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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

The Humility of St. Joseph

As we reflect upon the mysteries of Mary’s Annunciation and the Nativity of Christ, Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerick gives us special insights into the humiliation St. Joseph experienced when he arrived in Bethlehem. The great humility of St. Joseph came about the way it comes about in our lives too, by accepting humiliations gracefully with God’s help, a silent surrender to the will of God.

In the midst of the many marvels of the night of Christmas, we do not tend to focus on St. Joseph or his humility. The revelations of Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerick were examined and studied by the Cong. Of the Doctrine of the Faith and found to be orthodox. In her vision of Bethlehem, Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerick saw Our Lady and St. Joseph go from one side of the town to the other seeking a place to stay as Our Lady knew that Our Lord would be born in Bethlehem and had communicated this fact to St. Joseph after an Angel appeared to him and explained she had conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Thus can we understand the true torment suffered by St. Joseph. As the head of the Holy Family St. Joseph felt a particular obligation to find a dignified place for the Birth of the Child.  Catherine Emmerick writes:

“They entered into Bethlehem, the buildings were at some distance from each other. The entrance was through ruined walls, as if the gate had been destroyed. Mary remained with the donkey at the very entrance of the street, while Joseph sought in vain a lodging in the nearest houses.”

We can imagine the sublimity of the scene: Our Lady, Queen of Heaven and Earth, the Living Tabernacle that bore the Savior, standing near a small donkey, while St. Joseph, perhaps the most going from door to door asking for a place in a small street of a very small city. She stood there alone, with no even looking at her. 

“St. Joseph returned near Mary, saying that as no shelter was to be found there, they would go on farther into the town.”

We see that they started their inquiry on the outskirts of Bethlehem. We can imagine what St. Joseph could be thinking in his innermost soul: God could give an order from heaven or Mary could make a special request of her Lord – and immediately God could provide the perfect solution. But St Joseph in this moment feels abandoned, without any help!

“St. Joseph led the donkey on by the bridle, and the Blessed Virgin walked beside him. When they came to the beginning of another street, Mary again stopped by the donkey, and Joseph again went from house to house seeking a lodging.”

The humiliating scene starts again. “But he did not find any house to receive them. Again he came sadly back. This happened several times, and the Blessed Virgin often had long to wait.” No one pays attention to Our Lady, who bears the Savior of the world. It is clear that, St. Joseph was greatly afflicted to see Our Lady having to wait for so long a time, above all in her condition. This cascade of deceptions and humiliations would continue.

“Everywhere the houses were filled with people, everywhere he was turned away, so he said to Mary that they would go to another part of Bethlehem where they would surely find lodging.”

We will see that he knew some persons in that part and fully expected that they would help him. We need to note that in those times there were not inns, and it was common for persons to have a room for guests in their houses to receive friends or persons who needed accommodations. In Antiquity this was common. Thus, it was extraordinary for St. Joseph not to find a place.

“They went a little way back in the direction in which they had come and then turned southwards. They went hesitatingly through the street, which was more like a country road, for the houses were built on slopes. Here, too, their search was fruitless. On the other side of Bethlehem, where the houses lie farther apart, they came to a lower-lying open space, like a field, where it was more solitary. There was a sort of shed here and, not far from it, a great spreading tree, with shady branches like a big lime-tree. The trunk was smooth and the spreading branches made a kind of roof.”  

“Joseph led the Blessed Virgin to this tree, and made her a comfortable seat against its trunk with their bundles, so that she might rest while he sought for shelter in the houses near. The donkey stood with its head turned towards the tree. At first Mary stood upright, leaning against the trunk of the tree.”  

It is very humiliating for a head of family. A man normally would say:

“Now, I will go to visit my friends who will certainly receive us.”

The wife thus realizes his good standing with his friends. But this is not the case. He returns to her and says:

“They did not recognize me.”

He was a poor man and they paid no attention to him.

“He wept and Mary comforted him. He went once more from one house to another, this time revealing the approaching confinement of his wife as his chief reason for his request, he met with even more decided refusals.”

Anne Catherine Emmerick says that when he explained the situation in this way, the rejection was even more emphatic. The doors were closed to them. It is inconceivable! But this is the way it was... Those persons who refused him in Bethlehem were the precursors of those who would reject Christ in His Passion.

After many humiliating refusals, St. Joseph returns to Our Lady. Mary consoles Joseph but she knew deep down that the Lord wanted them to bear these humiliations before the glory of Jesus birth.

This is the way it always is. Those for whom God has very defined plans must pass through great trials and th feelings of total abandonment. After they pass through this trial, they are protected, welcomed and moved forward. St. Joseph was going through one of these abandonments and Our Lady also suffered the discomfort he felt.

It was cruel to see a venerable man like St. Joseph asking for a favor and receiving rejection. Those wicked rejections were the first offenses the Child God received from His Chosen People on the eve of the day of His Birth. This gives us a first glimpse at His future relationship with the world. This would greatly afflict Our Lady and St. Joseph. They were much more concerned about the Divine Infant than about themselves. In this particular point, Our Lady suffered more than St. Joseph. It was the light of Christ – the lumen Christi – that was rejected. For Our Lady it was the beginning of the Passion of Our Lord. She saw the shadow of the Cross already in those rejections.

“[Joseph] told Mary that he had had no success, but he knew of one place outside the town that belonged to the shepherds, who often went there when coming with their flocks to the town of Bethlehem. There they would, in any case, find a shelter. He said that he knew the place from childhood; when his brothers had tormented him, he had often escaped there to hide from them and to say his prayers.”

When he was a boy he had lived in Bethlehem. Someone told me that he was the youngest of his brothers. When they would persecute him, he would run to that grotto. So, it was to that grotto that he brought his Family. First, he went there when he was rejected by his brothers; but now he retired there when he was rejected by the city where he had been born. We see how the Lord in His wisdom had already prepare St Joseph from childhood for this special moment. So too with us, the trials we suffer prepare us for future sufferings, but ultimately for glory.

“The sun was already low when they reached the entrance of the cave. The young she-ass, which had left them at Joseph’s ancestral house to run round the outside of the town, met them as soon as they arrived here and gamboled joyfully round them. ‘Look,’ said the Blessed Virgin to Joseph, ‘it is certainly the will of God that we should go in here.’”

“Joseph put the pack-donkey under the shelter by the entrance of the cave and prepared a place for the Blessed Virgin to sit and rest while he kindled a light, opened the wickerwork door of the cave, and went into it. The entrance into the cave was narrow, obstructed by bundles of straw like rushes, stacked against the walls with brown mats hanging over them. Inside, the cave was encumbered with a quantity of things. Joseph cleared out as much as was necessary to make a comfortable resting-place for the Blessed Virgin at the eastern end of the cave.”

It is from the East that the sun rises; the Child Jesus, the Sun of Justice and Sanctity, should be born in the East.

“Then he fastened a burning lamp in the wall of the dark cave and led the Blessed Virgin in. She lay down on the couch of rugs and bundles that St. Joseph had prepared for her. He apologized most humbly for the poorness of the shelter, but Mary was joyful and contented in her inmost spirit.”

“In the afternoon of the Sabbath (this was the 24th), when it is the Jewish custom to go for a walk, Joseph took the Blessed Virgin through the valley behind the cave to the tomb of Maraha, Abraham’s nurse.”

This was a little pilgrimage and time of prayer. As the sun fell on the Sabbath, Joseph led Mary back to the Cave. Mary had told him that on that Night at midnight would be the hour of the Child’s Birth…

After preparing Mary a simple supper,

“He then completely divided off his sleeping place from the rest of the cave by surrounding it with posts and hanging on them mats that he had found in the cave. He fed the donkey, which was standing to the left of the entrance against the wall of the cave and tied it to a wall.”

“He filled the manger above the crib with rushes and fine grass or moss, and spread a covering over it which hung down over the edge.”

Emmerik tells us that at Christmas the moss as well as all of nature became magnificent and resplendent. Since Our Lord said that “even Solomon in his glory was not arrayed like one of these lilies of the field,” we can ask if it there ever was or will be a more beautiful velvet than the moss upon which the Infant God laid. These are the contrasting miseries and grandeurs of divine things.

St. Joseph retired to the entrance of the cave having prepared total privacy for Mary. The donkeys began to dance about at the cave’s entrance.

“When Joseph came back into the cave and stood at the entrance, he saw the Virgin with her face turned towards the East, kneeling on the bed facing away from him. He saw her as it were surrounded by flames, the whole cave was filled with supernatural light. He gazed at her like Moses when he saw the burning bush.”

“Then, filled with a holy fear, he entered in his own little cell and prostrated himself on the floor in prayer. The light of the lamps which Joseph had lit was no longer visible. The Blessed Virgin knelt on her rug with her an ample ungirted robe spread out round her, her face turned towards the East. At midnight she was enraptured in an ecstasy of prayer. I saw her lifted from the earth, so that I saw the ground beneath her.”

“The stones of the roof, of the walls, and of the floor of the cave became alive in the light, moved as it were by the love of inanimate things for God Who had created them.”

The stones palpitate while the heart of the Chosen People no longer palpitates. It reminds us that this Holy Child, born to save us, will be rejected by His own people.

“Then I no longer saw the roof of the cave; a pathway of light opened above Mary, rising with ever-increasing glory towards a bright star at the height of Heaven.” 

“In this pathway of light there was a marvelous movement of celestial glories approaching the earth until they appeared more clearly in the form of Choirs of Angels. Meanwhile the Blessed Virgin, suspended in ecstasy, prayed and gazed downwards, adoring her God, whose Mother she had become.”

Thus, with an extraordinary tact Anne Catherine Emmerich tells that the Infant was born. A theologian or great author could not describe it better. While she prayed in ecstasy, the Infant was born. She looked above her to the Most Holy Trinity, and afterwards she looked down to see the Second Person Incarnate, her Son! What else would she see or do? She could only gaze down at Christ. Her mission was fulfilled; the Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us.

Look the serenity. Everything is replete with temperance, tranquility, affection and respect: with adoration. Bl Anne Catherine says,

“After some time I saw the Child Jesus move and heard Him cry.”

It was the first weeping that would continue until the Eli, Eli lamma sabacthani? - My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? He was the Redeemer, the great Sufferer.

“At that moment Mary seemed to come to herself, and she took up the Child wrapped Him in the cloth that covered Him, and held Him in her arms, bringing him close to her breast.”

After she came our of her ecstasy, He cried and she consoled Him: Consolatrix afflictorum – the consoler of the afflicted. She sat there enveloping herself and the Child completely in her veil, and I think Mary suckled the Redeemer.

Here, my friends, we have a good preparation for the midnight Mass of Christmas. When we hear the priest say the words of the Consecration, let us remember the Infant Jesus Who came to this world. In the Mass the Sacrifice of Calvary is renewed. The bread and the wine are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Our Lord. The fact that God is in Heaven and becomes present on earth has a similarity to His Birth. That will be the proper moment for us to glorify Christ in the First Christmas.

When we will receive Communion, we should remember the tenderness, the veneration and the adoration that Our Lady gave to Him when He was born and she held Him in her arms, or when St. Joseph received Him from her. We should ask her to give us a good Communion just as she gave to St. Joseph the grace of holding the Child Jesus in his arms. This is the role of mediation of Our Lady. She was mediatrix also to St. Joseph.  


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