by the Rev. Mark Connolly
All of us know that the Christmas story was made up of different personalities that have been remembered throughout history. Next to Christ no one played a more important role than Mary the mother of Christ. The profile of Mary, the story of Mary at the birth of her son on Christmas has been told for centuries in different forms and in different ways. Artist like Raphael, Churches and Cathedrals all over the world, places like Fatima, Lourdes and Guadalupe, have for centuries been telling of the role that Mary had, not only in the birth of her son, but in the birth of the Church. Just about every theologian from St. Jerome to St. Augustine to St. Thomas has written about the birth of Christ and the role of Mary. There was never any doubt in their minds about her importance. There was never any doubt about the role that she would play in the life of the Church.
Christmas carols, shepherds, wise men, all might accentuate the importance of the birthday of Christ, but no woman has had the responsibility of Mary. Think of it. To be the mother of God's only son. Every country has described her. Every country has written about her. Every country has prayed to her according to their own particular customs and their own particular cultures. For Anglo-Saxons when we look at pictures of Mary, she might be dressed in a cloak or a contemporary dress. But each country has an unusual approach to the different dress style of Mary. For example, if you look at Italy Mary was always considered dark, fair haired in Holland, thin in Spain, and plumb in France. In Mexico she was an Aztec maiden, the virgin of Guadalupe. In Warsaw, Poland she was a polish woman who went about in a very ordinary unknown fashion. Chinese artist made her an almond eyed lady in flowing robes and placed her in a Chinese setting, a moon gate, a pagoda and a lantern festival. African carvers have made her a negro and put heavy coils of beads around her neck. Sometimes they showed her as a simple worker. Indian artists has made her a high caste hindu sitting serenely by a stream.
No matter what dress, no matter what outfit, the people of the world knew of her importance. She was the mother of Christ. She was the one with him in the stable. She was the one who took flight into Egypt. She was the one who missed him when he was lost in the temple. She was the one who knew the miracle she performed and still knew no matter how popular among his people his public ministry might become that in the mind and heart of Mary there was tragedy around the corner for her only son. This is a woman who has inspired us to have devotion to the Rosary, to have May processions and May crownings. This is the woman who helped the confused apostles in the upper room after the death of Christ. Every month of May has found people praying to her for help. What dress, clothing she wears, what she looks like from the standpoint of artists and paintings is quite incidental.
She is plainly speaking the mother of God. She gave birth to him, she helped him during his life. She is willing to help us during our life. Christ relied on her, so should we. The Christmas story is the story of a mother and child who have dominated history by their simplicity and their value system. To let a Christmas go by without learning what they are all about, without learning what their value system is all about is a tragedy. It is the greatest event in the history of the world. God becoming man and helped by a woman known as Mary. Both of them have a lot to teach us and when we learn from them we have learned the meaning of Christmas.
Every year when the Christmas story is told naturally the role of Christ is emphasized, the role of Mary is narrated, but very little is said about the role of Joseph, the foster father of Christ. We know he was present from the birth of the Christ child. We know he helped his pregnant wife find the best accommodations that he could find because of the crowds of people in the city. We know that Cathedrals have been named after him, that monasteries and churches have been named after him. The Italian people have a great devotion to him and people have taken the devotion of St. Joseph to such a degree that many of them when they have to sell real estate bury a statue of St. Joseph in their back yard. How that custom ever got started, no one that I have ever talked to has any knowledge. I have researched it, went to libraries, but no one knows how the custom of burying the statue of St. Joseph ever came into our religious practices. But we know it is done.
In the role of the Holy Family almost every writer pays tribute to Joseph. To discover a place for his son to be born, to overcome the elements of bad weather, to take flight into Egypt, to follow the messages sent in dreams, to be the object of anti-semitic themes especially while he was searching for work in Egypt. To work, to toil, to keep the family together was Joseph's job and for all practical purposes one that he did very, very well. But then he disappears from history. We know that he died before his son died. We know that he was much older than Mary, his wife. But as little as there might be written in the scriptures, we know that in the plan of God he must have had outstanding qualities to guide and protect the Holy Family of God. Silent and just, dependent and responsible, all of these qualities have been attributed to him. He had a job to do in the plan of God and he did it. In the Christmas story he is important. More important than the shepherds, more important than the wise men, more important than all the secondary personalities that make up the first Christmas story. What can we learn from Joseph and his role in the first Christmas season?
We can learn that there must have been in his personality, qualities that have significance in our lives. The people who over the centuries have asked for St. Joseph's help, the people who have sought his aid have never been disappointed. He did not disappoint the Holy Family at Christmas and he certainly will not disappoint your family on this Christmas. We ask that you remember to keep in your prayers your thoughts as they are directed to St. Joseph the forgotten man in history.