A Vincentian View: The Fiat of St. Joseph

by | Mar 3, 2021 | Formation, Reflections

When I have taught the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), I have mentioned that there are two Annunciation stories in the New Testament.  Oftentimes, this can give my hearers pause.  They can only identify the one that involves Mary, and do not connect the idea with Joseph.  Yet, at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, the experience of this holy man can also be deserving of the description “Annunciation.”  Like Mary, Joseph receives an angelic visitor (in a dream).  The heavenly messenger tells him that the infant within Mary comes through the Holy Spirit and he must name the child “Jesus.”  Joseph receives the same basic and wondrous information as Mary had received, though in a different medium.  I have been comfortable and confident in this assertion.  Yet, I clearly missed something.

In his encyclical letter, Patris Corde (“With a Father’s Heart”), Pope Francis writes about St. Joseph and among the striking things that the Holy Father says is:

In every situation, Joseph declared his own “fiat,” like those of Mary at the Annunciation and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. (PC 3)

Joseph’s fiat!  Once said, it is so clear and appropriate.  “Fiat” is the Latin word that means “let it be done.” This statement captures Mary’s emphatic “Yes” to the angel.

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.  (Lk 1:38)

The word has entered English from that context. Yes, Mary’s fiat receives a clear verbal expression as she surrenders herself to the will of God.  We can also recognize the way in which Jesus turns over his own will to that of the Father in the Agony in the Garden:

Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.”  (Lk 22:42)

Again the surrender of self to the intention of the Father—Jesus’ fiat.  How surprising should it be that the third member of the Holy Family should take this attitude?

When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.  (Mt 1:24)

The fiat of Mary and Jesus receives verbal expression followed by a physical one; that of Joseph proceeds wordlessly as he immediately expresses his “fiat” in action as the angel had instructed.

With Mary’s fiat, she becomes pregnant with Jesus and begins her role as his mother.  With Jesus’ fiat, he walks the way of the cross.  With Joseph, the fiat achieves powerful expression in obedience, in protection and education, in love and companionship.  Looking back, I can chide myself for not recognizing the appropriateness of this word and concept in the life of Joseph.  Thank you, Pope Francis!

A little consideration can also allow us to see the meaning and expression of this word in the life of Vincent and Louise.

“Let us be submissive to Providence, He will see to our affairs in His own time and in His own way” (VdP, CCD 3, 449)

And, again.

We cannot better assure our eternal happiness than by living and dying in the service of the poor, in the arms of Providence, and with genuine renouncement of ourselves in order to follow Jesus Christ. (VdP, CCD 3, 384)