TEXT: Third Sunday of Advent, December 17, 2023

December 17, 2023 Father De Celles Homily

Third Sunday of Advent                                                             

December 17, 2023

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

For the second Sunday in a row the gospel reading is about St. John the Baptist.

John is one of the greatest figures in the Scriptures,

given the office of being the prophet

sent to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus into public life.

In fact, Jesus tells us elsewhere that,

         “Among those born of women none is greater than John.”

Now, when Jesus says that, he’s actually using a little hyperbole,

innocent exaggeration, to emphasize how important John is.

After all, as John himself tells us today,

“There is…one who is coming after me,

whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

John is great because he has a great responsibility

to prepare the way of the one who is even greater, Jesus, into public life.

But before John came on the scene there were two others

who the Church believes were even greater than John

because they had an even greater responsibility

to prepare the way of the Lord into the world.

The greatest would actually be the Blessed Mother, Mary.

And after her is the third great figure sent to prepare the way of the Lord—St. Joseph.


We don’t know a lot about St. Joseph, but from Scripture and tradition,

and centuries of study, reasoning, and debate,

we can piece together a pretty good picture of him.

Scripture tells us he was a descendant of David

who lived at various times in Nazareth and Bethlehem.

We know he was a carpenter—not dirt poor,

but a working man in the days when there was no real “middle class.”

Some say he was an old man when he married Mary;

some even say he was a widower with children.

But most theologians have, for centuries, concluded he was a young man,

         strong enough to work hard to provide a decent living

for Mary and Jesus.

And he had to be young and strong enough to protect and provide for them

as they fled from Herod, traveling all the way to Egypt and back again.

Plus, Scripture indicates he lived well past Jesus’s twelfth birthday.

So, he was probably a young man, many guess about twenty years old.

This leads us to something else very important that we know about him:

He was the husband of Mary.

Some wonder if he really was a true husband to Mary.

After all, the Church teaches infallibly that Mary was a perpetual virgin:

         She and Joseph never physically consummated the marriage,

and so they say, “How can that be a real marriage?”

In fact, for centuries, after concluding that Joseph

was not an old widower with children,

most theologians have concluded that Joseph himself

was also a perpetual virgin,

and the Church seems to imply or assume this as official teaching.

So, was it a real marriage?


Following St. Augustine in the fourth century and St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth,

         the Church teaches Mary and Joseph were truly married,

even before the Annunciation.

Augustine points out how Scripture insists that they are married.

St. Luke and St. Matthew both specifically call them “husband” and “wife,”

         as does the Angel Gabriel himself.

The thing is, physical intimacy is not the key to marriage

—it is only one expression of the self-gift of marriage,

albeit an important and beautiful one.

But as Jesus Himself tells us, in heaven it’s not that way.

In heaven, married couples will love, He says, “like the angels,”

and angels have no bodies.

Marriage is about total mutual self-gift,

and Mary and Joseph truly gave themselves totally to each other.

Some ask, “But doesn’t marriage have to be open to the gift of children?”

Yes, it does.

And the marriage of Mary and Joseph was open to the gift of children:

They cooperated with God and His specific and unique plan for them

to receive the gift of the Baby Jesus.

Just as Mary received Jesus in her womb as a virgin,

         so did Joseph receive Jesus into his family as a virgin.


And so we come to the most important fact we know about Joseph:

He was the father of Jesus.

Clearly not in the same way that God the Father was the Father of Jesus–

God is the natural and eternal father of Jesus.

But in some real way, we do say that Joseph is a true father to Jesus.

A little bit like an adoptive father, but also very different from that

—much more like and equal to a natural father,

not adopting through another set of parents,

but receiving Jesus directly from God

into his marriage as husband of Mary.

Not cooperating with God through any fatherly physical act or aspect

of producing a child,

         but cooperating with God through the fatherly moral act

of receiving a child.

So Augustine points out, again, that while

Scripture makes it clear that Mary miraculously conceived Jesus as a virgin

and that God is directly His Father,

Scripture also specifically calls Joseph His “father”.

The angel Gabriel insists on this, as do St. Luke and St. Matthew.

And most importantly, Mary herself does,

telling the twelve-year-old Jesus when she and Joseph find him in the temple,

“Think, what anguish of mind your father and I have endured,

searching for you…”

And so, the Church teaches that while

God is truly and directly the natural and eternal father of Jesus,

         Joseph in some way, in God’s will, is also truly a father to Jesus.


Given all that, we know something else about St. Joseph.

St. Luke tells us that he was a “just man”.

To be “just”, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, is

“to give each person what is due to them.”

What is due to God is to love Him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength,

and what is due to our neighbor is to love him as yourself,

and even to love him as Jesus has loved us.

So, this is St. Joseph, the truly just man

who loved God totally and loved his neighbor completely.

Even though St. Joseph was conceived with original sin like all of us,

except for Jesus and Mary,

and so was internally tempted by the confusion of soul

that we call concupiscence,

over the centuries the Church has commonly taught

that he never committed either mortal sin or a deliberate venial sin.

Beyond that, many great saints and theologians have concluded

that he never committed even an indeliberate venial sin.

And many have even concluded that he was actually purified from original sin,

essentially receiving the grace of baptism while still in his mother’s womb.

And so, we see the prayer of St. Paul in today’s second reading already fulfilled

in St. Joseph:

“May the God of peace make you perfectly holy

and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body,

be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”


So this is St. Joseph, the man who God entrusted with His principle treasures,

His Son, Jesus, and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Son of David, a young, strong carpenter, virginal husband and father,

and just man.

And so, the Church teaches that

while Mary is incomparable in her greatness before God and man,

St. Joseph follows close after her,

above John the Baptist, and even above the angels themselves.

As St. John Paul II wrote in 1989,

“There can be no doubt but that Joseph

approached as no other person ever could

that eminent dignity whereby the Mother of God

towers above all creatures.”

And so, perhaps we see something of a prophesy of Joseph and Mary

in the words of today’s first reading from Isaiah:

“He has…wrapped me in a mantle of justice,

like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,

like a bride bedecked with her jewels.”


This is the St. Joseph who prepared the way of the Lord,

especially in the last days before His birth,

and who we should entrust ourselves to in a special way

in these last days before we celebrate the Lord’s birth.

Imagine what Joseph was doing seven days before the first Christmas.

Imagine him just about ready to set out with Mary

on his journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem

—or perhaps they had already started.

Imagine the careful preparation Joseph would have made,

busily packing all their necessities,

arranging for a donkey for Mary to ride on,

and closing down his carpenter shop.

And then imagine his natural wariness as he gently and tenderly

cared for Mary and her unborn child,

without any concern for his own safety or well-being or comfort,

         as they traversed the unpaved rocky roads

up and down through the hills and valleys,

winding around bends, narrowly skirting cliffs,

wading through deep or violent streams,

assaulted by the cold wind, rain, and snow of December.

Imagine how he arrived in Bethlehem,

and then anxiously but patiently went from door to door, inn to inn,

perhaps even house to house,

begging for a room, a space, a corner

where his young wife could rest and soon give birth.

Then, in finding the stable,

imagine how he quickly and vigorously cleaned the stalls and the manger

of all the muck and waste, brought in fresh hay, and lit a warm fire.

And then, imagine how he stood guard, waiting with profound anticipation,

with, as we say, great “expectant joy,”

for the birth of the Savior of the World, their baby, Jesus.

And imagine his ultimate joy when, at last, He came.


In these last days of Advent, let us walk and prepare and wait

with the great St. Joseph.

Like Joseph on the road to Bethlehem,

in the ups and downs, twists and turns, storms and floods,

temptations and graces, joys and sorrows of our lives,

let us walk with him in purity and holiness,

filled with faith, hope, and, above all, charity,

expressed in patience, kindness, and generosity.

As we go from door to door, house to house, store to store, this week,

let us make Joseph our constant companion,

remembering that, like him, our goal is not some selfish gain or comfort,

but to give ourselves in loving service of Jesus.

And as we prepare our souls to be worthy to receive Our Lord on Christmas Day,

let us ask Joseph to help us to clean all the muck and filth,

all the sin and malice, from our hearts.

And as we wait with profound anticipation,

let us think of Joseph’s tender and faithful fatherly heart,

and open our hearts with him

to receive the greatest joy ever given to man—Jesus Christ the Lord!


Praised be Jesus Christ….

St. Joseph….