Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

st-Joseph-husband-of-Mary
Painting by Sr. Bambi Flores, MPS

Today we take a break from the Lenten fast to celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The liturgical title, “Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary” accords St. Joseph with the highest liturgical ranking conferred on saints and honors his commitment to Mary and dedication as a faithful and devoted husband. Today’s liturgy is one of the only two days that we sing the Gloria during the time of Lent.

In the gospel today, we hear the annunciation story of Joseph. The most famous annunciation story, of course, is that of Mary, whose Solemnity we will celebrate this coming March 25.  

All of us have our own annunciation story. For each of us were chosen by God for a mission in this world. No one is born in this world without a purpose, a mission and a calling. At the end of the day, we will discover that our deepest calling is to participate in God’s mission (Missio Dei), as the annunciations stories of Mary and Joseph have shown us.

So what can we learn from Joseph’s annunciation story?

We don’t hear much about St. Joseph in the Bible. He is simply described as the “husband of Mary,” a “carpenter,” and a “just man” in the Gospel accounts. Neither his age nor his death is ever mentioned in scripture.

Joseph is the silent character in the bible, never said a word, but always did the right thing.  As they say, a man of few words.  Joseph was the perfect example of the saying: Action speaks louder than words.

Joseph was a true gentleman. A true gentleman never leaves his woman. I know of men who so love their woman.  But when their woman got pregnant, suddenly the big burden of responsibility weighs so heavily upon them that they become terribly scared and pathetically, abandon their woman.

Joseph became terribly scared and confused too but he never abandoned Mary. Joseph was faced with a horrific dilemma. He discovered that Mary to whom he is already betrothed but with whom he has not consummated their relationship in marriage, is already pregnant. There could be only one explanation; she had been unfaithful and was having another man’s child. It was a very serious matter and, if brought out into the open, would have made Mary liable to death by stoning.

As a righteous man and devout follower of the Mosaic Law, he would want to break the union with someone who had seriously broken the Law. And yet, because he was such a good man, he did not want to expose Mary to a terrible punishment. Few men would accept such a situation with such calmness and self-restraint. Most would find it a terrible blow to their manhood.

It is at this point that God announced to Joseph the true situation of Mary.  God assured Joseph that no other man is involved, that she has conceived through the power of God’s Spirit. Joseph, without saying a word, accepted God’s explanation. More importantly, Joseph accepted God’s invitation to enter into the Missio Dei and become part of the dream and mission of God for humanity.

Joseph was a dreamer. Joseph had big dreams for himself and Mary.  But when Mary and God’s dream intertwined with his own dream, Joseph did not allow his own dreams to prevail over and above the dream of Mary and the dream of God for him. Joseph the dreamer, found a way to integrate his own dream with God’s dream and Mary’s dream.

What is your dream? How do you see your dream a part of God’s bigger dream for you and for the whole world?

Joseph was the faithful husband and father.  He obeyed the angel’s advice to go to Egypt when Herod decided to kill all newborn male babies in Israel.  And he raised the boy child Jesus through hard work and dedication.

Joseph’s story is that he was able to go beyond his own world. He understood the meaning of his life beyond himself.  He was able to transcend his own needs, his own desires, his own ambitions and connect them with the greater mission that God has in store for him.  And because of this he became great.  If Joseph left Mary and decided not to fulfil the invitation of the angel, he is forgotten forever.

We are called to be the new Joseph’s in our times today.  God is inviting us out of our own small world in order to engage and connect with others for a greater purpose other than our own ambitions, plans and desires.  Like Joseph may we see our lives in the greater interconnection of our lives with the life of God.  Locked in our own world we can achieve little.  But connected with each other and with God we can do great things.

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Mary’s Birthday at the Shrine

Mary-birthday

The 8th day of September is a red-letter day for the devotees.  This is the feast of the birthday of our blessed mother Mary.  Although not officially a holiday of obligation, many devotees flock to Baclaran and attend the masses, which makes it look like an ordinary Wednesday or Sunday.  The Shrine is usually packed with devotees. The birthday of Mary even surpasses the solemnity of the Assumption and equals the solemnity of Immaculate Conception in attendance. After each mass, devotees heartily sing “Happy Birthday” to Mary. Many offer flowers to her icon and in the altar. This day is a happy day for many devotees as they share in the joy of the birth of Mary who is their intercessor and companion in the journey of life full of trials and tribulations.

There is no historical record of the birth of Mary. It might come as a surprise to many, however, that during the time of Mary, as in any other Mediterranean societies of ancient times, the birth of a girl is a non-event inasmuch as the birth of a boy is a call for a big feast and celebration.  Mary lived in a society where women were regarded properties of men and second class citizens. Thus, it would not be farfetched to say that Mary never celebrated her own birthday during her lifetime.  Besides, there is no such thing as a yearly celebration of one’s birthday during Mary’s time.

Today, however, birthdays have become a big deal. Could you imagine not celebrating your own birthday?  This means that if you have no money or any food and drinks, you are so ashamed to let anyone know that it is your birthday lest you would incur the butt of teasing from everyone for not throwing a party or offering anything to nibble on.

As the story of our salvation goes, however, Mary was chosen by God to be the bearer of God’s Son into the world. God chose, of all the people, a poor, unknown and humble handmaid notwithstanding the domination of kings, powerful rulers, mighty warriors, wise judges, rich and influential people during her lifetime. Because of bearing God into the world, she was, indeed, “full of grace” and “blessed among all women/men.” God’s election of Mary which brought forth the savior in the world will be a cause of joy for all generations.  This is the primary reason why we are celebrating today her birthday. This celebration is not so much about herself but about all the wonders and bountiful graces that God has done to her. Mary herself would proclaim this in her song of Magnificat,

From this day all generations will call me blessed,
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

Mary-birthday2

In the liturgy on this day, the primary theme portrayed on this feast day is that the world had been in the darkness and with the arrival of Mary begins a glimmer of light. That light which appears at Mary’s holy birth pre-announces the arrival of Christ, the Light of the World. Her birth is the beginning of a better world.  The antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah at the Morning Prayer of this day expressed these sentiments in the following way:

“Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God,
proclaims joy to the whole world,
for from you arose the glorious Sun of Justice,
Christ our God;
He freed us from the age-old curse
and filled us with holiness;
he destroyed death and gave us eternal life.”

The birthday of Mary  is a glimmer of light amidst the darkness and uncertainties that many devotees in Baclaran experienced everyday. By celebrating her birthday, devotees expressed their relentless hope and resilience that someday they would experience the real joy and peace in God’s abundant grace that they have aspired for so long.

Here is the schedule of masses at the Baclaran shrine for the feast of the nativity of Mary which is the same as Sunday’s schedule:

AM

6:30 – Tagalog
8:00 – Tagalog
9:30 – English
11:00 – English

PM

12:30 – Tagalog
2:30 – Tagalog
4:00 – Tagalog
5:30 – English
7:00 – English

 

Joey Echano, CSsR

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)