is a valuable survey of the Fathers on this point.

  7. David’s wife Micha “did not have any children UNTIL she died.” Did she have children AFTER she died?
    Joseph and Mary had completed the first stage of the 2-stage Jewish marriage ceremony, the Kiddushin, in which they signed the contract and became, in Jewish law/custom “husband and wife.” Many months or even a year go by before couples completed the second stage, Nisuin, in which the husband “brings his wife into his home.” The angel tells Joseph to “take YOUR WIFE MARY into your home.” That is, his WIFE, not his fiancee. The translation “betrothal” meant marriage among the ancient Jews, not engagement. Divorce refers to a separation of a married couple. There are several websites conducted by rabbis which explain ancient Jewish marriage customs in great detail.

  8. I wish there was å country I could move to where they practised all the good old laws of the Old Testament.
    The purity and the simplicity of ancient Israel must have been something.
    No hypocricy. No political correctness. Just bare-to-the-bone justice: Old testament style.

    It seems, by the grace of God, that somewhere in the back of my mind, I am at least as Jewish as I am Christian.
    Allthough I seem to have no official Jewish ancestry, and come from Scandinavia.

    I never find any problem with the justice of the Old Testament, when executed correctly and without human failure or falsehood.

    Whenever I hear people complaining about the harsness of it`s laws I always wonder what they are talking about. Sure, there were no feminism or other idiotic ideas, but it was clean, pure and simple and filled with true justice.

    And in addition, you were most welcome to live alone out in the wilderness and do nothing but worship God all day long. Those were the days.

    Marry Christmas, Monsignore.

    1. \Just bare-to-the-bone justice: Old testament style.\

      Yet Jeus calls us to something better, no?

      Jesus was asked point-blank about justice under the mosaic law in the context of divorce by the Pharisees (Matthew 19).

      He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. (Matthew 19:8)

      Instead of playing their game, Jesus calls the Pharisee’s attention back to the way it was for Adam and Eve”In the beginning” before sin entered the world. Then Jesus gives us a way to get there, to return to the way it was “In the beginning”, through his redemption.

      John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb who “Takes away the sins of the world.” I understand how some Evangelical denominations and calvinists don’t believe this is possible but for Catholics, who believe in the very real presence of Jesus Christ, do we not believe that this can really happen, that Jesus can actually “Take away” our sins and return us to the way it was “In the beginning?”

      With all due respect Gabe, your comments kinda miss the whole point of Christianity, no? I’ll take the redemption and actual removal of sin over “Old School” mosaic law justice any day.

      For the record, my comments are not really my own thoughts but are based on the Catechisis of John Paul II called the “Theology of the Body.”


    2. Well, I suppose Gabriel you are being a bit tongue in cheek here. But insofar as having no problem with Old Testament puntative measures, please Know that Jesus had a few troubles with them. cf. Matt 5-7; JOhn 8 inter al.

  9. I made a huge mistake in my previous post by referencing ‘The Life of the Virgin Mary’ and the Visions of Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich. After going back and checking, on page 167 in the chapter titled The Visitation, the material makes clear that after the Angel’s annunciation, “Mary in shy humility had kept God’s secret to herself.” The material makes clear she never shared this knowledge with St. Joseph. St. Joseph was deeply disturbed by her signs of pregnancy (she was showing) and he had “made up his mind to leave her and disappear in secret.”

    Furthermore, I was corrected by the sermon at Mass this afternoon by a Priest I respect very much, who discussed this very topic and made clear that Joseph’s struggle was based on the law and Mary’s apparent adultery.

    After researching my error regarding Anne Catherine Emmerich and in obedience to the Priest and the Holy Spirit in the sermon I heard this afternoon, I am abandoning the idea that St. Joseph was aware of the source of Mary’s pregnancy. Most of all I’m deeply sorry for causing any confusion, misleading or disturbing anyone on this issue.

    Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

    1. Cool. However, I think you were clear to indicate the speculative nature of your thoughts. And, as I said above, some of the Fathers affirm certain aspects of your thoughts there, though none of them say that Joseph actually knew the source of the conception.

  10. Apparently no one told Joseph about historical interpretation. Thank God.

  11. I think it is time that those who believe Jesus is The Saviour of all those who would accept His Birth ,Death and Resurrection and that He is the Son Of God..Born of a Virgin.As Josep wondered what he should do,He had it confirmed , this was a work of God Mat1: 22,25.Amongst the lights,the trees. Let those who believe stand up and be counted.Will He find a waiting watching people when He comes again

  12. We don’t hear much of Joseph, but through his actions, we know he is the best man he could be. God chose the best husband for Mary and earthly father for Jesus. He is a wonderful role model for all men. We recently graced our home with a modern painting of St. Joseph.

    We bought a movie called the Nativity in which Joseph’s feelings of betrayal are shown dramatically. It is a beautifully made movie, where the harshness of times is shown, and the scene when the shepherds and Kings come to pay homage is stunning: Gold for the King of Kings, Frankinscence for the Priests of Priests and … I hold my breath every time when the myrrh is presented because what is he going to say to the Mother of God? I hope you will get to watch this movie.

    I enjoyed your reflections very much, Monsignor. Merry Christmas.

    1. Yes, I have very mixed feelings about the movie you cite. It is visually beautiful and presents a reasonably accurate account of the events. However, as a Protestant production, the view of Mary is a bit off. Early in the movie she is presented as a bit of a pouter. Also in the enocunter with Elzabeth they omit the magnificat. Why? But any rate, with these cautions in mind it is worth seeing.

      1. That’s why I have never even seen it (despite having a couple million of religious movie DVDs). I like my Marys the way I like my Jesuses, strong and confident and radiating goodness. It is hard to beat Olivia Hussey or Maia Morgenstern.

  13. Monsignor Pope – GREAT job on Channel 4’s Viewpoint this morning, talking about the meaning of Christmas. You had your Scripture nailed down. It was wonderful. Great having a chance to see you and not just read you.

  14. As a homilist I’d like to say his explanation is interesting and somewhat informative, but is it a homily?
    It seems to me that it’s more a lecturel.

    A lexruew imparts information; a homily attempts to help people change for the better.
    What I see missing here is a connection between the homily and people’s lives and relationships.

    1. Well the attempt was there any way. I note their heroic sanctity and summon us to it. Further I enocurage people to find Christ in the true true (rather than hallmark version) Christmas of their own. I guess for you I missed the mark. Pray for the preacher!

  15. I think that it is beaautiful just as it is. Matthew was a Jewish ‘rabbi’ speaking to Jewish people and so this must be understood with Jewish law background. Later in this birth naritave, Matthew moves strongly into parables to not give details but to relate Jesus as the one prophised by Moses (Deut 18) and coming in the Davidic line as the King that would live for ever

  16. There seems to be a radical difference between the statements, “I dreamed an angel spoke to me,” and “An angel spoke to me in a dream.” It would appear that there is a certainty about the event of an angel’s speaking in a dream that removes it from the ordinary such that it is not possible to mistake it for a simple dream. In every case the hearers act with assurance, never tentatively. Neither statement applies to me, so I have no first hand experience, but it certainly seems to be a compelling event when an angel speaks in a dream.

  17. Msgr.,
    How can we say that Mary and Joseph were “married” if there was never any sexual contact between them?

    1. Well, the Jewish tradition regarded them as married. I suppose the closest we could get to describing their marriage in modern canonical terms is that it is ratum sed non consumatum. While we generally insist upon consummation as of the essence of marriage even in the modern setting there may be delay in consummation. For example, a couple is wed at the altar and goes to a reception. After that they get on a plane and fly 24 hours to Sydney Australia. During the approximate 48 hours I have described their marriage is not yet consummated but none of us would speak of them as “unmarried” at that point. That fact that the Jews of Jesus time extended the period prior to consummation over a number of months or even a year did not necessarily exclude any notion that the couple was married I suppose in the same way. It seems unusual to us but it was a common practice apparently. One question I am not sure of is when exactly the marriage ceremony took place. From my studies I think it was conducted just prior to the bride going to the house of the groom. But there must have been some ceremony at the very beginning too. SOme of the details of all this are a bit murky to us moderns since I think there were also regional differences among the Jews at that time just as there are regional and cultural differences among us today.

      1. Since I brought up consummation earlier, I’d like to expand on my remarks —

        Although Mary and Joseph never physically sexually consummated, I’m certain that we can say that the marriage was a real marriage, made complete and whole in some other fashion. (Just as Mary was never physically baptized, but received the benefit of baptism in alternative fashion.) Their virginal marriage was unitive and fruitful in that very virginity, i.e. in their complete gift of self to God and, therefore, complete gift to each other, intimately receiving the other’s heart into his or her own person in the fullness of love, resulting not only in communion with each other and God, but fruitful — not only the Child they raised together and shared in spirit, if not the flesh, but also all those children who call His Father their Father. Joseph is protector and defender of, and provider for, Mary and Jesus and, hence of the entire Church. As such, he is a father to the children of the Church.

        And, as with most things Mary, there is an eschatological significance to their relationship, that is, their marriage looks forward to the New Jerusalem. In the Theology of the Body, John Paul II brings up the exchange regarding the multiple brothers and the one wife, when Jesus says that we will not be given in marriage in heaven. That is, relationships will be as the virginal marriage between Mary and Joseph. There will not be any “consummating” going on, but relationships will still be made complete.

  18. As I continue to meditate upon the Annunciation and Incarnation, I keep coming back to the “humility theory” of St. Joseph. I cannot believe that God, who preserved Our Lady from the slightest stain of sin from the first moment of her conception, would allow any suspicion about her purity or the legitimacy of his beloved Son to defile them. In fact, with her fiat, Our Lady became mystically espoused to the Holy Spirit, and Our Lord was conceived within her. Wouldn’t the Holy Spirit have zealously guarded his spouse’s reputation? Wouldn’t the gossip which would have ensued from questionable paternity have hindered Our Lord’s later ministry? When he was rejected at Nazareth, the people said “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary?” They did not say, “Is not this the son of that tramp Mary and her cuckolded husband, the carpenter?” If you think that after thirty years such a grievous offense would have been forgotten, you have not lived in a small town. It seems unthinkable that either St. Joseph or the Holy Spirit would have allowed the Holy Family to return to Nazareth from Egypt and subject our Blessed Mother to such painful gossip.

    In St. Luke’s gospel, the archangel Gabriel tells our Blessed Mother, “The Holy Spirit will descend upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” To anyone familiar with the Old Testament, as Our Lady and St. Joseph would have been, these works immediately invoke the image of the cloud and glory of the Lord descending upon the Ark of the Covenant both in the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness (Ex 40:34-34) and in the Temple of Solomon (1Kings 8:10-11). The Ark was so holy that only the Levites could touch it, as King David was reminded to his horror when Uzzah reached out his hand to steady it and was struck dead (2Sam6:6-7). Later in St. Luke’s account of the visitation of Our Lady to St. Elizabeth, we are given further parallels between Our Lady and the Ark of the Covenant.

    It seems entirely plausible, therefore, that St. Joseph’s dilemma might not have had anything to do with questions concerning Our Lady’s purity, but rather trying to obediently (in his mind) relinquish all claims to the Ark God had chosen, while at the same time protecting her from the obvious problems she would encounter if he divorced her publicly. Divorce was excruciatingly shameful for a woman, especially a pregnant one. He may have finally decided that the best solution was “to send her away quietly” in order not to put her to shame. This explains why the angel said, “Do not fear to take Mary your wife into your home…” The angel may have been reassuring St. Joseph that it was God’s will for him to take Mary into his home, to protect and love her and the child, and to assume his proper role as head of the Holy Family. These things St. Joseph most certainly did, in obedience and humility, all the days of his life.

    1. Wouldn’t the Holy Spirit have zealously guarded his spouse’s reputation?

      I’m not sure what you mean here. People will think what they will think. Are you saying that the Holy Spirit would have overridden their minds, taken away their freedom of will and thought and make them think nice thoughts?

      But your other point is valid — that if people had reason to suspect Mary of infidelity, there would have been whispers and gossip about it for years. And the fact that they did not do that (apparently), would seem to indicate that people did not know or suspect that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus.

      On the other hand, even though people did not (apparently) gossip about this, they did spread other stories and lies about Jesus — that He’s crazy, He’s a blasphemer, etc. — and the Holy Spirit did not step in and stop that even though it definitely hindered His ministry.

  19. @Bender:

    No, the Holy Spirit would not take away free will. I cannot believe, however, that He would have purposely left His beloved spouse open to such conjecture, as seems to be assumed by the “Joseph doubts the purity of Mary” theory. Though several holy mystics through the centuries have given sometimes conflicting versions of the life of Our Lady, and several Fathers of the Church have offered sometimes conflicting explanations of these Scripture passages, the truth is that we will probably not know the full story this side of Heaven. And who knows, we may not care by then. Such details may pale into insignificance in light of the beatific vision.

    As for the later stories and lies about Jesus, I don’t see any evidence that they hindered his ministry. If you measure success in human terms, it is true that he had fewer followers in some towns than others, but he himself culled his followers with difficult teachings (John 6:60-66). When he died, there was only one Apostle at the foot of the Cross and I guess some people would call that a failure of ministry, but we know better because the success of Our Lord’s ministry is not measured in human terms.

  20. Thanx for taking the time to write your thoughts about this gospel.

    I think our archbishop read your comments before delivering his homily. I enjoyed both!

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