Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Betrothal of the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph

The Betrothal of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Joseph
Feast ~ January 23



The Marriage of the Virgin ~ Pedro Ramirez ~ 1668


This is a rather traditional posing of this theme: Mary, Joseph and the High Priest at the moment of Joseph placing the ring on Mary's finger. The High Priest is not looking at the couple but at us. The dark sky is breaking up and it is the Holy Spirit (in the form of a dove) who seems to be the source of light in a double ringed aureole. The sphere of light has a kind of rainbow quality to it - symbol of a new beginning.

But what is most amazing is the two hands that reach around Joseph and Mary. At quick glance we might think they are the High Priest's hands, but he is already busy directing Joseph placing the ring. No, the hands are God's  hands reaching into the scene, seeming to push Joseph and Mary together. Have I ever felt God's hands reaching into my own personal world: opening up an opportunity, putting me back on my feet after some failure, guiding me along my life-way - This way; not that?

Our Father...





Ancient Jewish marriages happened in stages. First there was a betrothal in which the couple was blessed and gave their consent. They were truly married. But then, before they lived together as husband and wife there was a period apart from each other for up to a year. It was a year to learn from older married people how to be good Jewish spouses. Waiting. We're not good at it. We want to win millions of dollars in the space of a TV show. We expect to lose thirty pounds with a couple of pills in a weekend. But nothing in the spiritual life happens that quickly. Without waiting, we miss a great deal of life and a great deal of God.


Hail Mary!






The gospel tells us, "When Mary was engaged to Joseph, before their marriage, she was discovered to be pregnant - by the Holy Spirit." (Matthew1:18) Matthew makes no reference to the shocking law which said Mary would have been stoned to death for being pregnant and not yet married. We know that Mary's elder relative, Elizabeth, was happy about the pregnancy. But what about the other relatives, and the friends and neighbors? Wouldn't it sadden me to know that Mary was talked about in a slanderous or unkind way? A lot of people have a lot to say about everything. I'll pray that the Lord would put a guard on my lips, (Psalm141: 3) and that I would never cause hurt or damage by the things I say.


Hail Mary!







In their betrothal Mary and Joseph began their married lives together. Along with all the other saints, we say that they are holy. Holiness isn't a quantitative thing, like a product we pick off a shelf or collect. "We are created for holiness," Mother Teresa said. But like Mary and Joseph I must discover holiness for myself. Holiness means that I would live my own unique self as truthfully and as beautifully as Jesus lived his. It's that personal! Mary discovered and lived her holiness as wife and mother. Joseph lived his holiness as husband , guardian and protector. And  I am called to holiness too! Let's think about these things often.


Hail Mary!





Two young boys were taken into the doctor's office while their mother had an early sonogram. Watching the screen, in unison they said, "Oh, look at the baby!" We know what it is. And if a woman loses a pregnancy, the suffering that comes with loss can be profound. We all can't be mothers physically, but we can all nurture and support life. Tending a garden nurtures life. Carefully watching for children and animals while I drive nurtures life. Preparing and serving food nurtures life. Loving presence to the sick, the little ones, the elderly and persons with  special needs supports life.


Hail Mary!





The Gospels are clear: Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. He is the guardian of the Virgin Mary; he is the protector of the Infant Jesus. And in choosing him for these roles God created a place of safety and peace - an environment of love for this Mother and Child. In their betrothal, Mary and Joseph were saying: I will help you to be good and to live a God-pleasing life. In a world of quitting and broken promises, can I image this kind of committed relationship? I promise to help you to be the best person you can be!


Hail Mary!






We're told in the gospels that Joseph was of the house or blood line of King David. This is quite a claim! Mary is marrying into a royal family, indeed, the most famous family in Israel's history. The royal family of David ruled Israel for centuries. But by the time of Jesus' birth, that era of glory had passed and there hadn't been a ruler from David's family in power for hundreds of years. So there was no inheritance, title, prestige, palace or power for Mary. No one could say that Mary was marrying Joseph for the money. Instead, Joseph was a laborer who worked with wood. They lived their lives simply and quietly in Nazareth, such a miserable people made jokes about it. Does it trouble me that God's gospel-ways are so small and insignificant?


Hail Mary!






Why would Mary accept betrothal to Joseph if she intended to remain a virgin? Maybe because virginity wasn't very do-able in bible times and Joseph's companionship would offer Mary protection and economic stability. Maybe the marriage was arranged. Perhaps God felt the Child needed to grow up in a family setting. Maybe God wanted to protect Mary's reputation. Maybe Joseph understood Mary's vow and other men wouldn't have been as protective. Indeed, maybe Joseph shared his own ideal of virginity with Mary. Some married couples live this way - though this may seem nearly impossible for us to understand who live in a commercialized world of television and movie sex-drama.


Hail Mary!




There are only a few gospel-sentences that tell us anything about the relationship of Mary and Joseph. It is quite clear however, that the relationship was one of committed love. Joseph was tempted to divorce Mary because he wasn't the biological father of her baby, but an angel told him what was happening and how he was needed. Then the drama unfolded and in the middle of the night Joseph, warned in a dream that the newborn's life was in danger, quickly moved his family to safety in Egypt. (Matthew 2: 14,15) And all of this was accomplished in silence. We never hear a word from Joseph. What a contrast with the world of chat rooms, Twittering, Tweeting, Texting, Skyping, interviews and online polls and endless talk show entertainment.


Hail Mary!




We defend abortion today by posing questions about the most irregular situations: rape and incest, teen age and out of wedlock pregnancies, baby deformities. One could say Mary's pregnancy was irregular - the baby conceived by the Holy Spirit. The child doesn't belong to Joseph biologically or genetically as he does not have a physical relationship with Mary, thought she is his wife. Does Joseph re-define fatherhood? He accepts the new life in Mary's womb by honorably remaining loyal to her. He takes her to Bethlehem to register his family, acknowledging  the pre-born life within his wife. He gives the child a name in David's bloodline and protects the child from the threats of Herod. It's hard to imagine a better father - a protector and defender of the child.


Hail Mary!




Joseph obeyed the word of the Angel and took Mary into his home as his wife. (Matthew 1:20-24) At the end of Saint John's Gospel, Jesus will speak to John from the cross, instructing him to take Mary into his home as Mother. (John 19:25-27)  In 1879 the Virgin Mary appeared with both Saint Joseph and Saint John at Knock, Ireland. When Mary is taken in, suspicion and greed decrease and the soul begins to warm and expand in joyful hospitality and generous love.


Hail Mary!

Glory be to the Father...




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