CHAPTER V. ST. JOSEPH AT THE CIRCUMCISION AND PURIFICATION.
'Cum natus esset Jesus in Bethlehem Juda.' Matt. ii. 1.
St. Joseph now learnt the greatest of earthly mysteries —the excellence of poverty; that virtue which St. Francis of Assisi called his bride. Even heathens had suspected there is something great in poverty, and saw that it was greater to want nothing than to possess everything. But it was revealed to St. Joseph that men judge by false standards, and he learnt the greatness of what appears little, and the nothingness of what appears great to man. The eternal Son of God, the Saviour promised for four thousand years, could not be honoured or elevated by what the world thinks great. Nay, riches and power would have lessened the greatness of Him who created all things. His eyes, enlightened supernaturally, would see that His obscurity and humiliation did in fact enhance the splendour of the divine perfections; and that earthly glory would have been like a dark spot between us and His ineffable glory.
And when the veil of prejudice was removed, how would St. Joseph appreciate the beauty of holy innocence and natural affection!
The Holy Family was, in the infancy of our Lord, of a heavenly perfection. How the painters delight to represent Him lying in His Mother's arms, in the fulness of infantine beauty, while the halo of glory surrounds His head like an impalpable crown, and the maternal love of the Blessed Virgin is poured forth from her inmost heart with the milk of her bosom, and His infant hands are extended to caress His Mother! And as He grew older, they represent Him in the arms of the venerable Joseph, whose calm features are enlightened with the joy of pressing to his heart the Holy Child. Yet Joseph must obey the law of Moses.
'Et postquam consummati sunt dies octo, ut circumcideretur puer.'
The ceremony of circumcision was generally performed by the parent in his own house; wherefore the painters who represent the ceremony as taking place in the Temple follow a popular error. The ceremony, or rather sacrament, as we all know, was a mystical token of sin and reparation of a chosen people and of a coming Eedeemer. But it was a badge of sin, and as such Joseph knew that the Holy Child was exempt from it, and from the law which enjoined it on sinners. Yet he fulfilled the law to the letter. He, the head of the family, was bound to perform the rite, and to shed the blood of the spotless Infant. He had witnessed the adoration of the shepherds; yet faith and obedience enabled him to perform the duty of a father, by subjecting the Son of God to the humiliation of the sons of men, and to treat Him as a sinner requiring penance. 'He was to be reckoned among the malefactors.'
If the humility of John the Baptist was exercised afterwards in baptising Him to whom he ought himself to have come for baptism, what must the humility of St. Joseph have suffered at inflicting this painful mark of sin! We often think of Mary weeping over the first drops of blood shed by her Son; but no one speaks of Joseph's sorrow in performing with his own hands this cruel, this unnecessary action. The circumcision of St. John the Baptist was in the midst of his kinsfolk; but that of Jesus was as a houseless, homeless exile, done in obscurity and sadness.
Circumcision was a great shadow of the mystery of Penance; for sin can only be expiated by suffering, and suffering can only have merit through the Blood of Christ. Without shedding of blood there is no remission. This truth was revealed after the fall of Adam by the institution of sacrifice, and the knowledge of it was perpetuated among the chosen people by an elaborate ceremonial; so that those who fulfilled the law not only partook of the benefit, but understood this great doctrine, according to the grace given to them. The doctrine of Penance seems to have belonged to the Christian Eevelation; and Joseph, in poverty and mental sufferings, was the minister of the new dispensation. But now his office was to fulfil the old law; yet while he did so we may see in him the type of the priests of the new law, who offer day by day the one Sacrifice from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof (Mai. i. 11).
It was the wonderful office of St. Joseph to shed the first blood of the Eedeemer of the world. It was his hand that first poured upon the earth that precious Blood which was to wash away its stains. Mary, as afterwards on Calvary, offered the victim, for He was her own; but Joseph's hand was the instrument of this blood-shedding. The hands of executioners were ths instruments of the dreadful wrath of God, wreaked in its utmost vengeance and to the very dregs on Him who had become sin for us; but Joseph was the instrument of mercy. Sin must indeed be expiated, and the innocent victim must begin early to pay the penalty, and bear the confusion and shame of that dreadful stain which He took upon Himself; but the ceremony was a covenant of mercy, a proof that God would accept an atonement; and He who came to fulfil the law in all its rigour intended to institute a gentler remedy for the sin of Adam through the blood which He now sheds, and it is Joseph's hand which pours it out. His hand is first dipped in that fountain in which the priests of God's Church dip their hands to pour forgiveness on the heads of Adam's sinful children, bearing the burden handed down to them from him, and still more on those who in the Sacrament of Penance are freed, from the heavy load of their own actual guilt. The heart of Joseph must have been pierced with grief at the pain which he inflicted on the weeping Infant; but being as he was enlightened supernaturally on the end for which Jesus came upon the earth, he rejoices with the joy of that infant heart in seeing the work of redemption begun, and the name of Jesus, as he gives it to the Child, fills him with an inexpressible sweetness. Thus sorrow and joy are still to go hand in hand through Joseph's chequered life; for love produces joy, but it is nourished by suffering.
He restores Jesus bathed in His blood into the hands of His Mother, and thus pierces her heart with the first sword of grief; and Joseph shrank not from his task, though it was full of anguish. He must concur with his Virgin Spouse in the work of redemption, and must say with her, 'Fiat niihi secundum verbum tuum.' He foresees the future sufferings which await the new-born Saviour and His holy Mother, and he shares them as a part of his high vocation; he offers himself generously to all that is reserved for him, loving that most high will in all things and above all things. But shall no one in this cold and ungrateful world share in the adoration of those drops of precious Blood 1 Must it drop unheeded on the ground, while the world unthinkingly rushes by, and will soon trample unconsciously on the hallowed spot 1 Joseph and Mary alone supply for the ungrateful world; and what must have been the intensity of their adoration! and what the grief of the Holy Child, to think that Joseph and Mary share His sufferings, and begin already that work of reparation which is continued by all holy souls to the end of time!
'Vocatum est nomen ejus Jesus, quod vocatum est ab angelo priusquam in utero conciperetur" (Luc. ii. 21); 'Et vocabunt nomen ejus Emmanuel; quod est interpretatum, nobiscum Deus' (Matt. i. 23); and St. Matthew says (i. 25), 'Vocavit nomen ejus Jesum.' The sense of this latter verse is, that His Mother called Him Jesus; but it is said before to Joseph,' Et vocabis nomen ejus Jesum' (Matt. i. 21). The angel used the same words to Mary (Luc. i. 31). The name was, then, announced to both, but Joseph had the office of giving it. The name was given on the same daj as the circumcision, and that by the father, as appears by Zacharias naming his son John: the name was in fact given with the consent of both parents, for it had been revealed by an angel to both. Volumes have been written on that Holy Name, at which all creatures in heaven and earth must bow. Joseph knew its dignity and the extent of its import; he knew, for the angel had told him that He should save His people from their sins. It was the first time that name was spoken by human lips; it was spoken in the presence of Mary, while he held the Holy Child in his arms; and that holy name must have echoed through the three realms of heaven and earth and hell, but we are not told what were its consequences to those who heard it. Let us consider it one moment. 'Emmanuel,' God with us. God within us, reconciling unto God, so that we are one with Him. God with us, purifying us from sin, that we may sin no more. God with us, that we may live where there is no sin, for in His presence there can be no sin; and these, as Bossuet says from St. Augustine, are the three steps to the salvation promised by the Name of Jesus.
'Et postquam consummati sunt dies purgationis ejus secundum legem Moysi, tulerunt eum in Jerusalem, ut sisterent eum Domino.'
The obedience of Joseph as well as Mary to the law was perfect. The Holy Child needed not circumcision, nor the Immaculate Virgin purification. Mary, in her humility, rejoiced in this concealment of her glory; and the Eedeemer came that He might be despised and counted among transgressors. Joseph was in a different position. He felt as the disciples felt, as Mary herself felt, at seeing the Holy One suffer. It was an heroic obedience in that just man to fulfil the law of Moses, by taking his virgin spouse to the Temple, that she might offer the sacrifice appointed for the sinful daughters of Eve. All that he had been taught by supernatural revelations seemed to exempt him, nay to forbid his subjecting the only two sinless beings in the world to, these humiliating badges of sin. But he was born under the law, and he fulfilled it, leaving the rest to God. He was the 'vir fidelis, multum laudabitur, et qui custos est Domini sui glorificabitur.'
Yet Holy Scripture leaves us to consider these things with the aid of the Holy Spirit; and, as Jeremiah said, we perish only because we will not consider. Joseph was present at the presentation; that great moment, foretold by the prophets, when the Lord visited His Temple. And why did He visit it 1 and what is a temple? A place of worship and a place of sacrifice; for there is no worship without a sacrifice. He went there to offer and to be the sacrifice. And He is offered by the priest of God, whoever he may be, so that he is a priest; for the office of the priest only is to represent Him who Himself offers the sacrifice. And it is Jesus who offers the sacrifice of Himself to His eternal Father. It is His holy Mother, the type of the Church, who brings Him in her hands, and gives Him to the priest to be offered to God; and Joseph is present, for the Gospel says, 'they' bring Him. He unites in that great sacrifice; he concurs in it. Do we not see all this in our own churches?—where the priest, perhaps we know not whom, but one who has the sacerdotal dignity, offers a sacrifice to the eternal Father; and Jesus Himself offers the sacrifice in the person of the priest, and gives Himself as that sacrifice; and Mary's hands have brought Him, for it is through Mary that the Church has received the gift of that precious Body and Blood which nourishes us; nay, it is her very blood which runs through the veins of Jesus, and her flesh which He has taken, in order that in our very nature He may communicate Himself to us. And as Joseph is
the model of priests in the circumcision, so the faithful may humbly look upon themselves as uniting with Joseph in the great sacrifice; they concur in the sacrifice of Jesus, and why have they not the interior dispositions of Joseph 1 The sacrifice is the same, the victim is the same, He to whom it is offered is the same—the God of infinite majesty. Let us not forget Joseph, and all he must have felt in performing a ceremony which seemed injurious to Mary's divine maternity. But he knows the value of obedience, that it gives every action a priceless value; and also he knows well that the sanctity which is veiled by humility from the eyes of men is far more precious in the sight of God. Here too sorrow mingles with joy; while he sees the Saviour of the world adored by Simeon and Anna, he hears that He will be set for a sign to be contradicted, and that a sword of sorrow will pierce the Mother's soul.
There is one other circumstance of the mystery in which Joseph is deeply concerned: it is that the priests redeemed the Child. The father and the Mother con. curred, but it was especially the father, as the head of the house, he who would provide the means; and thus the Child becomes his again by another right. He is restored to him by the law as one redeemed, and the Scripture itself seems to forget that he is not the natural father, so truly does he possess all the paternal rights.
'Tulerunt eum in Jerusalem, nt sisterent eum Domino.' Luc. ii. 22.
The knowledge of this journey increases by time.
From the first ages of Christianity pilgrims have gathered up the traditions which were received from those who saw the holy Joseph and the beautiful Virgin ; she bearing the Holy Child, and he directing her steps along the road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. It was a journey of two hours through the vale of Eephaim, where their ancestor David had routed the Philistines. On a hill above Bethlehem they still show the house of the patriarch Joseph, and near it, in the village, the abode of the shepherds, and the mountains where they fed their sheep. They passed the cistern of David—that water for which he thirsted in battle, and spilt without drinking, because it was the price of blood. Not far off, in Eama, where the sound of weeping was so soon to be heard, is the sepulchre of Eachel, where she rested in death after her weary pilgrimage; and the well of Jacob, the house which still bears his name. They passed the places named after the prophet Elias, the prophet Habacuc; they passed the cistern where soon afterwards the Magi would water their camels ; and the loving tradition of the place points out the turpentine-tree, where the Mother of God rested as she carried her Son.
They entered Jerusalem by the fountain of Bathsheba and the tower of David. The road was full of the past and of the future, and they must have entered the city with something of the sorrow of Jesus when He wept over it. It had been elected by God for His especial dwelling, and it was, as it appears to travellers, 'like a diadem crowning the mountains.' It was founded by Melchisedec, the type of the priesthood of our Lord, and David won it from the Jebusites and adorned it with buildings, and quitted Hebron to make it the seat of his kingdom. There Solomon built his Temple, which was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and it lay waste for seventy years. Nehemiah built up its walls in fifty-two days, building with one hand, and fighting with the other; all deeply mystical and prophetical, for it was this Temple which was hallowed by the presence of our Lord, and which He said Himself was a symbol of His mystical body. Yet the Holy City was now made by Herod to emulate Eome in heathen splendour. He had built a palace of marble, shining with gold, near the Tower of David, and his theatre and amphitheatre rose high over the city. But it was on the Temple that the eyes of Joseph were bent. He led his family by the fountain of Siloe, and past another fountain which is now named after the Blessed Virgin. The place where they presented the Holy Child is now marked by a church, but it is turned into a mosque. The circumstances of the presentation are described by Butler. The Blessed Virgin waited for the priest at the gate of the temple, and made her offerings of thanksgiving and expiation, and presented her Divine Son by the hands of the priest to His eternal Father. She redeemed Him with the five shekels as the law appointed, and received Him back as a trust till His Father should demand Him for the accomplishment of man's redemption. In all this there is no mention of Joseph; it is as if he was not present. The prophecies were addressed to Mary, only the Messing of Simeon was given to both; and it is said that after they had performed all according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth, according to St Luke. But St. Matthew gives the history of the Magi, and the Massacre of the Innocents, and the Flight into Egypt, which appears to have taken place at Bethlehem soon after the Presentation.