A Homily for Holy Communion on Tuesday , 19th March, 2013, 9 a.m.
Feast of Saint Joseph being also the occasion of the Inaugural Mass of Pope Francis I for the Sisters of the Love of God Fairacres Priory, Oxford
Matthew 1:18-End Children Coming In Judgement + May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.
“Children come as a judgement on their parents”.
From time to time I have had cause to ponder those words since I first heard them from the director of the retreat before we were priested, nearly seventeen years ago. Usually we think of children as a blessing on their parents, and our hearts go out to those from whom that blessing is withheld. But for those who are so blessed, the path of parental love rarely runs smooth for long. Apart from the burden of anxiety and guilt that having such complete responsibility for another human being brings, there are the children who “go wrong”, who turn out to be other than their parents expect and hope, when the blessing turns to challenge. It is a challenge not all parents rise to. And then they are judged indeed – not least by the children who “didn’t ask to be born”.
Our retreat director had something deeper in mind, though, when he used those unexpected words “children come as a judgement on their parents”. He seemed to imply that eventually the child would come to challenge the parent in the aspect of their personality or value system at which they were most vulnerable. There would come a point when the parent would not be able to cope, literally not know what to do for the best. Examples abound: the child of the unlettered parent who won’t stop reading books; the child of the highly-educated who won’t start; the child with a baffling enthusiasm for sport, or fishing, or stamps, or visiting cemeteries; the child with no enthusiasms at all; the child of aspirational parents who has no aspiration, the child of respectable parents who wants to become a rake, the child of religious parents who insists on abandoning God; and all the children whose taste in food, clothes, manners, friends, lifestyle, and timekeeping, becomes totally inexplicable. Our hearts go out to those who must live with the blessing, too.
But one step more complex is the world of the step-parent, the man or woman who chooses a partner, and receives the baggage –as the psychologists so nicely put it – of step-children. The baggage that comes with the package. If raising a child of your own can be years, decades, of treading on eggshells, being a step-parent is surely striding out into a minefield. And yet some rise to the challenge, even to the point of becoming more cherished by the offspring-not-their-own than the parents whose offspring they are. We know next to nothing about Saint Joseph. He appears in two of our Gospels only briefly, as in our Gospel reading today, and then slides quietly out of history. But his story, as told to us, is one of a man who rises to the challenge of taking on a wife pregnant with a child not his own, facing his own humiliation amongst their kith and kin, rather than shaming her. “Ah, but the angel told me …” I don’t suppose anyone down the pub believed that for one minute. And yet he carried on. Our story does not tell us whether Joseph was a good step-father, but we must trust the evidence before us – Jesus seems to have turned out all right; and he did that bold thing that parents say they want for the children (until it actually happens) – he left home and family, to become himself, to do what he had to do. If that is, at least in part, the fruit of the co-operation of a good and kind step-father with the Divine Providence, then for all of us with care and concern for children-not-our-own, Joseph makes a very fine patron saint indeed; and there may be one particular Father-in-God who will join us in giving thanks today for Saint Joseph. Amen.
Richard Haggis Littlemore, Oxford