31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 30, 2021
It’s been a blessing for us to finally come together in faith today for this 6th Annual Catholic Men’s Conference. And it has been a blessing to reflect upon God’s call to Fatherhood that we have all received – a call and a response exemplified by the patron of today’s gathering, Saint Joseph, who teaches us what it means to lead, protect and provide for the lives that are given to our care.
Let’s consider for a few moments the Saint whose example looms over our gathering today. Saint Matthew and Saint Luke’s gospels help us to appreciate what sort of man he was and the mission that was entrusted to him by God.
The scripture writers remind us that Joseph was a man of faith, a just and good man who was willing to say yes to the divine plan for the salvation of the world, despite his uncertainty and fear. … We know that he protected his wife and her son, even to the point of traveling to an unknown land to keep them safe from those who sought to harm them. … We also know that he made a home for his family while laboring in a harsh land, creating an environment in which Jesus learned the dignity of work and the value of human life.
Yet, for all that the gospels reveal to us about Joseph, a simple exchange between the Saint and an angel found in the opening chapter of Saint Matthew’s gospel begins to convey the real depth and strength of Joseph’s character. … We’re reminded that when Mary was engaged to Joseph – but before they lived together – she was found with child through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph was rightly confused about this and wanted to divorce her quietly, when suddenly an angel appeared to him in a dream and proclaimed these words: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife.”
With nowhere else to turn in the face of the unbelievable situation with which he was confronted, Joseph looked to the only power that could help make sense of his life and what was being expected of him: the power of God. Joseph’s true strength – amazingly – emerged out of fear. He acknowledged this fear, confronted his weakness and gave God room to work in his life, enabling him to stand before us today as a model of faith.
So how was Joseph able to do what he did? Where did Joseph find the wisdom and courage that enabled him to hand himself over to God and to participate in the Divine plan of salvation? I’d suggest that today’s gospel passage from Saint Mark gives us a very important clue.
As a faithful Jew, Joseph knew by heart the great commandment recounted in today’s gospel from the book of Deuteronomy – the Shema Israel – “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.”
But Joseph’s lived experience of faith led him to also acknowledge the timeless challenge of the prophets who reminded the people of Israel – and us – that empty rituals, prayers and offerings are hardly appealing to Almighty. What God desires more than anything else are humble hearts that seek justice and goodness for all. As such, Joseph understood that God was worshipped most authentically when people of faith fulfilled the law expressly noted in the book of Leviticus, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Pope Francis puts these realities facing Saint Joseph into perspective. “We should never think that believing means finding facile and comforting solutions. … Joseph did not look for shortcuts, but confronted reality with open eyes and accepted personal responsibility for it. Joseph’s attitude encourages us to accept and welcome others as they are, without exception, and to show special concern for the weak, for God chooses what is weak” to shame the strong.
The great example of Saint Joseph that we are given this day, brothers, and that we are called to model his courage and his resolve to follow the great commandment of God as proclaimed by Jesus in today’s gospel in taking Mary into his home as his wife.
Don’t be deceived, brothers, into believing that somehow this commandment is easily fulfilled. It is a reminder of the cost of discipleship as we discover within it both the blessing and also the challenge that has been confronted by believers since the days when God first established a relationship with his people.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” … Recite your prayers every day. … Bow in worship before the Lord in the Holy Eucharist. … Confess your sins. … Yes, by all means! … But then understand that there is a second part to this great commandment. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
If we’re honest, brothers, it’s a bit more of a challenge to fulfill this part of the commandment than the first – especially if we’re not all that comfortable with whomever fits the category of my neighbor. Unfortunately, we don’t get to pick and choose. And the rubber meets the road when that neighbor knocks on the door of my life and wants to enter.
In Saint Luke’s version of today’s gospel, he asks a question. “Who is my neighbor?” … And then he tells the story of the Good Samaritan who helps a man who fell prey to robbers – the unbeliever who cared for someone different than himself, while righteous, holy men paid no heed to a suffering soul.
Over the past year or so, our world and our country have been fraught with division, polarization and hatred. I am going to suggest to all of us – myself included – that until we begin to treat our neighbors with love and respect, regardless of the color of their skin, the language they speak, the life-style they lead, their political affiliation or the support that they need to feed their family, our fulfillment of the great commandment and our desire to reflect Christ-like fatherhood will come up short.
The good news, brothers – and the Gospel always brings good news – is that we are given a way forward through faith in Jesus Christ. And we are saved, not because we are righteous but because of the mercy, love and forgiveness of God.
May we hold fast to the wisdom that has been shared with us this day. And may we always seek to fulfill God’s will like our patron, Saint Joseph, who understood well the great commandment to love God and to love and respect every life that God places into our own. In so doing, we will begin to fulfill our God-given calling as fathers – Catholic men who love selflessly and generously as we have been loved by Jesus from the cross.