Brookline Carmel Bulletin
January 22, 1961
Given the fact of Jesus’ birth, the Marriage between Mary and Joseph becomes plainly intelligible. Let us listen to that great Marian saint, Bernard of Clairvaux. Lest paraphrase distort the beauty of his thoughts, his words, taken from the Carmelite Breviary, the Feast of the Espousals of the Blessed Virgin Mary, are reproduced here in their entirety:
“It was fitting that the Sacred Mystery of divine counsel be kept hidden for a time from the Prince of this world. Not because God was afraid that, were He to wish to do the work openly, it could be prevented by him, but because He does what He wills not only with power but with wisdom, too. Just as, in all works He is accustomed to observe a certain propriety of times and events for the sake of the beauty that comes with order, so also, in this so magnificent a deed, namely, our Reparation, He wished to make manifest His Prudence as well as His Power. Then again, it was meet that He should dispose all things, both of Heaven and of Earth, with sweetness. As in Heaven, where by casting out the Rebellious One He confirmed the others in peace, so here upon earth, where He was going to overthrow the Envious One, He gave us first a very necessary example of His humility and meekness. He tempered the work with wisdom in order to appear sweet to His own, and powerful to his enemies. For what good would it do if the devil was conquered by God, and we were still to remain proud? Mary, therefore, had to be espoused to Joseph, since thereby this Holy Mystery would be kept hidden from dogs (worldly people) and her Virginity would be attested to by her Spouse; the modesty of the Virgin would be spared, and her good name guaranteed. What could be more prudent? What more worth of Divine Providence? By such a plan a witness was admitted to the secrets of Heaven, the enemy was excluded, and the reputation of the Virgin Mother was preserved intact.”
But if we consider the Marriage of Mary and Joseph before the Annunciation, it is not so easily intelligible. After all, there was a time when Mary didn’t have the slightest inkling that she would become the Mother of God, and when Joseph never dreamed that his wife-to-be would conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost. What was their attitude toward their impending marriage in those days? How was it they became engaged in the first place? It seems that the only way to explain it is to say that Mary had to marry Joseph in order to remain a Virgin forever, and that Joseph had to take her as his wife in order to carry out his determination to lead a life of perfect Chastity.
The desire to consecrate oneself to God completely in a life of perfect Chastity is so far beyond the power of human nature that we are forced to admit that it is a pure gift of God. Even nowadays there are ‘good’ Catholics who cannot ‘see’ that such a state is far more exalted than Matrimony. In the days of Mary and Joseph it was unheard of. Why, didn’t the Jewish people consider it their sacred duty to raise up children to Abraham, who would one day be the citizens of the glorious Messianic Kingdom? Well, the descendants of David considered it doubly sacred, and urgent, too. For from the seed of the Royal Prophet would spring the Captain who would lead God’s people Israel. It isn’t surprising, then, that Mary and Joseph should want to keep their desires hidden from their kinfolk, who would have protested vigorously. Besides, such clearly divine inspirations were too sacred to disclose and lay open to public comment and discussion. So they must have waited patiently and resignedly, trusting in God, as their families went seeking out a suitable spouse for each. We can only imagine what was their holy joy when they discovered, having been left alone to discuss the prearranged union, that they were kindred souls, both possessed of the selfsame desire to belong entirely to God. How happy, indeed, to find in the very Institution they had resolved to forego the means to implement their desires. In effect, each wanted to make a vow of Chastity. Marriage made it possible. We know that a vow is not valid unless it is accepted by God. So, only a lawful superior, God’s representative can validly accept a vow. When they became engaged (espoused), Joseph became Mary’s lawful superior, for according to the Jewish concept of Espousal, marital rights were transferred, though the right to make use of them was withheld till after the Nuptials. He was able, therefore, to consent to her vow to remain a virgin, and accept it in God’s name. In her turn, Mary was able to consent to and accept Joseph’s.
It is fitting to point out, too, that Mary and Joseph were genuinely in love with one another, and found in their marriage a profound sense of personal fulfillment, since psychologically as well as physically man and woman are complementary. His love for her (he was not an old man) must have been warm, intense and virile, though free of the faintest breath of carnal desire. And Mary must have nourished a thoroughly feminine though spotlessly pure love for Joseph. We might very well hold up the pre-marital Mary and Joseph, still unaware of God’s designs, as an example for courting and engaged couples to imitate. They could learn from those Holy Souls that the quality to look for above all else in a spouse is a strong, stable love for God. It is the only foundation for marriage that will weather. By it, their love for one another is purified, ennobled and rendered capable of bearing supernatural fruit.
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