Editors’ note: Bishop Douglas J. Lucia celebrated Mass to open the Year of Vocations Nov. 14 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The prepared text of the homily he preached on that occasion appears here.
I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but the Christmas shows have begun to appear on various cable networks and holiday music can be found among the various channels of Sirius Radio and on YouTube. We might feel it is a bit too soon, but in these days of the coronavirus, I will take hope wherever it can be found.
What really excites me is the time is drawing near to display our creche scenes and Nativity sets. In fact, a few months ago I was given the original pieces of my family’s first Nativity set whose purchase I remember when I was a wee lad! Something I have enjoyed doing since I was a kid is simply to sit in front of the Nativity scene and just gaze at the figures which make it up.
I know that Jesus is central to the scene, but I have been fascinated also by the shepherds, the Wise Men, Mary, and especially Joseph. I often ponder and wonder: what is he thinking? Yet, while no verbal answer is forthcoming, his posture before the child suggests to me not only adoring, but with staff in hand, accompaniment as well.
The Christian songwriter Michael Card has written in recent years a Christmas song titled, “Joseph’s Song.” Its lyrics focus on Joseph’s ponderings, but also on his desire to do God’s will in and with his life:
“How can it be, this baby in my arms, sleeping now, so peacefully. The son of God, the angel said, how could it be? O Lord I know he’s not my own, not of my flesh, not of my bone. Still Father let this baby be the son of my love.”
Then Joseph prays:
“Father show me where I fit into this plan of yours. How can a man be father to the son of God? Lord, for all my life I’ve been a simple carpenter… how can I raise a king? How can I raise a king?”
“How can this be?” Joseph is not the first person in the Nativity scene to wrestle with this question, but in today’s Gospel reading, we find God’s messenger inviting Joseph to dream God’s dream and enter the journey that God has set out on in the world — a journey of redemption, a journey of faith, hope, and love.
Okay, I grant you that I am beginning to sound a bit schmaltzy! Nonetheless, my sentimentality this morning is meant to strike chords in our hearts that invite us to take up the new song that Jesus’ birth brought into our world. It begs the question also of how do we continue to carry the tune and sing out the Good News of Jesus Christ as did the angels on that first Christmas night?
My point is simply this: Without the figures of the Nativity set, there is no Nativity scene. Analogously, without new figures to replace worn figures, there is no Nativity scene. So how do you and I help portray the “hidden mystery” that is contained therein into the present moment?
Again, I turn to Joseph and Mary, who allowed the mystery of God’s call and their vocation in life to grow over time. Both would come to know that through the working of the Holy Spirit, through openness to God’s presence in their lives, that God would continue to work through them, and with them, and in them, as they literally brought forth into the waiting world the Word Incarnate.
And that is what this Year of Vocations is all about here in the Diocese of Syracuse. Brothers and sisters, like Joseph and Mary, you and I are being invited to consider how we fit into God’s plan, into the bustling scene of Christ’s birth into the world. I know we like to sing “Silent Night,” but let’s face it, if there was no room where travelers lodge, Bethlehem had to be quite packed and filled with commotion. Not much different from our times, giving credence to the Letter to the Hebrews when it states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (13:8).
What role are we being asked to take on then — as husband, father, wife, mother, priest, deacon, consecrated person, lay minister — in response to our baptismal calling to walk as a child of the light and to keep the flame of faith burning brightly in today’s world? When St. Teresa of Avila was planning her Carmelite Reform, she needed to buy a house. She had no money at all and knew no one either willing or able to donate it. So she dedicated the proposed project to St. Joseph, and entrusted the purchase of the house and its future to him. Her trust in St. Joseph was not misplaced.
This day and in the coming year, we do the same. In calling to mind the need for people to embrace their God-given vocation in life, we seek to provide Christ Jesus with a dwelling place in today’s world as did St. Joseph. We ask him to help this local Church to build a culture of vocations in our parishes so that God’s dream can continue to be known and make a difference here in Central New York and beyond.
“Ite, ad Joseph.” We do go to Joseph today and seek his help in continuing to build the Kingdom of God in the Diocese of Syracuse, so that the son of his love will be also “the son of my love.” St. Joseph, pray for us!