When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.” (Mt 2:13)
“He was the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus”; so that is what we commonly say when asked about Saint Joseph. In further consideration of the community of saints in heaven, we also call him “the patron of the universal Church”, for we attest that St. Joseph still guards Christ’s mystical Body in the world such as he guarded Christ Our Lord on earth.
There are so many things that could be said of this great saint, however today we focus on Joseph the vigorous visionary. Joseph was visited by an angel who told him to take Mary as his wife even as she had been found with child (Mt 1:20). Joseph received divine instruction to carry the infant Jesus and Mary away from the enemies of God. He then received another angelic communication to return from exile to the Holy Land when the enemies of God had died (Mt 2:13). “Rise”, “Take”, “Flee”; “Stay”: the visions of Joseph happened with real imperatives in real time producing real outcomes.
Joseph was accounted to be of the bloodline of David (Mt 1:16). He is also a descendant of the spiritual lineage of Abraham. We recall God saying to Abraham, “Go forth… to a land that I will show you” (Gn 12:1) just as he says today in our Gospel quotation, “Rise, take the child and… mother, flee to Egypt.” Joseph appears thus as the last patriarch of Israel. Yet, Joseph also fully anticipates the Gospel sentiment of willingness long before Peter declared from his fishing boat, “Command me Lord…” (Mt 14:28). And it is likely that Joseph, more composed than the enthusiastic Peter, would have walked on the waves toward Jesus with less concern for the raging waters.
For this Feast of the Holy Family we place on our bulletin cover a work by the French-inspired, American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner, entitled Flight into Egypt (1923). Tanner was a self-studied African-American artist who later trained in Paris absorbing the realism of Courbet and the loose brush strokes of French Impressionism.
Tanner’s religious works display a gritty mysticism. This image has the deep lapis lazuli blue tones of the Florentine master Giotto lending it a romantic, medieval air. However, the soft sweep of Tanner’s contemporary and realistic palate allows us to reflect on the true danger of this secret escape. St. Joseph has taken up the rear guard while the enigmatic blue figure in the front, a creature of heaven, carries the divine light that Joseph has proven himself so keen to follow. The resplendent illumination of this work emotes in us the faith necessary to move forward past opacity and difficulty.
“Command me, Lord”. This is how we surmise the prayer life of Joseph. This prayer is not bashful, since its voice is in the imperative mood. While Joseph followed faithfully the dominion of God, he also exercised a confident temper that would have called upon God authoritatively: “Save me, Lord”; “Counsel me, Lord”; and “Guide me Lord” are certainly other imperative prayers – fine examples of what our prayer should be.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services