By Sister Joseph, PCC: Advent Ponderings on the Silent Saint
First of 4 Parts
Saint Joseph is the silent saint who will not defend himself. If only St. Matthew had given us two more sentences in his account of the Gospel pericope on Mary and Joseph we would have the solution to one of the most tantalizing natural mysteries in the Gospels. What did Joseph really think when he discovered his beloved fiancée to be with child? What made him decide to “put her away privately?” Almighty God, the primary author of Sacred Scripture, knew that it would be beneficial for us to ponder and labor over the few sentences Matthew did give us. As our minds grapple with the hidden meanings in the Scripture stories, our faith increases. While none of us will ever know, until we reach heaven, all of the details surrounding the beginning stages of Mary and Joseph’s life together, may I have the privilege of adding my own meditations to this open field of speculation?
To begin at the beginning, when the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear a Son through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and then left her, this young Jewish girl must have been filled with wonder and a subdued joy over what had just happened to her. At this very moment, because of her gracious, obedient fiat, she was carrying the Son of the Most High God within her womb. If she kept and pondered events that occurred later on such as the visit of the shepherds at the birth of this Son, and the words of Simeon to her at the time of His presentation in the temple, then she surely kept and pondered this first tremendous, incomprehensible occurrence in her life. She kept and pondered it in secret. The secrets of the King are for the King alone.
Hers was never more of an enclosed heart than at this time when she felt the first stirrings of the Divine Seed within her virgin body. How could she speak of having conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit? Her silence was earth shattering with the power to burst forth into her Magnificat when she met her aged cousin Elizabeth. But for the present she could not speak of it to anyone, not even to her beloved Joseph. It was too delicate and too sacred for human conversation. If God Himself would reveal the secret to Elizabeth, He would at the proper time also reveal it to Joseph. This sacred secret was between God and herself. The Greater would have to be the One to make it known to any other; it was not for Mary to reveal.
Mary owed reverence and submission to her lord Joseph, but she owed even greater reverence and submission to her Lord in heaven and in her womb. Her silence was profound and heroic, causing no little pain to her own heart and to the heart of her betrothed. Such a mature silence shows the strength and wisdom of the young Jewish girl whom God had chosen as His bride and as His mother.
The Gospel narrative tells us that at the time of the announcement from the Angel Gabriel, Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph. It was the Jewish custom of the times to celebrate weddings in two stages. The betrothal in which the actual marriage contract was sealed, and the celebration of the marriage feast about a year later, which consisted of the bride’s introduction into the bridegroom’s home. Dominican Father Boniface Llamera in his scholarly book, Saint Joseph, adds to this: “Since the essence of matrimony was established by the betrothal, it would follow that the marital union was licit between the betrothed. The Old Law neither prohibited nor authorized it expressly. But we can believe that since the espousals had the force of true matrimony, the marital union was, implicitly at least, considered one of the rights of espoused persons.” It seems to me that this must be the reason why the Gospel narrative begins by telling us that Mary was a betrothed virgin – to let us know that she was within the appropriate state for conceiving a child according to the Jewish culture of her day.