Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Thursday, September 8, 2022, 23rd Week of Ordinary Time, Year CII
by Fr. David M. Knight
View readings for today: Micah 5:1-4 or Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 1:18-23
A true story:
There was a young couple, deeply in love, engaged to be married. But before the wedding date the bride-to-be learned of a job offering that had just become available.
As soon as she heard of it, she knew it was the perfect job for her. She felt that everything she was made her the perfect person to do it; that everything in her life had prepared her for it. And it was a job in which she could do great good for the world.
There were two conditions attached: first, you had to be married. No problem, she would be married before it was time to start. Second, you could not have children if you took the job; the work precluded them. That was a huge problem. In Catholic theology, a marriage is not valid if one or both of the parties does not accept to have children, ever.
She prayed deeply over the offer. Finally she went to her fiancé and told him about it.
“I think I need to apply,” she said. “I just feel in my heart that God made me for this work and is calling me to it. I have to apply.
“When I do I will tell them I am engaged. But since we can’t get married without being open to children, if they accept me I will tell them that I had to call off the engagement. I can see that having children is ruled out by the nature of the work. But I will ask them to make an exception about the marriage requirement and let me take the job as a single woman.”
She knew what this meant — both for her and for her fiancé. It would crush him. It was already crushing her. But she felt she had to do it.
“It won’t work,” her fiancé said. “They will never accept you.”
“I think you are right,” she answered. “But I have to try.”
He agreed. He didn’t have much choice. When he left her he went off by himself to pray. As he did, he realized he was praying that they would reject her; that they would not make an exception about the marriage clause. Then she would be his.
As he prayed, it dawned on him that he was being selfish. He knew she was perfect for the job. He knew that she could and would do more good for people through it than anyone could possibly imagine. But he wanted her for himself. Even if it meant she would never do the work they both felt sure she was called to do.
He felt he should pray that they would accept her after all.
“But it’s crazy,” he thought. “No single woman could possibly survive in the situations she will be in. There is no way they can make an exception.”
Then the thought struck him: “What if I marry her, but agree that we will never have sexual relations!” Illogical or not, the Church recognizes that as a valid marriage. There are even precedents for it in Church history: the so-called “white marriages” in which for spiritual reasons, ill-advised though they may have been, a married couple committed themselves to life-long sexual abstinence.
He made up his mind. And although it broke his heart, he was a peace with it. He went back to his fiancée and said, “Let’s get married. We will be husband and wife, but we will live together as brother and sister. No one will ever know it. And you will get the job.”
She said, “Do you think we can do this? You love me, and I love you. We are going to be traveling together, sometimes sleeping in the same bed. Do you think this is possible? For either of us?”
“No,” he said. “It is not humanly possible. But if this job is what God is calling you to, and this is the only way we can do it, he will make it possible. To say we can’t do it would be a cop-out. The only question is, are we willing to do it?”
They got married. They lived together for years, until he died. And they never had sex together. That is the Gospel truth.
It is today’s Gospel.
Do I understand the story? Why Mary had to be married? Why she and Joseph could never have children together? (Joseph was calling off the marriage, not because he suspected Mary — she told him the truth — but out of awe and respect for God. If God had chosen his bride to be the Mother of God’s own Son, there was nothing any devout Jew could do but withdraw. God told him not to fear. God wanted Joseph to be Mary’s husband; just not the father of her unique child. Jesus, as “only Son of the Father,” also had to be the “only Son” of Mary).
Be like Joseph, the “faithful and prudent manager whom the Lord has put in charge of his household” (see Luke 12:42, applied to Joseph in the Entrance Antiphon for March 19, feast of Joseph, Husband of Mary). Be a faithful steward: Don’t let any fear hold you back from doing anything God wants you to do.
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry