Wake up to what God is asking of us!
When St Joseph went to bed that night, he was deeply troubled. His fiancée was expecting a baby – and it wasn’t his.
Joseph was a good man, a patient man – some would say even a holy man – but he had his limits. So he was considering his options.
He could express his anger in a very public way. If he made a strong statement in the town square, everyone would know that he hadn’t rushed to Mary ahead of their wedding day – but then she would be taken and stoned to death. Joseph was angry, but he didn’t want blood on his hands.
There again, he could break off his engagement very quietly. Mary would be on her own with this baby – but that was her problem, and serve her right.
There was, of course, another option – but no. What kind of man would pick up the responsibility for a child he hadn’t wanted and hadn’t asked for? That was way beyond the call of duty! So tomorrow, Mary was going to find herself on her own.
Each and every one of us can be like Joseph. We can be committed to caring for others, not causing trouble for them, but setting limits. We can easily be tempted to side with the world around us, which says: “A child is valuable when it is a wanted child.”
God asks us to see things differently. Long ago the Prophet Isaiah spoke of a child named Emmanuel – “God is with us”. That name includes many rich layers of meaning!
The child born to the wife of King Ahaz in Isaiah’s own day was a sign that God was with the people – God would protect Judah and set an heir upon the throne.
The child born to Mary, which we will celebrate this week on Christmas Day, is God-with-us in the most real way possible: God, in human form.
But EVERY child is also a sign that God is with us, for whatever we do to the least of our human family, we do to Christ. New-born babies bring out the best in us. What person wouldn’t manage a smile and a coochie-coo when presented with a babe in arms? Our Catholic faith insists that an unseen baby, in the womb of its mother, is no less deserving of our attention and care.
I’m sure it won’t come as news from this pulpit that the official teaching of the Catholic Church is that every child has a right to be cherished and welcomed from the moment of conception onwards. This is a challenging standard to keep. It makes demands, not only of expectant mothers, but of us as a society. How will we help reluctant mothers to cherish their children? What practical support will we offer? Cardinal Winning of Glasgow realised that words had to be matched by actions, and set up a fund to help reluctant parents raise their children.
Some of us may be tempted to disagree with the Church’s position. There are two things in particular which may make us afraid to embrace it. One is an unwillingness to propose our values to other people. But hear today’s words of St Paul to the Romans: “Through Jesus, we received our mission to preach the obedience of faith to all pagan nations. You are one of these nations!” God expects us to be a prophetic people, speaking up for what is right.
More painfully, a few of us may still experience the guilt from decisions we have made in the past. We can numb that guilt by repeating to ourselves, “But I did the right thing really.” It may be that if we admitted the Catholic official position was right, we would have to say: “That means I made the wrong choice.”
Emmanuel, the Christ-Child, came to our world with a mission of peace, goodwill and healing. Through Christ, there is no bad decision that cannot be forgiven. There are Christian groups that specialise in helping women and men work through the path of guilt and forgiveness which follows any failure to welcome a child in the womb. Our Christian message of hope is that there is always a path to healing, for those who are willing to seek it.
When Joseph went to sleep, he was resolved to cast aside Mary and her unborn child. But that night, he heeded the voice of God: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.” When he woke up, he had realised what God was asking of him, and he took Mary and the unborn child into his home – and protected the Son of God throughout his human childhood. For this, we recognise him as a saint.
Our Catholic leaders ask us to be firm defenders of human life in the womb. It’s one of the key values which set us, as Catholics, apart from the society that we live in. For some of us, our faith makes it obvious that we should defend the unborn child. Others among us have questions. So I invite you to reflect on the story of St Joseph, and pray for God to show you what His opinion is. Then sleep on it – and like St Joseph, wake up to what God is asking of us!
Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the unborn – pray for us.
Saint Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer – pray for us.
St Gerard Majella, patron saint of motherhood – pray for us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
At the Masses at which this sermon is preached, a blessing for expectant mothers will be offered at the end of the following Prayer of the Faithful:
We commend our cares and concerns to our heavenly Father through his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Deacon or Reader:
For all Christians who work in defence and support of human life, that they may be faithful to the vocation they have received…
For our civic leaders, and for those responsible for international policies, that they may cherish the gift of human life even in the womb…
For all expectant mothers, that as they await the birth of their children, they may experience peace of mind, health of body, and a safe delivery…
For children who are unwanted, unloved, abandoned, or abused, that the Lord may inspire many people with compassion and courage to protect and care for them…
For all families, that they may grow in their faith, strengthened in their love for one another and in their commitment to follow Christ…
Readers may also wish to see the Vatican’s current position on the Church’s hope that unbaptised infants go to heaven rather than a separate place called Limbo.