Vigil of the Feast of the Epiphny
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
“And he arose, and took the child and its mother, and came into the land of Israel.”–Matt. 2.
Three times, as the Gospel narrates, an angel appeared to St. Joseph in a dream, and spoke to him; and every time he immediately complied with the injunctions which he received–and was silent. The angel spoke to Joseph, but not he to the angel, although, as St. Chrysostom, in the spirit of wisdom, remarks: There would have been reason enough for some words, for surely the dear saint must have had certain questions to ask. Even Mary spoke with the angel. Joseph remained silent; and we have no record in Holy Scripture of a single word that he uttered.
Mary, together with St. Joseph, sought the child Jesus, sorrowing, and found him in the temple. The loving mother exclaimed: “Why hast Thou done this to us?” but his foster-father remained silent; and it would seem that, by this silence, a deep mystery of faith is implied, in perfect accord with the calling of him who was chosen to be the earthly father of the Saviour, and the representative of His heavenly Father. The eternal Father never spoke to the human race, since, as St. Paul says, in his Epistle to the Hebrews: “So God spoke in the beginning always by his angels with men.”
So He did on Mount Sinai, when the law was announced to the chosen people of God; and to Moses in the burning bush, as St. Paul also says; and, lastly, through his only-begotten Son. Certainly, in this regard, the silence of St. Joseph can not serve as a model for us, but, in other cases, which very often occur in life, it can. All of them are contained in the principle: Never to murmur against divine Providence, but to bear all sufferings–whatsoever that God sees fit to send us–with patience for love of Him.
O Mary, mother of sorrows, who stood beneath the cross without a murmur, obtain for us the resignation of thy chaste spouse, St. Joseph! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor of God!
An angel appeared to St. Joseph in a dream, and bade him fly with Mary and the child into Egypt; and, without one single question, he immediately arose and departed that very night. And the same spirit of obedience continued to influence him; for we read of his return to Palestine as soon as his angelic visitant again appeared in a dream and bade him retrace his steps.
If we give proper attention to this rare virtue–silence–which characterized the saint whom we delight to honor today, we will be inspired to accept lovingly all the trials which the Lord pleases to send, and bear them without a murmur. That St. Joseph was a just man, the Scripture gives unequivocal testimony; and, after his immaculate spouse, he may be considered the greatest among the saints–a distinction which he merits from his relations to Jesus and Mary. But the pure gold of his virtue was destined to be tested in the crucible of the weary toils, labors, and troubles of life; and his silence, in every phase, is a most eloquent proof of the perfection of his union with the most holy will of God.
As it was for Mary, so also was it for him the favorite maxim in life: “I am a servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to His word.” St. Joseph was silent. This silence, at the command of the angel to undertake the long and toilsome journey, proves that his was a living faith in the disposition of Divine Providence, and the wisdom of the Lord in ordaining all things. He neither asked nor thought why he should set off in such haste to Egypt; nor whether there could not be found a place in Israel where he might conceal himself with Mary and the little Infant without traversing the desert’s burning sands. He neither asked nor wondered why the flight was even necessary for the Incarnate Son of God; why, since He was God as well as Man, He could not conceal or protect Himself; or, by a sudden death, take Herod from this world, that all might be well. Nothing of all this found a place in the heart of the great St. Joseph. No; he let God order all things for him, and thought of the hidden counsels of the Lord; for, as St. Paul most justly asks: “Who was his Counsellor?”
He obeyed and was silent, making no inquiries as to how he would provide for the holy family in Egypt– a land where all to him was new and strange. He trusted in God, and hoped, with Abraham, the father of the faithful, against hope. This holy silence points, at the same time, to his deep humility and self-denial. He neither asked nor thought why the angels might not come to transport him, with the mother and child, from Palestine to Egypt through the air, as they did with Elias–who was conveyed in a fiery chariot to heaven–and as was done with the prophet Habacuc.
The Blessed Virgin was to ride to Egypt on a beast of burden, while St. Joseph was to walk by her side, which he did with an alacrity and pleasure all the greater that he had thereby an opportunity of proving his love for Jesus and Mary, for whose comfort on the journey he evinced the utmost solicitude. He was silent, but his heart conversed with God in those unutterable sighs of the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul expresses himself in speaking of the hidden life in God through the practice of prayer.
The silence of St. Joseph points to his interior contemplative life. Prayer is the source of all grace; speaking of which St. Paul again says: “I can do all in Him who strengthens me.” So St. Joseph traveled in silence to Egypt with the mother and child, and in silence he returned. What a lesson for us! What an example to imitate! Too often, however, it presents a striking contrast to the general conduct of Christians. How few, even among the children of the Church, submit, in silence and with resignation, in the trials of life, to the most holy will of God! and how often we hear the most unreasonable complaints from those who can not resolve to “kiss the hand that smites them!”
And, worse than all, the wicked murmuring against God, into which these complaints degenerate, fills the heart with despondency, gives scandal, and deprives the offender of those sufferings which, had they been patiently borne, would have one day changed into bright gems to adorn a heavenly crown. This rebellion is the cause of our frequently committing grievous faults; and whence comes it, then, beloved in Christ, that man encourages such dispositions, that he complains and mourns as one without hope? Because he does not possess the virtues of St. Joseph, of which I have spoken to you. His faith in the all-disposing providence of God is not sufficient. “No evil in the city which is not made by the Lord,” as we read in the Old Testament; by which we are to understand that whatever happens by the divine permission is for our salvation,–we must see in it His divine hand, and bow to the most holy will of God. We are too prone to look upon the occurrences in this world, in the light of the present, as they place themselves before our eyes, never considering that the Lord has ordained them, in a most wonderful manner, for some wise end, hidden from us at the time, but fully revealed at a later period in life. Thus what we suffered so keenly from, and what we at the moment considered a great evil, may have been, in reality, sent to promote our eternal salvation; but, beguiled and deceived by self-love and self-will, we venture to challenge our Creator, as it were, to give an account of what He permits to befall us. This is because we are deficient in the humility and self-denial of St. Joseph. He was just; he was, through his relation to Jesus and Mary, by his royal blood and freedom from all personal sins, elevated to the highest rank in heaven above all the other saints.
We suffer and murmur, yet we have, perhaps, committed sins, and, it may be, deserved hell. Happy for us if the Lord changes the eternal punishment incurred and merited by our mortal sins into a temporal penalty after the guilt has been forgiven. And although we had even already blotted out this punishment through penance and indulgences, does not God give us, through sufferings, particularly when they are unmerited, the most precious opportunity to lay up the richest store of merits, and to cast the greatest weight upon the scale of heavenly joys? Think of Mary, herself, who stood as Queen of Martyrs beneath the cross.
Who could think of her and murmur? Who could behold that loving mother enduring her sorrow in silence, and not accept their trouble as coming, not from man, but from God? The devout and humble Christian will, with St. Joseph, thank and praise the Lord; for the more patiently we carry our cross in His imitation, the more like unto Him we shall become–the more precious shall we be in His sight. Yes, the nearer we follow Him in life, the nearer we shall be to Him in His empire of glory.
Joseph remained silent,–we murmur and complain. Why? We are wanting in that spirit of zeal in prayer which should enkindle and increase in us the fire of divine love, and strengthen us to suffer even with joy. We are also wanting in that ardent love toward Jesus and Mary, which ever reminds us that they walked first in the royal road of the holy cross. Let us, then, suffer, without a murmur, all that Christ is pleased to send us; for He often rewards us, even here below, with the benediction of His divine love. Child of the Church, do you hear this? Oh, what a day of grace for you will not that be, upon which you resolve firmly never more to murmur at the will of God! Oh, may it be today! What should particularly encourage you is, that there are but few who suffer with patience, and you should delight in being the one to give an edifying example.
Consider, finally, how quickly and with what determination St. Joseph obeyed the command of the angel. The Gospel says: “Immediately he arose from sleep and set out upon his journey.” Might he not have remained sleeping until morning? This feature in his character stands in strong contrast to one which is often prominent in the life of the every-day Christian. I allude to a fatal delay in putting in practice the resolution to do good–to lead a better life. Men make resolutions for the sanctification of their lives, but there is no earnestness of purpose. They neglect to fulfill them until at last they entirely abandon the idea of leading a better life; and, instead of advancing in the way of Christian perfection, they retrograde. Beloved in Christ, resolve, from this very moment, that it shall be otherwise with you.
The Feast of the Epiphany, whose vigil we celebrate today, most beautifully confirms all that I have said by the example of the holy three kings. They also, as soon as they beheld the star, arose and set out on their journey. They were rewarded, for they found the Infant God.
Their first question was: “Where is He?” and, as soon as they received the answer, their generous and loving hearts gave little thought to what Jerusalem might think or say. The opinion of the world troubled them not; but, firm in their resolve to find Him, they followed the star. Happy for you, beloved in Christ, if you, with the dispositions of the Magi, prostrate yourself before the Infant Jesus; and, as they offered their gifts to Him, do you, from the depths of your hearts, make this solemn promise: “O Divine Child, from this very moment I resolve to accept whatever sufferings Thou dost please to send, without a murmur; and henceforth to fulfill my resolution without delay.”
This will be an offering more precious than gold, frankincense, or myrrh; for it is a holocaust of your love to Jesus and Mary, for the greater honor and glory of God, for your own salvation, and the salvation of others. Amen!