Advent Reflection: Sunday of the Fourth Week of Advent

His name is Jesus, but all His friends know Him as Emmanuel!

This section of Matthew’s gospel is rich in helping us understand Jesus and his Holy Family. The first element that jumps out is Joseph’s description as “just” when finding out that Mary is with child. The Greek word for “just” indicates “faithfulness to the law.” Joseph could have insisted Mary be stoned to death, but he wished to separate from her in “private.” His faithful following of the law but kindness toward Mary suggest what must have been a difficult struggle for him. One can only imagine the internal dialogue: “The law says this, yet my heart says I love her and respect her…what do I do?”

Joseph’s strong desire to follow the “rules” while being compassionate, kind, and respectful is something we at Catholic Charities can understand. Society blames our clients for needing our services, and accuses them of working the system or coming here illegally or not following the rules, all in the name of “justice.” However, we see in our agencies’ staff and volunteers the same compassion that Joseph extended to Mary. They accept each person as they are, without blame, without accusations, and with compassion and care. Like Joseph, they model what it means to be truly just. Justice is about balancing compassion and care for each person in their individual situations, along with respect for the guidance and needs of the larger community.

Further into this passage, we see the guidance about naming this most special child. His name is to be Jesus — literally Yah (Lord) Saves – but he is known as “Emmanuel,” literally “God is with us.” Each of us, like Jesus, is given a name upon our birth. Yet we often come to be known as something besides just a name. “Emmanuel” indicates that our loving God is known as among, with, around, and beside each of us.

As I look at Catholic Charities, I can confidently say that I work with people who are truly known as companion, friend, confidant, dedicated, and empathic – among a host of other fitting titles! What a team it is. We may be named Catholic Charities, but across this nation are known as effective, impactful, and generous because of our love and commitment to just and compassionate service with those most in need. This is something to be thankful for during Advent: to serve in solidarity with such a just and compassionate team.

Fr. Ragan Shriver is Associate Professor of Practice and Director of the MSSW program at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, and Special Assistant to the President for Strategic Integration at Catholic Charities USA.

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