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The Family Is a Community of Love

by Pope Saint John Paul II


The Holy Father's homily on the Feast of St. Joseph during the celebration of Mass in the Viale Garibaldi, Civitaveechia.

Larger Work

L'Osservatore Romano

Publisher & Date

Vatican, March, 1987

1. "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife" (Mt 1-20).

These are key words in the life of St Joseph, descendant of David. With them the eternal Father entrusts to a man--to the carpenter of Nazareth--a great mystery of God.

This mystery was entrusted first to the Virgin, also of the town of Nazareth, who, at the moment of the Annunciation of this same mystery, was already publicly betrothed to Joseph. She was, then, according to the law of Israel, his spouse. But she did not yet dwell in his house. She did not know man, as she herself declares to the angel (cf. Lk 1:34). To her, then, first of all, was entrusted the mystery of the Incarnation. The mystery of the Son "of the same substance of the Father": of the Son of God who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, was made man, so as to accomplish the eternal will of the Father. This Virgin of Nazareth was chosen to be his mother.

2. Thus the divine mystery of the Incarnation was entrusted to Mary before any other person. In her, "the Word was made flesh" (cf. Jn 1:14), when, during the Annunciation, she submitted her will to the inscrutable designs of God. And she, first of all, deserved to be called blessed: "Blessed is she who believed" (Lk 1:45 from that time forward she deserved to be called blessed by all generations (cf. Lk 1:48).

Joseph becomes a participant in the same mystery of God, together with Mary, after her, as the Gospel of today's solemnity testifies: "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:20-21). The name "Jesus" in fact means "God saves", and therefore: "Savior".

To Joseph, then, to the carpenter of Nazareth, was entrusted, as to Mary, the same mystery of God. A great mystery, the mystery eternally hidden in God, a mystery that became flesh" in man's history and was revealed to human hearts: to the eyes of faith.

A man of faith

3. We could say of Joseph what was said of Mary by her cousin Elizabeth: "Blessed are you who believed".

Actually the liturgy of today's feast compares Joseph's faith to that of Abraham, whom the Apostle speaks of as the father of our faith (cf. Rom 4:16-18). "I have made you the father of many nations", we read in the Letter to the Romans (4:17). In truth, harking back to the faith of Abraham are not only the followers of the Old Covenant, the Israelites, not only Christians, but also the Muslims.

Joseph, a humble carpenter of Nazareth is heir to this faith. At the same time, the God already known to Israel through the faith of Abraham unveils for him, as he had first done for Mary, the mystery that was not revealed to Abraham, the mystery for which the Old Testament was gradually preparing all generations.

Joseph, a son of Israel, a just man, becomes the trustee of the divine mystery, which has entered into his life as a reality, which has come under the roof of his house--through Mary.

Joseph remained faithful to the mystery entrusted to him by God.

4. Today, 19 March, the Church gathers around Joseph of Nazareth. The Church admires the simplicity and the depth of his faith. She admires and venerates his rectitude, his humility, his courage. How many values God entrusted to Joseph in his humble and hidden life as an artisan of Nazareth! He entrusted to him his own eternal Son, who in the house of Joseph embraced all that constitutes the truth of the Son of man. To Joseph God entrusted Mary, her virginity and her maternity--her virginal maternity. He entrusted to him the Holy Family. God entrusted to Joseph what is most holy in the whole history of creation, and that humble man, that carpenter, did not disappoint God's trust. To the very end he showed himself faithful, thoughtful, provident, solicitous--after the model of the eternal Father himself.

Therefore Joseph has become the man in whom the whole Church trusts. This regards the entire life of the Church and all that pertains to her earthly mission. In a particular way it regards two large areas of human life in which the Church performs her evangelical service:

-- the area of family life, and
-- the area of human work.

They are closely tied to one another.

5. Since I spoke on the theme of work this morning in my meeting with workers, I now wish to limit myself to some considerations regarding the themes of conjugal and family love.

The importance of this question and the frequency with which our society strays from the fundamental principles and values that must guide human conduct in this area are well known. It is necessary that all believers make an ever renewed effort to convince consciences, both through words and example. It is necessary to emphasize continually the inalienable values without which life ceases to be worthy of man and society finds itself threatened at its very roots.

6. Today's feast of St Joseph is in a particular way the feast of the Christian family. According to a popular and by now prevailing custom, it is also "Father's Day". This is easily understood, since St Joseph is a marvelous model for fathers throughout the world.

Yet today is not only the feast of fathers: it is also the feast of mothers, children, grandparents, in their mutual and dutiful relations of love, respect and esteem. It is the feast of family ties and affections in their deep and spontaneous naturalness and in their exalted ethical, civil and religious meaning. In fact, the feast of the family is also, indissolubly, the feast of human life, which in the family arises, is watched over, protected, brought up, educated, launched towards maturity and towards its responsible entry into the Church and society.

7. We see then how the family must be the first school of love and solidarity, the first school of all the human and Christian virtues. Great, then, is the responsibility of parents! The family is a community of love where every member feels understood, accepted and loved and seeks to understand, accept and love the others.

The family is a community of life, it is open to life. Within it, therefore, there is excluded not only everything that offends the coming into being and the development of human life in the physical sense, but also those acts which degrade its moral value, such as humiliations, lack of respect, and acts of negligence especially with regard to elderly, sick or handicapped members.

The love and life that blossom in the family must not be closed in upon the limited context of the family itself, but they must be diffused in concrete choices of ecclesial, civic and social service: the family is open to service.

Spiritual Values

8. The family is open not only to human values, but also to the higher values of the spirit. It in fact has a fundamental role in the first proclamation of the faith and in the Christian initiation of the children. The activity carried out by parents in the religious education of their children is a magnificent expression of the common priesthood of the faithful. In this the parents are irreplaceable instruments of the grace that God wishes to communicate to souls for their salvation.

The family is a community of prayer: it is important not only to pray, but to pray together. In Christian families there must be gatherings for prayer, so that together its members may be nourished, not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

The special unifying moment for the family, moreover, is that of shared participation in the Holy Mass and the sacraments on Sundays. As for every Christian community, beginning with the universal Church, it is in the Holy Eucharist that the family finds the center of its spiritual equilibrium and the perennial source of its growth and vitality.

Thanks be to God, there are many families--especially within the framework of certain lay movements--who live their Christianity in depth in this way.

9. "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife".

Joseph, Spouse of the Virgin Mother of God, teach us unceasingly all the divine truth and all the human dignity contained in the vocation of spouses and parents!

St Joseph, obtain from God that we may cooperate, with constancy, with the grace of the great sacrament in which man and woman promise each other love, fidelity and conjugal integrity till death! St Joseph, man of justice, teach us responsible love towards those whom God entrusts to us in a special way: love between spouses and love between parents and those to whom they give life!

Teach us responsibility towards every life, from the first moment of its conception to its last instant on this earth. Teach us a great respect for the gift of life. Teach us to adore deeply the Creator, Father and Giver of life.

St Joseph, Patron of human work, assist us in all work, in that vocation of man on earth. Teach us to resolve the difficult problems connected with work in the life of each a generation, beginning with the young, and in the life of society.

St Joseph, Protector of the Church, today, on your solemnity, we pray to God with these words:

Almighty God, who chose to entrust the beginnings of our redemption to the loving care of St. Joseph, by his intercession grant that your Church may cooperate faithfully in the fulfillment of the work of salvation.

Now, according to the program envisioned by this Eucharistic celebration, I shall prepare to perform the act of entrusting the diocese to Our Lady of Graces of Allumiere, and to crown the venerated image as a sign of gratitude to the Mother of God, cherishing the hope of more abundant heavenly blessings, obtained through the favor of the Most Holy Virgin.

Click here for a compilation of documents, prayers and novenas for St. Joseph available on Petersnet.

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