Caesar van Everdingen painted this magnificent Holy Family in 1660. Saint Joseph, with the open book of the Scriptures on his lap, appears absorbed by the immensity of the mystery entrusted to him. If you look closely you will see that he holds his reading glasses in his right hand. This Joseph is in the prime of life; he is manly and strong. The Virgin Mother and the Infant Christ gaze straight ahead at us.
The Living Bread Entrusted to Saint Joseph
The feast of the Holy Family invites us to confess a God who comes close, a God who comes down, a God who disappears into what is human to reveal therein what is divine, a God who assumes all that is human to confer what is divine. All the shadows and figures of the Old Testament converge in Christ the Sacrament of God, the Child of the Virgin Mary, born in Bethlehem. the “House of Bread,” and entrusted to Joseph.
Joseph Most Obedient
Look closely at the obedience of Saint Joseph, his obedience in the dark night of faith. Joseph’s obedience allows the whole mystery of Israel — the going down into Egypt and the back up — to be revealed and completed in Christ. In some way the “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19) of the Last Supper is made possible by Joseph’s obedience to the commandments delivered to him in the night.
Twice Saint Joseph obeys the word of the angel who visits him by night. Twice Saint Matthew uses the very same formula to evoke the obedience of Saint Joseph: “And Joseph rose and too the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt” (Mt 2:14); and again, “And he rose and took the child and his mother and went into the land of Israel” (Mt 2:21).
Where is the source of Saint Joseph’s obedience? Is it in the word of the Angel? The Angel appears in a dream. Is anything more fleeting than a dream? If we remember our dreams at all in the morning, we do so in a vague and hazy way. Rarely do we find in our dreams the strength to make great changes in our lives. Dreams may sow suggestions in the imagination; rarely do we translate them into action, especially when they ask of us what Saint Benedict calls “things that are hard and repugnant to nature in the way to God” (RB 58:8).
The Viaticum of Saint Joseph
Saint Joseph finds the strength to obey in the Infant Christ, his Viaticum. He finds it in the presence of “the living bread which came down from heaven” (Jn 6:51). He gazes upon the Child held against the breast of the Virgin, and from that contemplation — from that spiritual communion — draws the strength and the courage to pass from dreams to action — to obey. The Infant Christ was the Viaticum of Saint Joseph: his food for the journey.
Love of the Infant Christ
Prompt obedience is the one fruit of contemplation that cannot be counterfeited. Saint Benedict shows such insight when he qualifies obedience as “fitting for those who hold nothing more dear to them than Christ” (RB 5:1). This describes Saint Joseph to perfection. Joseph is the man who “held nothing more dear to him than Christ.” Cherishing the Infant Christ, he looked upon Him, the Deus absconditus, and in that contemplation, the prototype of every spiritual communion, and of all Eucharistic contemplation, Saint Joseph tasted a hidden bread, the “bread that strengthens man’s heart” (Ps 103:15).
Adoration of the Hidden God
The Deus absconditus of Saint Joseph in Bethlehem, Egypt, and Nazareth is, here and now, the latens Deitas of the Eucharist, our food and drink. He hides Himself and reveals Himself beneath the veils of bread and wine so as to hide and reveal Himself in us who obey his commandment: “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19). It is this obedience to the command of the Lord at the Mystical Supper that makes it possible for us to obey in every other situation, in all things.
For us the strength to obey is in the Deus absconditus of the Most Holy Eucharist, as it was for Saint Joseph in the Deus absconditus of the flight into Egypt and the return to Israel. The prompt obedience of those who “hold nothing more dear to them than Christ” (RB 5:1) begins in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. “Adoro te devote, latens Deitas.”