By Petra Alexander
The Church reflects on multiple occasions of Mary’s ‘yes.’ Her fiat, an acceptance that always strikes us as impressive, intimate, and mysterious. What the Angel asked her on God’s behalf was something that might have led her to want to think it over many times. Yet she accepted with generosity, confidence and without delays. She set off to help her cousin. Mary received the evidence of pregnancy as do all mothers: another heart beats, another being moves within you, a new way to love is born…Elizabeth tells her that her son “leaps with joy” in the presence of the sacred life that is barely starting to exist in time. Two pregnant women greet each other in the flesh and in the Spirit. Surely Mary while at Elizabeth’s house thought often of Joseph her betrothed, of whether she should tell him or not; how would he take it?
In a few words the gospel tells the story of Mary’s return from visiting Elizabeth, Joseph comes to know of the pregnancy. Does this pain need to be described? Perhaps only those who have been betrayed by their spouses can understand. It’s a strong and human pain, that is at once deception, anger, powerlessness ...the rupture of illusions, the shipwreck of trust in the other…How many songs and poems have spoken of this wound. Joseph did not ask Mary for the facts and it appears that she also did not explain. The Jewish people had in their law a severe punishment for this error, but Joseph was essentially just. The description of the just man was in the psalms and the prophets. Just not in the sense of human justice, but in the Law of the Lord, which is perfect and gives rest to the soul. Psalm 19, 8 (18) Joseph loved Mary so much that he did not report the happenings to the authorities, he also did not ask Mary who the father was, instead he decided to conceal and sacrifice his personal wound. Surely Joseph prayed intensely in those days asking God why until he fell asleep. But the faith of the humble opens the sky and the messenger of the Lord came in dreams to give him peace. “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife…” (Mt 1:20). The gospel does not say that Joseph asked questions, or that he gave a formal acceptance. Joseph’s ‘yes’ was in the form of action. “Joseph woke from the dream and did as the Angel of the Lord had commanded him.” Joseph’s ‘yes’ runs parallel to his wife’s. In Joseph there is no “Magnificat.” In Joseph there is silence followed by obedience and responsibility. “And [Joseph] took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.” (Mt 1:25)
It is good that in this time of pandemic Pope Francis directs the gaze of the Church to this silence we call Joseph. There are so many words, so much confusion that intoxicates the interpretations of what happens and why it happens. It is good for us to silence these voices before the pain of those who suffer the consequences of this world crisis and let us ask this just man to concede to us to do good to those we love. Let us recover silence in this year of Saint Joseph like the sick need oxygen to recover.
Petra Alexander is the Director of Hispanic Affairs for the Diocese of San Bernardino.