Words from Our Principal
Dear Families and Friends of Lumen,
O come, O come, Emmanuel! We are in the final stretch now of joyful anticipation of the coming of Christ!
Today’s “O Antiphon” invites us to reflect on Jesus as “The Root of Jesse” – born of the House of David, which, after generations of increasing degradation, had lain dormant for centuries since the fall of Judah to Babylon. From a human perspective, the “Root of Jesse” was dead, its kings defeated and its dynasty collapsed. Who could have predicted that the fortunes of the House of David would be revived through a humble carpenter from Nazareth? Yet God is true to His promises: David’s house will endure forever (2 Sam 7:16) through the eternal kingship of Jesus Christ. This is a powerful reminder to us that, no matter how hopeless our situations may be – whether political or personal – God is always faithful. God brought life out of the apparently lifeless stump of Jesse. He can, and will, water the deserts of our own hearts and lives as well.
From Matthew’s genealogy of Christ (Mt 1:1-17), we learn that Jesus’s claim to be a descendent of David came through His adopted father, Joseph. (Though Mary herself may have been of the House of David, Jewish law would only have recognized Jesus as of David’s line if He inherited that lineage from His father.) Yesterday’s Gospel (Mt 1:18ff) provides us with a beautiful moment to reflect on Joseph’s role in God’s plan to revive the fortunes of the House of David. In Matthew’s account, Joseph’s “yes” to God’s will for him marks a profound turning-point in salvation history. If Joseph had said “no,” Jesus’s claim to being an heir to the lineage of the House of David – the “Root of Jesse” – would have been negated. But Joseph’s “yes” – not dissimilarly from Mary’s – was prepared from the beginning, through all the marvelously providential circumstances that led Mary to Joseph and brought them together in betrothal and eventual marriage.
What do we know about Joseph? Scripture tells us that he was a “righteous man,” who, when he found out Mary was pregnant with a child that was not his own, was “unwilling to expose her to shame” and decided to “divorce her quietly.” Many commentators have reflected on Joseph’s response to the news of Mary’s pregnancy. Joseph must have known Mary well – known that she was from a good family, raised in the Temple to be a faithful Jewish woman. As a good man himself who loved her deeply, I imagine it would have been hard for him to believe the worst about her – that she had been unchaste and unfaithful. Yet that would have been the easy, human conclusion to draw. But no matter what conclusion Joseph drew, he believed that the best thing he could do was divorce her quietly. Setting aside his own honor, he wanted to keep her from shame and punishment (which likely would have meant her death). If she was with another man – better to release her and let her be with that other man instead. If, by some chance, her pregnancy was a miracle of God – better to leave her in the care of someone better equipped to care for her. In the midst of his uncertainty about what was happening, Joseph always acted selflessly, out of love for Mary and her unborn child and in their best interest. Joseph’s example, I think, teaches us how to practice the principle of charity – assume the best of others, no matter how implausible “the best” seems, and always act out of love for them, genuinely seeking their good.
At the very least, though, we can imagine that Joseph was “disappointed and shocked and saddened” as Peter Kreeft says – if not by her presumptive infidelity, then at the very least by the collapse of his own plans for his life. Like any groom, Joseph had imagined that his life would include marriage to this woman whom he loved. Joseph was willing to let go of that dream for Mary’s sake. But in the midst of his shock and surprise, what did Joseph do? He likely prayed – and then he went to sleep. He didn’t toss and turn all night in anxiety and fretfulness. His ability to sleep reflects his deep trust in God’s plan for him and is, I think, a sign of his “holy abandonment in God,” which, as St. Francis de Sales (who, by the way, had a profound devotion to St. Joseph!) tells us, is manifested by an “evenness of spirits in the various accidents of this life.” And it was in his prayerful sleep that the answer to his dilemma came to him: take Mary into his home and care for her and her divine Child. Here, too, Joseph teaches us how to respond with trust and fidelity in God’s plan when our own plans are thrown into disarray.
Still, this was not the end of Joseph’s sacrifice on behalf of Mary and Jesus. He did marry Mary, and in doing so he committed himself to raising a child not biologically his own – and to never having a biological child of his own. He put his life at risk to protect them as he fled Herod’s persecution. He prudently settled his family safely in Galilee, where Jesus could spend His “hidden years” in security and peace until He was ready to begin His public ministry. He taught Jesus not only his craft and trade, but also what it meant to be a righteous Jewish man. (Indeed, long ago I read one commentator who remarked that perhaps the boy Jesus – who would himself show great mercy to prostitutes and adulteresses – grew up witnessing Joseph’s own model of compassion towards women accused of sexual impropriety as Joseph navigated the likely gossip of small-town Galilee about Mary’s pre-marital pregnancy.) And, our tradition teaches us, he died in their loving embrace – a model to all husbands and fathers of the self-giving love to which all married men are called.
May we ask St. Joseph, then, to help us prepare for Christ by asking for the grace to imitate his example: seeing and seeking the good of others in charity, abandoning ourselves to God’s will in peaceful trust in His plans for us, and sacrificing ourselves for others with prudence, courage, and compassion. O come, thou root of Jesse’s tree!
We’ll return to school on Tuesday, January 3. We wish everyone a truly beautiful, restful, and joy-filled Christmas season!
Pax et bonum,
From our Christmas Talent Show
All photo credit to George Martell