Blood is thicker than water! That is a very familiar slogan for us all, especially for us Filipinos. It points to the power of our blood relations, the primacy of filial love.
I recall that saying because both readings today seem to speak about filial love, in particular parental love. In the first reading, our favorite passage from Isaiah made famous by Fr. Manoling Francisco’s first song Hindi kita malilimutan—how can a mother forget her child… and yet even if she does, Yahweh will never forget us. Yahweh’s love is compared to a mother’s invincible love. The Jews called it rahamim, womb-love, the intense love of a mother. That is how God loves us. The gospel of John in today’s reading, on the other hand, portrays the special bond between God the Father and the Son. Indeed, it is by admitting to this special relationship, that he is the son of God and therefore equal to God that the Jewish leaders condemn Jesus of blasphemy, the punishment for which is death. John sets us up for the passion of Christ which we will recall during Holy Week. But what do all these have to do with St. Joseph for which we offer this novena mass? There is the rub.
While the readings talk about filial love, we all know that Joseph does not share his blood with Jesus Christ. He is only the foster father. But that is what is amazing, at least for me, with Joseph. Hindi niya kadugo si Hesus. And yet he would stake his life for his foster child. He would give everything of himself for love of a child who is really not his. And that is the perfect picture of Christian love. We do not love only our blood relations. Christian love in fact, as Jesus taught and exemplified it, encompasses love of strangers, love of enemies, love of the totally other. Mary, our Catechism says, is Christ’s first disciple, for she followed him from beginning to end, from womb to tomb. But this was natural, for she was Jesus’s mom. But what of St. Joseph? I say, he was the first to embody Christian love, as Christ himself would teach us. Loving beyond relations, beyond convenience, beyond the familiar. Loving like God, agape. Rather than being marginal, Joseph therefore plays a central role in our understanding of CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP. By loving Christ as his own, he took part in God’s mission of making humanity his own, his family.
What a timely have reminder for us. First for you (and for me) in this vocation we have chosen. You and me have been called to love beyond our families, beyond our bloodlines. As priests, we are to imitate Joseph, in loving a stranger and turning him or her or them into our own. Even staking our lives for them. Secondly, this kind of love is the love that the world needs now especially in this pandemic, ass the Pope urgently tells us in Fratelli Tutti, a love that cares for strangers and turns them into brothers and sisters.
This kind of love will always be difficult. It will challenge us the rest of our lives. But our healthworker-frontliners are showing us the way. As of December, about 80 have died taking care of patients na hindi naman nila kaanu-ano, as we say in tagalog. That is the kind of love we are meant to practice as well. The kind of love that Joseph exemplified. So, to all of us who are struggling to love, look up to St. Joseph. Happy feast to all!