The Gospel according to Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24
While we are renovating the abbey church–and even while we were discussing the renovations–Abbot Joseph has encouraged us to examine our liturgical practices and experiment, re-inhabit our liturgy. Even though today’s Solemnity is a work day, we have integrated Lauds with a more solemn form of the Mass (as we did on Ash Wednesday) to observe the occasion with respect and reverence. Indeed, the celebration took an extra twenty minutes–but we work for ourselves and not a boss who makes us clock in. Such occasions now demand a brief reflection, even on a work day. If you thought my homilies were too short, this reflection demonstrates that I can say even less.
Joseph may seem like an outsider to the relationship of Mary and her Son, but he is a reminder that true fatherhood is not just biological. In fact, in Matthew’s Gospel, the angel commissions Joseph to name the Child conceived by the Holy Spirit. He is literally to call this Child to be the person he is to become, to be Jesus, Yeshua–“he who saves.”
We have a number of fathers here as members of our community, genetic fathers, yes, but also–and more importantly–fathers by right of nurturing, true fathers. Surely, it’s not hard for monastics to understand that it’s the nurturing that generates fatherhood; and nurturing, not impregnating, is the risky business for the father-to-be!
By this definition, there are biological “genitors” who have never attained fatherhood; and many “fathers” who have never generated a child. But each male is called to take that risk, that constant confrontation by hurdles and obstacles, to become true fathers and call a new generation to become the persons they are created to be.
I believe we are lucky, we are blessed, to live through a day when–as monks, as parents, as whatever–we feel the riskiness. We are blessed because we cannot afford to rely on ourselves but can only, like Joseph, learn to rely on God.