29 December 2021 | General Audience


Paul VI Audience Hall

Catechesis on Saint Joseph – 5. Saint Joseph, persecuted and
courageous migrant
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Today I would like to present Saint Joseph to you as a persecuted and
courageous migrant. This is how the Evangelist Matthew describes him. This
particular event in the life of Jesus, which also involves Joseph and Mary, is
traditionally known as “the flight into Egypt” (cf. Mt 2:13-23). The family of
Nazareth suffered such humiliation and experienced first-hand the
precariousness, fear and pain of having to leave their homeland. Today so many
of our brothers and sisters are still forced to experience the same injustice and
suffering. The cause is almost always the arrogance and violence of the
powerful. This was also the case for Jesus.
King Herod learns from the Magi of the birth of the “King of the Jews”, and the
news shocks him. He feels insecure, he feels that his power is threatened. So, he
gathers together all the leaders of Jerusalem to find out the place of His birth,
and begs the Magi to inform him of the precise details, so that – he says falsely –
he too can go and worship him. But when he realised that the Magi had set out
in another direction, he conceived a wicked plan: to kill all the children in
Bethlehem under the age of two years, which was the period of time, according
to the calculations of the Magi, in which Jesus was born.
In the meantime, an angel orders Joseph: “Rise, take the child and his mother,
and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search
for the child, to destroy him” (Mt 2:13). Think today of the many people who
feel this impulse within: “Let’s flee, let’s flee, because there is danger here”.
Herod’s plan calls to mind that of Pharaoh to throw all the male children of the
people of Israel into the Nile (cf. Ex 1:22). The flight into Egypt evokes the whole
history of Israel beginning with Abraham, who also sojourned there (cf. Gen
12:10); to Joseph, son of Jacob, sold by his brothers (cf. Gen 37:36) before
becoming “ruler of the land” (cf. Gen 41:37-57); and to Moses, who freed his
people from the slavery of the Egyptians (cf. Ex 1:18).
The flight of the Holy Family into Egypt saves Jesus, but unfortunately it does
not prevent Herod from carrying out his massacre. We are thus faced with two
opposing personalities: on the one hand, Herod with his ferocity, and on the
other hand, Joseph with his care and courage. Herod wants to defend his power,
his own skin, with ruthless cruelty, as attested to by the execution of one of his
wives, some of his children and hundreds of opponents. He was a cruel man: to
solve problems, he had just one answer: to kill. He is the symbol of many
tyrants of yesteryear and of today. And for them, for these tyrants, people do
not count; power is what counts, and if they need space for power, they do away
with people. And this happens today: we do not need to look at ancient history,
it happens today. He is the man who becomes a “wolf” for other men. History is
full of figures who, living at the mercy of their fears, try to conquer them by
exercising power despotically and carrying out inhuman acts of violence. But we
must not think that we live according to Herod’s outlook only if we become
tyrants, no; in fact, it is an attitude to which we can all fall prey, every time we
try to dispel our fears with arrogance, even if only verbal, or made up of small
abuses intended to mortify those close to us. We too have in our heart the
possibility of becoming little Herods.
Joseph is the opposite of Herod: first of all, he is “a just man” (Mt 1:19), and
Herod is a dictator. Furthermore, he proves he is courageous in following the
Angel’s command. One can imagine the vicissitudes he had to face during the
long and dangerous journey and the difficulties involved in staying in a foreign
country, with another language: many difficulties. His courage emerges also at
the moment of his return, when, reassured by the Angel, he overcomes his
understandable fears and settles with Mary and Jesus in Nazareth (cf. Mt
2:19-23). Herod and Joseph are two opposing characters, reflecting the two
ever-present faces of humanity. It is a common misconception to consider
courage as the exclusive virtue of the hero. In reality, the daily life of every
person requires courage. Our way of living – yours, mine, everyone’s: one
cannot live without courage, the courage to face each days’ difficulties. In all
times and cultures, we find courageous men and women who, in order to be
consistent with their beliefs, have overcome all kinds of difficulties, and have
endured injustice, condemnation and even death. Courage is synonymous with
fortitude, which together with justice, prudence and temperance is part of the
group of human virtues known as “cardinal virtues”.
The lesson Joseph leaves us with today is this: life always holds adversities in
store for us, this is true, in the face of which we may also feel threatened and
afraid. But it is not by bringing out the worst in ourselves, as Herod does, that
we can overcome certain moments, but rather by acting like Joseph, who reacts
to fear with the courage to trust in God’s Providence. Today I think we need a
prayer for all migrants; migrants and all the persecuted, and all those who are
victims of adverse circumstances: be they political, historical or personal
circumstances. But, let us think of the many people who are victims of wars,
who want to flee from their homeland but cannot; let us think of the migrants
who set out on that road to be free, so many of whom end up on the street or in
the sea; let us think of Jesus in the arms of Joseph and Mary, fleeing, and let us
see in him each one of the migrants of today. Migration today is a reality to
which we cannot close our eyes. It is a social scandal of humanity.
Saint Joseph,
you who have experienced the suffering of those who must flee
you who were forced to flee
to save the lives of those dearest to you,
protect all those who flee because of war,
hatred, hunger.
Support them in their difficulties,
Strengthen them in hope, and let them find welcome and solidarity.
Guide their steps and open the hearts of those who can help them. Amen.