Stand up for what is just” Rosemary O’Connor & Patrick Sullivan

Stand up for what is just”                              Reflection for 4th Sunday of Advent

In this Sunday’s Gospel we hear of the difficult predicament Joseph finds himself in when he learns that Mary is pregnant. In the Jewish tradition there were three stages to getting married. First there was the engagement, then there was the betrothal, which was a very serious commitment and considered the first phase of the marriage and then finally the marriage itself. For a man to discover that the woman he was betrothed to was pregnant was a very serious issue and tantamount to adultery.

Joseph however was a very fair and just man; he knew he needed to take action however he decided to discreetly break off his relationship with Mary in order to save her from a terrible punishment. Joseph’s sense of justice is evident in how he was prepared to take a stand against the norms and laws of the time which would have dictated that Mary receive a suitable punishment for her assumed crime; in the culture and laws of the time a woman convicted of adultery would most likely be stoned to death.

When the angel appeared to Joseph to explain that Mary was carrying the son of God Joseph entered fully into the mystery of God and married Mary. In doing this he shows himself to be a man of great faith not only in God but also in people; despite initially thinking that he might have been betrayed by Mary he was still prepared to do the best he could by her. Joseph had no desire to see Mary suffer regardless of how he felt himself.

Joseph provides us with a good role model for standing up for what is just, regardless of what the local norms and culture tells us.

I was privileged to participate in a field visit to Honduras recently with Trócaire. Honduras is the focus of Trócaire’s Lenten campaign for 2017. The poverty in which the majority of Honduran people live becomes evident very quickly when you travel through the country. 64% of Honduran people live on less than €2 per day. Corruption is rife throughout the country. Human rights, resource rights and land rights are violated on a regular basis.

One of the statistics given to us in Honduras however remains ingrained in my mind; 9 out of 10 women in Honduras have suffered some form of physical violence. Gender based violence is a very serious issue in Honduras, and unfortunately many other countries. Its roots are cited as being cultural; a culture that has managed to perpetuate itself over many generations without being challenged. I was deeply moved by the Honduran women; their courage, their resilience, their desire for a different future for their children. I was greatly inspired by the work that Trócaire is doing, working with local community partners providing leadership training, legal support and empowering local women to find their voice and stand up for what is just. They are slowly, slowly turning the tide on gender based violence. Women are being empowered; young girls and boys are being educated to recognise that the norms and culture they have been operating in needs to be challenged. These women remind me of Joseph in this Sunday’s Gospel; they are women of great faith and they too recognise that the way things are usually done is not always the just way. Sometimes we need to step outside of the norm and find a way that is fairer and more just for everyone. We have a lot to learn from the women of Honduras.

As we enter into these last days before Christmas, a time of joyful celebration and giving, a time of plenty for many of us, we might stop to think about where we can stand up for what is just. Not everyone in our world, in our country or indeed in our community will be looking forward to a time of plenty. Let us resolve that 2017 will be a year where we will stand up and speak up for what is just. We too can play our part in turning the tide of injustice.

Wishing you all the blessings of this Christmas season.