“Never set Him down”
Those were the words that God placed on my heart, as I held up the consecrated Host, the Holy Eucharist — at the closing mass of the Year of St. Joseph last December.
“Never set Him down.”
In that moment, I interpreted these words as coming from St. Joseph. And I received them as a personal exhortation for me to never give up on my priesthood. To never “set down” my commitment to Jesus in my ordination. To stay true to my promises:
To never… set Him… down…
I was reminded of this beautiful grace from the Lord when I heard the words from our gospel passage today — the words the angel spoke to St. Joseph in his dream:
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.”
In other words, the angel is exhorting him: Don’t be afraid to make this choice, Joseph! Don’t be afraid to accept this awesome, permanent mission. Don’t be afraid to COMMIT — to say YES — to TAKE UP Mary and this child conceived by the Holy Spirit! Take them, hold them up, and then never set them down!”
As the story goes, “when Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”
Fr. Federico Suarez once wrote that “Joseph’s decision to ‘receive’ Mary and to celebrate the wedding had an irrevocable character.”
Irrevocable! It could not be undone! It was permanent!
This meant that Saint Joseph now had to “follow through to the end, without ever considering the possibility of turning back,” or “retracing steps he had already taken, or of taking any alternative way.”
This was, for Saint Joseph, the climactic decision — it was the unconditional surrender of his life to the service of God — a total consecration to Mary and to the Child who was already on his way.
In a sense, this moment contained all moments for Joseph. It was the defining turn of his will that now echoes throughout eternity.
For us here and now — This decision of Saint Joseph is a beautiful and clear reminder of something so important… Something so fundamental about the dignity we’ve been given by God:
We have the ability to make real, permanent, eternal decisions, too.
We can make commitments that echo through eternity…
I wonder… Have we forgotten that human beings have this incredible power? Have we become skeptical of it?
I mean let’s face it — we’ve seen so many glaring failures. So many broken commitments and betrayals. We’ve experienced the intense pain of so many broken promises. Friends and family haven’t kept their word. Priests have deserted their parishes. Marriages have crumbled. People we thought would be with us through thick and thin have turned their backs on us and run away…
Under the weight of so much human failure — I wonder…
Do we even believe that permanent commitments are still possible?
I’m not trying to shame anyone. This is all really hard stuff. Scary stuff. I can speak for myself — when 2 out of 3 priests in one of our recent ordination class have left active ministry, I’ve wondered: “Can I really last? Can I hold true? Can I actually make good on my promises?”
This Mass marks the end of our RCIA Retreat — and we are grateful to have so many elect and candidates actively preparing to enter the Church at Easter and Pentecost. But let’s be real… Maybe some of you have wondered: “After my Baptism — After my confirmation — will I stick with this to the end? Will I be able to be faithful to God until the moment of my death? Can I really say ‘yes’ for that long…?”
We’re also blessed to be welcoming members from the William and Mary Catholic Campus Ministry today — It’s AWESOME to see young people like you actively engaged in your faith. But maybe some of you have wondered: “What happens after graduation? What happens when I don’t have my campus ministry community to support me, my small group to encourage me to follow Jesus? Will I be able to stay true to the Lord?”
These are really good, honest questions.
And it’s questions like these that make St. Joseph such a pivotal role model for each one of us today —
Because here is a man who took his commitments dead seriously, and held true to them in the face of real pain and real suffering. Here is a man who never set Mary and Jesus down — no matter what the price.
It seems to me that St. Joseph has been raised up at this particular moment in history to remind us — to help us all reclaim the glorious fact that we really can make permanent commitments.
Because here’s the deal:
Making REAL choices that ACTUALLY MATTER and that LIMIT us, decisions that place RESTRICTIONS on how the rest of our life unfolds is a crucial part of the thrill of Christianity!
It’s at the HEART of following Christ! Of depending completely on His grace moment to moment!
Every choice for something is a choice against everything else! It’s a cutting off, a sundering — a division! Left or right. Yes or no. Heads or tails. Make the call before the coin falls… You have limited time to make your decision. Everything hangs in the balance!
Far from paralyzing us in fear, this situation we all find ourselves in should fill us with a sort of holy excitement and sober determination.
Because our choices actually matter!
They are not meaningless or absurd! They carry WEIGHT… eternal weight! What a responsibility! What a privilege!
GK Chesterton once said that when you choose to follow Jesus, “you will have real obligations, and therefore real adventures.”
So I ask you:
Do you want REAL ADVENTURE?
If so, then I invite you to join St. Joseph — join all the angels and saints — and make a conscious choice to accept Mary and Jesus into your home, and into your life. Reject and renounce the empty flakiness of our fallen world! Reject and renounce this demonic fear of decision!
Instead — hand yourself over — commit yourself once and for all — to the perfect and liberating Will of God!
Because the beautiful reality is this:
God is absolutely committed to us. He’s in this for the long haul. He’s not going to back out or change his mind. He is NOT going to abandon us!
Our first reading from the second book of Samuel made that clear enough, when the Lord speaks to the prophet Nathan, saying:
“Go, tell my servant David,
‘When your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his kingdom firm.”
His Kingdom will be FIRM — not wishy-washy. Not flakey. FIRM. And more than just firm…. God is going to make this kingdom permanent! — The Lord says it Himself: “I will make his royal throne firm forever.”
This permanent, everlasting throne is the Davidic throne that Jesus ultimately accepted as the Son of David — who, as our Psalm put it today — “will live for ever.”
Jesus is alive, and He lives forever. He is committed to his glorious, risen life forever. Committed to reigning in Heaven — True God and True Man — for the rest of eternity. He’s not changing his mind. It’s locked in. His love for you is totally committed.
He will never set us down.
The question now is:
Will we set Him down?
When life gets busy? When we have big plans? When relationships are threatened? When we have concerns or questions about our faith? When prayer gets dry and difficult? When God seems to be absent…?
My encouragement to you, when anything like that happens, is to go to Joseph. Ask him for the strength and the courage to persevere.
I’ll leave you with this image to ponder:
It’s Christmas night. Imagine Joseph as he first takes Jesus into his arm — picture him as he lifts baby Jesus up for the very first time, and looks God right in the eye. (He may very well have been the FIRST person to do that, by the way…)
In that moment, I imagine Joseph praised and thanked God with all his heart mind and soul:
“Lord, thank you so much that I wasn’t too afraid to take Mary into my home. Thank you so much that I wasn’t too paralyzed or ashamed to take care of her, to help her, to guard her, to defend her and this child. Thank you so much, God, that I had faith enough to make that choice and persevere by Your grace. Because if I hadn’t — if I had resisted You —
I wouldn’t be here right now! I wouldn’t be holding Jesus, my Lord and somehow also my son. I promise, Lord — from this moment onward:
“I will never set Him down.”