Such trials God prepares for holy souls! When Joseph thought himself obliged to abandon as faithless the one whom he had chosen as the purest of virgins, he was about to do what would be fatal both to the mother’s purity and the child’s life. He could not be unaware that the Blessed Virgin was with child, and what could he think but that it had come about naturally? For it would not have occurred to any man to suppose the truth, to imagine a kind of miracle God had never before performed.
He was “a just man” (Matt. 1:19), and his justice would require him to quit the company of one whom he could not regard as innocent. He was doing the best that could be hoped when he “resolved to send her away quietly” (Matt. 1:19). If he had given in to jealousy, which is as “cruel as the grave” (Song of Sol. 8:6), what might he not have done? Under a law of inflexible rigor, there was no limit to what his vengeance might have exacted, and his very justice would have fanned the flames of his passion. Yet Jesus had begun to pour out his spirit of meekness upon the world, and he shared it with the one whom he had chosen to serve as his father.
The most moderate and equitable of men, Joseph never even considered the most extreme course of action. He wished only to take leave secretly of one whom he could no longer accept blamelessly. And yet what sorrow was his to think that he had been deceived in his trust for her chastity and virtue. To lose the one he loved, and to leave her a helpless prey to calumny and public outcry! God could have spared him this misery by revealing the mystery to him earlier, but then his virtue would not have been put to the test prepared for him. Nor would we have seen Joseph’s victory over the most indomitable of all passions, and the most righteous jealousy that ever existed would not have been trampled underfoot by his virtue.
In the same events we see Mary’s faith. She saw the suffering of her spouse and understood all the consequences of her holy child-bearing, yet without appearing to be anxious, without daring to enlighten her spouse or to reveal heaven’s secret; she knew the risk of seeing herself mistrusted and abandoned, or perhaps lost and condemned. She left everything in God’s hands and remained at peace.
These were the circumstances in which an angel of the Lord was sent to Joseph and said to him: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20). How calm are those words. What astonishment and what humility were Joseph’s! If we are to have any understanding at all of these things, it is for God alone to give it to us.
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:21). Why “you”? You are not the father. He has no father but God. But God has transferred his rights to you. You will stand as a father to Jesus Christ. Formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the one who belongs to you, he also belongs to you. With the authority and rights of a father, then, have also a father’s heart toward Jesus. God, “who fashions the hearts of all” (Ps. 33:15), today places a father’s heart in you. How blessed are you, for at the same time he gives Jesus the heart of a son toward you. You are the true spouse of his holy Mother; you share with her this beloved Son and the graces that flow from his love. Go then and at the proper time name the child, giving him the name Jesus — both for you and for us — so that he will be our Savior as well as yours.
After his dream and the angel’s words, Joseph was a changed man. He became a father and a husband in his heart. The effect of his marriage was the tender care that he had for Mary and the divine Child. He began this blessed ministry by traveling to Bethlehem, and we know all that followed from it.
What is it that you do, you princes of the earth, who set all the world in motion to perform an accounting of the subjects of your empire? You wish to know their productivity, their revenue, and the size of the army that can be assembled, and so you declare a census. This was what you thought you were doing. Yet God had other plans, which you were carrying out without having any idea of it. His Son must be born in Bethlehem, David’s humble home. He had made his prophet predict it seven hundred years before (cf. Mic. 5:2), and now the whole world is bestirred so that the prophecy may be fulfilled.
When they were in Bethlehem — to obey the prince but also to obey the order of God — “the time came for her to be delivered” (Luke 2:6), and Jesus, the Son of David, was born in Bethlehem, “the village where David was” (John 7:42). The public registers attested his origin. The Roman Empire bore witness to the royal lineage of Jesus Christ, and Caesar, unknowingly, carried out the orders of God.
Let us also be enrolled at Bethlehem. Bethlehem, the house of bread. Let us go there to taste the bread of heaven, the bread of angels become human food. Let us consider all our churches to be true Bethlehems, true homes of the bread of life. This is the bread that God gives to the poor in the birth of Jesus. If with him they love poverty and come to adore him in the manger, then they shall find true wealth, then the “poor shall eat and be satisfied” (Ps. 22:26).
This article is adapted from a chapter in Meditations on Mary by Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Art for this post on Mary’s faith: Cover of Meditations on Mary used with permission. Detail of Mater dulce (Sweet Mother), Josef August Untersberger, circa 1914, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.
To read more on Mary’s faith, click HERE.