On Saturday March 25, more than 800 men from our diocese attended the ninth annual IGNITE Conference at the SRC Arena. It was a fine day that nourished the hearts and minds of the dedicated, faith-filled men who participated. The homily I preached on that occasion is printed below.
Let me begin by telling you how pleased I am to be with you for the ninth annual IGNITE Conference. How gratifying and encouraging it is for me to experience a gathering that calls together so many men, committed to their Catholic faith, who have set aside a day to be nourished by the celebration of God’s word and sacrament in the Eucharist, the reception of the Sacrament of Penance and the presentations from our fine speakers.
The setting of today’s Gospel is familiar to us. We hear this reading during Advent and on today’s feast. The Annunciation has been depicted in art in numerous ways. Sometimes the angel is pictured; sometimes not. Often Mary is pictured at prayer but not always. Sometimes Mary’s surroundings are simple and befitting the conditions of the poor; sometimes they are more elaborate and ornate. Regardless of the artist’s interpretation of the event there is a constant. A young Jewish girl receives a divine message to which she must respond.
The words of the angel are challenging and bewildering to Mary. The Gospel tells us she was “troubled” and had to “ponder” the angel’s greeting. Mary was troubled before she heard the message. Imagine her thoughts after the message was delivered!
We know what the angel’s message was and, unlike Mary at the time of the angel’s visit, we know how the message will play out. On hearing the message, Mary had to grapple with conceiving a child whose name would be Jesus and who be the Son of the Most High, ruler over the House of David — a pregnancy without having “relations with a man.”
I think we can safely assume Mary would have some questions. One is recorded in the Gospel: “How can this be?” (Lk 1:34). I suspect there were other questions, perhaps unspoken but nonetheless on Mary’s mind. Why me? What does all this mean? What will people think? How about Joseph?
Who of us upon hearing God’s word or experiencing God’s will in our lives has not on occasion been confused or challenged by what God was asking or the direction in which He was leading us, or wondering if this indeed is what God is asking at this moment? There are times when God waits for our “yes,” for our surrender to His word as He waited for Mary’s consent, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
As we ponder Mary’s response let us not forget Joseph who also said “yes.” In a world where so many say, “My will be done,” St. Joseph is a refreshing example of one who says “Thy will be done.” Like his faithful spouse, Mary, Joseph’s obedience to God’s will was of great importance in the divine plan. We are blessed that his life was devoted to doing God’s will, no matter what the cost to himself or his reputation.
Joseph’s holiness and obedience were so heroic that he can seem separated from everyday life. But Joseph was an ordinary man. Like us, he too had to learn how to listen to God’s voice and how to discern his will. Remember, Joseph initially intended to divorce Mary quietly once he had discovered she was pregnant. But it was his “yes” to God in response to a dream that not only protected Mary but also the child within her.
Recently I read a reflection on St. Joseph that was based on a particularly beautiful picture on display in the Brooklyn Museum. Joseph is leaning heavily over his carpenter’s table. His shop is cramped with tools and wood shavings everywhere. The windows look out onto the streets of Nazareth where townspeople go about their business. But, in the middle stands Joseph, his bearded chin in hand, deep in thought. The painting’s title says it all: The Anxiety of Joseph.
We rarely think of St. Joseph that way. Yet what we see is a man who knew worry and uncertainty. Joseph found himself unexpectedly about to become a father, under mysterious circumstances no less. He must have wondered how he would support this suddenly growing family, as well as how he would explain what had happened to a doubting, judgmental world (Cf. The Word Among Us, December 2016).
Joseph’s “yes” did not solve all his questions or remove anxiety and concern from his life and his care for Mary and Jesus. Certainly his future must have seemed overwhelming and his responsibilities daunting and frightening.
Our “yes” to God’s will in our lives, our trust in living the theme for today’s conference, “It’s all possible with God,” does not remove the questions, the challenges, the anxiety that accompany that “yes.” However, like Mary and Joseph we believe God is with us on the journey of life and faith. We believe His words, “Fear not, I am with you: be not dismayed. Know that I am with you always until the end of the world” (Is 41:10; Mt 28:20).
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us that we may follow your example. Saint Joseph, Spouse of Mary and Foster Father of Jesus, pray for us that we may listen and act upon God’s word as you did.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.