In this 10th reflection during the Fast of the Virgin Mary I would like to return to the account found in the Proto-evangelium of St James. The infant Virgin Mary was received into the Temple precincts where she spent her childhood in the company of angels, and in the care of the consecrated Widows and Virgins. But as she approached early adulthood the council of the priests became concerned for her future and said to Zacharias the High Priest that he should enter the Holy of Holies and ask of God what should be done.
He did just this, and an angel appeared and instructed him to assemble all of the widowers of the Jewish people, each one with their walking staff, and the Lord would show by a sign the man who should take care of the Virgin Mary. And so it was that, according to this ancient tradition, all of the walking staffs were laid before the Lord and Zacharias offered prayer, and then began returning the walking staffs to each man as it belonged to him. The staff of Joseph was last, and as he received it from the hand of the High Priest a dove appeared and settled on him, and this was understood to be the will of God.
Joseph was not enthusiastic about the prospect of this responsibility. He insisted that he was an old man, and already had children. More than that, he was afraid of becoming a laughing stock because he was elderly and the Virgin Mary was young. The text continues…
And the priest said to Joseph: Fear the Lord your God, and remember what the Lord did to Dathan, and Abiram, and Korah; how the earth opened, and they were swallowed up on account of their contradiction. And now fear, O Joseph, lest the same things happen in your house. And Joseph was afraid, and took her into his keeping. And Joseph said to Mary: Behold, I have received you from the temple of the Lord; and now I leave you in my house, and go away to build my buildings, and I shall come to you. The Lord will protect you.
It was with fear and trepidation that Joseph received the Virgin Mary into his house, as a precious and consecrated offering from the altar of the Lord.
What can we reflect upon? In the first place, that Joseph and the Virgin Mary, as we come to consider the events recorded in the Gospel, were not an unknown couple from a remote part of Judea, but would have been known to all. Joseph would have felt that all eyes were upon him. It was not a common-place and ordinary responsibility which had been placed on his shoulders. In the second place, we see that even in the case of Joseph he was concerned with what other people thought about him, and it required a direct word from God through Zacharias the High Priest to convince him to to God’s will. And thirdly, when he had obeyed God and taken the Virgin Mary into his home he had a sense that among all the other responsibilities he had, this divine service would be preserved by God, so that he was able to say, The Lord will protect you.