Solemnity of St. Joseph
Scripture Readings: 2 Sam 7:4-5a, 12-14a; Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22; Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a
Joseph’s obedience and fidelity are indeed remarkable. What is remarkable about him is the freedom he had: he was called to do counter-intuitive things and he wanted to do them. In other words, like Elijah, Joseph trusted mystery when the usual order of things didn’t happen. His trust ran that deep. It is called “faith.”
We have to wonder, “How had Joseph been living up to that point that prepared him to make these decisions?” Joseph was an Israelite. He exemplified Israel’s religious consciousness: he was sensitive to God’s presence and he was devoted to the Exodus experience and the ideals arising from it. This was the God-given Israelite sense of importance.
This sense of importance was summed up by a prayer he recited twice every day. The prayer was the Shema. “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” This prayer was a statement of Israel’s determination to live in fidelity to the covenant. It was acknowledgement of a responsibility to preserve what had been revealed to them. Most of all it was a reminder of what God had done for them as a people: of his saving power. It was a pondering on the Truth. The Greek word for truth is aletheia which means “stop forgetting.” To forget is to cease to care. This tells us two things about Joseph and his response: 1) Joseph “was a righteous man.” That means his sense of importance—of caring—was guided by the True Good. The Good is the cause of all causes. The true good that guided him was not just personally satisfying; it was good-in-itself and he changed himself to suit it. The true good is the presence of God. Praying the Shema at morning and evening made him mindful of the presence of God in his life all day long. 2) This mindfulness of the good made him part of a community and the story the community lived out. By preferring the common good he became a man willing to inconvenience himself for the sake of others. That’s a way of living out importance, of caring. So when the angel told him to take Mary for his wife, the motive he responded to was that the baby “will save his people from their sins.” In short, Joseph regarded the common good as more important than his private good. A common good is a good in which many people can share without diminishing it. It is things like peace and fraternal charity. A private good is just for self and using it makes it unavailable for others.
The inner life of our Trinitarian God consists in the common good. God is goodness. He is love. He is about seeking the good of others for the others own sake. Our likeness to Him consists in participating in that service of the common good. That is our highest good. But the self-centeredness of Original Sin is an obstacle to that.
Joseph’s sense of importance that leads him to prefer the common good, sometimes at the expense of his private good, constitutes his faith. His faith, thus shown and known, makes Joseph the patron of the universal church. The church’s mission is to make the Triune God known. A principal way it does that is by teaching us St. Joseph’s sense of importance.
Mindfulness of the good, story, and community are points of contact between Joseph’s way of life and our monastic life today. They are attributions of importance. If we are to grow in the image and likeness of our Creator it will only occur if we freely submit to a profound change of mind and heart that allows us to guide our behavior according to the common good. It must be what matters most. We call it “dying to self.”
Benedict calls this mindfulness “truly seeking God” The preference for the common good he calls “Reverence.” Together he calls them “Good Zeal.” He concludes his rule by stressing its importance. It is our manifestation of faith. This sense of importance separates us from the world. Under the patronage of St. Joseph, it forms us as a community.
Solemnity of St. Joseph
Scripture Readings: 2 Sam 7:4-5, 12-16; Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22; Mt 1:16-24a
Greatness is sometimes hidden in humble packages. Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was four years old, and couldn’t read until he was seven. His teacher called him “mentally slow and adrift in foolish dreams.” The famous French sculptor, Rodin, who carved that great work of art called “The Thinker,” was described by his father as an idiot. Three times he failed to gain admittance into art school. Beethoven’s teacher said he was “hopeless” as a composer. Winston Churchill suffered a lifetime of setbacks starting when he failed sixth grade. Rudyard Kipling was rejected by the San Francisco Examiner with the comment, “You just don’t know how to use the English language.” Like all of these so-called “losers” who went on to stunning success, St. Joseph looked like loser when he was shocked by Mary’s pregnancy, and later when he had to flee from his homeland with Mary and the child to become refugees in Egypt.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph were a family hardly worth noticing: an ordinary carpenter, a young wife, and a little child. But the boy was the Son of God, and Joseph’s wife was the Mother of God and Queen of the Universe, and Joseph himself was the guardian of God’s Son and of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.
Today we break the silence and fasting of Lent to celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph with a shout of joy. In the catacombs Joseph is painted as a young beardless man, hardly much older than Mary. To these two youngsters the Savior of the world was entrusted. And like Jesus they lived their lives in virginity and celibacy, following a path their neighbors would have ridiculed if they had known about it. But we know that within the humble package that formed the envelope of St. Joseph’s life on earth, there was a greatness from God that we will see in all its splendor in the kingdom of heaven.
And that is true for each one of us because we also have a greatness that is hidden in humble packages. What is our greatness? We are sharers in God’s own nature, in God’s divinity. That should make us begin each day with a shout of joy!
Solemnity of St. Joseph
[Scripture Readings: 2 Sam. 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16; Rom. 4:13-22; Mt. 1:16, 18-21, 24a]
Many years ago when I was in high school, we were taught to memorize poems. There is one by Longfellow that I remember: “Lives of great men all remind us that we can make our lives sublime. And departing leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.” One of my friends was thoughtful enough to put as his motto under his picture in the yearbook: “To leave a footprint in the sand of time.” I was jealous that I had not thought of that. Those aspirations are alive in days of youth, when we are deciding what we want to be when we grow up. But the desire “to make a difference with our lives” is something that fuels the energies of most of us. We need to believe that what we are doing is contributing to some greater meaning, that we are participating in some reality greater than ourselves. Our sense of inner worth grows with our commitments to values and goals, even if we never see them come to the development we had hoped for. We may not invest ourselves in creating a dynasty that will last forever, from age to age. But we want to have some impact, leave some legacy even if it is “to make the world a better place.”
St. Joseph has been entrusted with many “sponsorships” by the Church. He is patron of the Universal Church, patron of a Happy Death, patron of selling your house if you bury his statue upside down in your yard. I would like to add another: “Patron of Those Coping with the Unexpected.” The little we know of him all seems to occur within contexts of having to deal and cope with what could not have been foreseen. He is a man portrayed by Matthew as just and upright. He has more than fulfilled the demands of the Covenant, lived a life of integrity which could lead him to expect confirmation of the promises made to the People of Israel. But suddenly his life was shattered by the unexpected infidelity of his wife. He showed himself to be more than “righteous.” He treated Mary in a deeply human, loving, and respectful manner. He had decided to divorce her quietly and not expose her to shame. His righteousness exceeded that of the Scribes and Pharisees. He was willing to conquer evil with good, to meet infidelity with patience and non-retaliation.
In the midst of this personal agony, he received the word from God: Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your house. At the meeting point of his personal loss and religious belief, he was asked to go beyond all that he had known, to step beyond the structures of religious conviction and human longing. What had been “unheard of”, Joseph hears. The call or annunciation is made to his freedom and the answer has to be forged from within a knowing that had been formed from an experience of God in his life. His righteousness was not something which “protected” him from God and his will. It was a standing openly in the sight of God, a relation which is alive and open to what God might ask. However unexpected.
It is a risky and uncertain life that is lived on the basis of a promise. But real faith understands that its origins are in a gift, in a word that stretches us into the future. It can afford the disappointment of not seeing its realization, its achievement. What has been unheard of now becomes a call, a vocation. It exceeds understanding and takes us where we would not and could not go on our own. We are summoned to a displacement of our ego concerns, to a dispossession from imagining we own our own lives. Richard Rohr has itemized five “thresholds of consciousness” that must be accepted in the process of initiation. I think Joseph must have passed through these. And we must pass through these if we are to participate in the “unfolding of the mysteries of human salvation” (Prayer for the Mass).
Life is hard
Your life is not about you.
You are not important.
You are not in control.
Your are going to die.
Those who allow the mysteries of human salvation to unfold in their lives can rejoice that they are released from the burdens of living front stage and center. Our lives are participating in a work that God is unfolding in surprising, shocking, and shattering ways. It is sometimes precisely in moments of chaos and when we are asked to make decisive choices that we come to a new knowledge of God, when we know God as He is and not simply as we would like him to be. The unfolding of the mysteries of human salvation is the unfolding of God's legacy, of what He has entrusted to those who are willing to be stewards of the grace and gift He has given in and through his Son.
Joseph was the husband and steward whose love and care were unique revelations and manifestations of the love and care with which God unceasingly leads the whole Body of Christ. We share in that legacy by our generous service and sacrifice as stewards of the New Creation, as stewards of the mysteries of Christ.
Solemnity of St. Joseph
[Scripture Readings: 2 Sam 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16; Rom 4:13-22; Mt 1:16, 18-21,24a]
I have been reading a book by Haynes Johnson in which he describes the great obsession in our country with “celebrities.” Various forms of the media have prospered in the self-generating business of insisting that we must give our attention to a parade of characters from the world of sports, entertainment, politics, or crime. Even news broadcasters are now celebrities. The status of being a celebrity is a function of the ability to create a sensation and receive at least fifteen minutes of fame.
The saints, and particularly the saint we commemorate today, are “anti-celebrities.” They live in obscurity, in the shadows, or are scorned as trouble-makers and weirdos who can't stay in the lines of what is normal and reasonable. They are certainly not newsworthy. St. Joseph almost fell totally off the news radar even in the New Testament: only Matthew gives him much notice and the other gospels seem to refer to him obliquely and in passing, “the carpenter's son.”
But I think Joseph has much to tell us about the Christian Mystery and the way it unfolds in human history and life. The Joseph of history is a model for the “Joseph” inside each of us. The “Joseph” who is confronted with conflicts and confusion that seem to squeeze every drop of integrity out of us. The “Joseph” who is called to enter into a living sacrifice of all that he could have justly and rightly expected and live from the bread of hope and promise. I would like to reflect on three ways that the story of Joseph can speak to our own faith experience.
First, Joseph is a “man of the margins.” He gets pushed off to the side, to the shadows. He is described as the man in whom the Old Covenant finds its fulfillment and termination and helps open the path into the New — without, it appears, really being a member of it. He is the just and righteous man, who shows that his justice exceeds that of the Pharisees in his choice to “divorce Mary quietly.” As a man of dreams, he lives in awareness of the irruptions that can come from the unconscious. He is a man of “porous boundaries” where different forces and energies can meet and mix in creative and unexpected ways. Times of chaos, disruption, deconstruction summon courage and loyalty, not resentment or despair. It is often in these shattering moments that God is most present, that we know God as He is and not as we want Him to be. These are times of dispossession and loss when we rediscover ourselves as stewards, not owners. Joseph was called to be a steward of his new family, to care and provide for them, to experience a level of generative being in which he could afford to lose himself in meeting the needs of others.
Secondly, he is a “man of silence.” Not because he has nothing to say. But because he is attuned to the mystery of God which has intervened in his life, a mystery which precedes all verbalization and concepts, a mystery which supersedes the constructions of life we erect through language and speech. He had no theology of the Trinity to make comprehensible the message that Mary had conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. His is a silence of fullness, a silence which is bold enough to let fall away the meaning and relationships that keep us from knowing the question that death puts to us, the vocation that is given to us alone. It is a silence which sees through the roles that give us importance and , perhaps, fifteen minutes of fame. It is a silence which is the renunciation of his own self-will
St. Paul reminds us today that righteousness comes from faith. It comes from trust and confidence in God's on-going care for His creation and for each of us as individuals and as members of a faith community. He gives Abraham as a prime example of that. The gospel of Matthew tells us that Joseph inherited Abraham's faith; that he, too, was a righteous man; a man of confidence in God's care. When we read the story in today's gospel of his trust in God and reflect on his trust after the birth of Christ when he and Mary fled into Egypt we see an example of remarkable consistency under very unusual and difficult circumstances. This is not the story of a man who pulls faith out of thin air in tough situations. Nor is it a story of a man who has managed cleverly. These are stories of a man who has a history of abandoning himself to God. This is an example of fidelity to an order established by God that is not given in the form of a law, but in the circumstances of the present moment. It is this receptivity, this fidelity, this abandonment to the will of God that constituted the whole sanctity of St. Joseph, that made him the husband of Mary, the Mother of God, and patron saint of the Roman Catholic Church.
As patron of the Church, he is a model to us of self-abandonment, of a simple, three-fold approach to the following of Christ set down by Jean-Pierre de Caussade. The first is fidelity to the duties of one's state in life. We see this in the fact that we know so little else about Joseph's life. It was apparently spent just doing what a husband, father, carpenter, and community member does from day-to-day. Jesus spent most of His life following that example. The second is confidence that what God allows or sends into our lives from moment-to-moment is for our good and sanctification. Jesus followed that example, too. Third was his receptivity to the inspirations God sent him through His angels and in dreams. This must be the fruit of the confidence that Joseph developed from day-to-day so that, when the angel appeared, he was ready.
The gospels tell us about the Passion of Joseph; his passive receptivity of God's will for him. His faith must have grown from his practice of what we monks would call the fourth step of humility. Under difficult and even unjust circumstances he endured for the sake of something greater than himself. He did not see where all the events he experienced were leading him.
In other words, Joseph is a model of patience, faith, and love and thereby patron saint of the Church. As a patient man, Joseph waited. A man waits on something that has affected him, on what he cares about, on what is important to him, on what he loves. This thing he waits on has meaning to him and gives meaning to his life. Today the Church calls us to imitate Joseph in his faith and patience, motivated by love. It will give meaning to our lives.
Solemnity of St. Joseph
[Scripture Readings: 2 Sam 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16; Rom 4:13-22; Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a]
Saint Joseph is a good example for monks, especially those working at Trappist Caskets. Joseph worked as a carpenter, and not a single word of his is recorded. He prayed, listening for God and then responding in faith. In faith, he took Mary into his home. In faith, he fled to Egypt.
What we do is not as important as who we are. Scripture tells us four aspects of who Joseph is:
1. Joseph is a righteous man, one who fears God and walks in His ways.
2. Joseph is Son of David, born of the loins of David, of his flesh and blood. Joseph’s role as foster-father makes Jesus also the Son of David.
3. Joseph is Husband of Mary, loving with perfect chastity the ever-Virgin Mother of God.
4. And, Joseph is the foster-father of the Son of God, receiving obedience and honor from the Divine Word made flesh.
As we work quietly and faithfully, we must remember who we are:
1. Children of flesh and blood, but adopted into God’s family and promised a heavenly inheritance
if only we walk in God’s ways.
2. Spirit filled people, prompted by the Holy Spirit and called to follow this guidance.
3. Members of the Body of Christ, becoming, more and more over time, more and more perfectly what we eat, the living Flesh and Blood of Jesus, called to share Jesus’ love for God and neighbor.
Let us follow the example of St Joseph, growing in love for those around us without letting that love grow cold. Let us be patient, watch for, and encourage others as they also grow more and more perfectly into members of the Body of Christ.
Joseph is patron of a happy death because he died a righteous man, faithful in love, with Mary and Jesus by his side. If we stay close to Mary and Jesus, we will grow love of God and neighbor, more and more becoming righteous. We can hope for a peaceful death, and eternal life with God and the Saints in heaven.
Solemnity of St. Joseph
[Scripture Readings: 2 Sam 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16; Rom 4:13-22; Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a]
Joseph’s obedience and fidelity are indeed remarkable. Now we know where Jesus got his ability to prefer the Father’s will to his own in Gethsemane. What is remarkable about both men is the freedom they had: they were called to do counter-intuitive things and both wanted to do them. Their trust ran that deep.
Earlier we recalled the Rich Man and Lazarus. We know how the Rich Man had been living, so in the case of Joseph we have to wonder, “How had he been living up to that point that allowed him to make these decisions?” Joseph was an Israelite. He lived, like most Israelites, by a prayer recited twice every day. The prayer was the Shema. “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” This prayer was a statement of Israel’s determination to live in fidelity to the covenant. It was acknowledgement of a responsibility to preserve what had been revealed to them. Most of all it was a reminder of what God had done for them as a people: of his saving power. It was a pondering on the Truth; the Greek word for truth is aletheia which means “stop forgetting.” To forget is to cease to care. This tells us two things about Joseph and his response: 1) Praying the Shema at morning and evening made him mindful of the presence of God in his life all day long, and 2) this mindfulness made him part of a community and the story that made the community.
Mindfulness, story, and community are points of contact between the Jewish spirituality that enabled Joseph to respond with such remarkable faith and obedience, and our monastic life today. If we are to grow in the image and likeness of our Creator it will only occur if we submit to a profound change of mind and heart that allows us to guide our behavior according to a progressive awareness of Truth. Without mindfulness our observances become mere adaptation: work becomes obsessive, Office becomes an interruption, and silence becomes an endurance contest.
Mindfulness is important to our separation from the world and our witness to it. The world that I left when I came here was very practically oriented. The practical always outweighed the meaningful. Looking good on the outside was more important than interiority. Interiority could always be escaped by television. The guiding principle of the practical was “comfort” and “convenience.” So it is not surprising that the modern form of atheism is “God exists…but it doesn’t matter.” In asking our monastic center associates to dress appropriately for choir we are encouraging mindfulness by passing on the monastic value of reverence. In reverence, the meaningful guides the practical. Reverence is preferred to comfort, because in reverence the other is always preferred to self. We show an understanding of God at the very simplest level: as something greater than self, for which it is worth inconveniencing self. In short, God matters; He matters most!
This mindfulness, then, drives the steps of humility that are the center of our Holy Rule. As Michael Casey1 points out, the first stage in mindfulness — like the first step of humility—is a fear of the Lord in which we take seriously the way we live our lives. We want to be sincere about living within the Ten Commandments, the Holy Rule, and the customs of this community. The second stage is making an active effort to extend our meditatio throughout the day so it can influence our actions and relationships. As with St. Joseph, the third stage is a transformation of one’s whole way of being in life and coming to live constantly in the presence of God. This constant listening to the voice of God constitutes living with a peaceful conscience. It is the purity of heart that is the goal of our way of life.
St. Joseph is the patron of the Church. He was exceptionally free to trust and obey God without question or demand. He lived in a community formed by a story. He lived in the truth they trusted. He and his community were always mindful of this truth: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words, which I enjoin on you today.
Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Take care not to forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.” (Deut 6:4-7, 12)
Solemnity of St. Joseph
[Scripture Readings: 2Sam. 7: 4-5a, 12-14a, 16; Rom. 4:13-22; Mt. 1: 16, 18-21, 24a]
One of the more obvious facts of our contemporary situation is that we exist in an environment formed by words. That may be so obvious that we seldom pay attention to it. We are bombarded with advertising claims. Political rhetoric will continue to be more than abundant through November and beyond. Talk shows are a popular form of entertainment. All of which encourages us to spend a lot of time talking with each other. There is no doubt in my mind that we need good communication; but do more words mean better communication? I think a good argument can be made for just the opposite. It seems to me that along with the increase in verbal communication there has been an accompanying skepticism in regard to what we hear and read.
Among the negative consequences of this skepticism in regard to words, in my mind the most serious consequence, is the tendency to carry that attitude over to God’s word. God’s word and his fidelity to his promises are the foundation for our faith and hope. To the extent that the contemporary situation undermines our confidence in words, it undermines our ability to believe and to hope.
Fortunately God’s word transcends our particular situation. We have the witness of God’s word and his fidelity to his word down through the centuries. We are members of the body of Christ and Christ’s body transcends time and geography. If we are willing to step out of the isolation of our individualism and accept our incorporation into the body of Christ, we need not be controlled by current attitudes toward speech.
This morning’s readings bring us the witness of Abraham. Everything contradicted God’s ability to fulfill his promise that Abraham would have an heir, yet Sarah gave birth to Isaac according to God’s word. Even so Abraham had to walk in faith believing that he would be the father of many nations and that his descendent would inherit the world. Joseph was challenged to accept God’s word that Mary’s pregnancy was the work of the Holy Spirit. And he would continue to be challenged to trust God’s word in fulfilling the responsibility God gave him to care for Mary and Jesus. Our redemption comes from Mary’s acceptance of God’s word: “Let it be to me according to your word”.
Both Old and New Testaments witness to God’s fidelity to his word. We have the choice to either accept this witness in faith, or to stand aloof and reserve judgment. The promises of economic programs, political agendas and our personal religious agendas may or may not make a positive contribution to our happiness. A more reliable foundation for hope is Christ’s promise to the Church: “I am with you always until the completion of the age”.
A scripture scholar I read a number of years ago said that God answers his promises with another promise. The alternative to faith in God’s word is a lonely skepticism. We would do well to follow the example of St. Joseph, a man of faith, and allow God’s word to guide our lives.
Solemnity of St. Joseph
[Scripture Readings: 2 Sam 7: 4-5a, 12-14a, 16; Rom 4: 12-22; Mt 1: 16, 18-21, 24a]
I assume that I am not alone in having looked on faith as some sort of advanced knowledge. If I just had enough faith, I would not have these lingering questions about whether I am doing the right thing, or refraining from doing the wrong thing. Whatever the source of that attitude, it is not the Bible. Abraham asked God a number of times whether he was going to have an heir. God’s answer was that he would have a son, but God did not explain how this would happen. Abraham was left with his question about an heir and the more fundamental question: Would he accept God’s assurance that God would be faithful to his promise when circumstances said God could not be faithful?
Joseph is also presented as a man of faith, even though there are no recorded words of Joseph in the canonical gospels. Joseph does not give a teaching about faith in words; he demonstrates faith in his behavior. It seems to me that the angel’s words to Joseph in his deliberations in regard to Mary were not so much an answer as they were a call to faith. Joseph demonstrated his faith in doing as the angel commanded. He would demonstrate his faith again in taking Mary and Jesus to Egypt at the angel’s command, and in bringing them again into Israel at the angel’s word.
I think Matthew’s presentation of Joseph, and the other gospels say nothing else about Joseph except Luke’s presentation that he followed the way of traditional Jewish piety, is an important lesson in faith. Faith is not a logical conclusion. There are times when our faith is tested and we are called to act when we really don’t understand the reasons for this course of action, or what the outcome will be. Faith is not a feeling of certitude. There are times when we are called to act when we don’t feel like it, and we may be apprehensive about this particular course of action. Our certitude of faith is demonstrated in our willingness to act for no other reason than in our prayer and reflection we have discerned that this is what God is calling us to do in this particular situation. This does not mean that faith is irrational; it does mean that faith cannot be reduced to our ways of figuring things out. God’s ways are not our ways, and this can be a hard lesson to learn.
Abraham, Joseph, Mary and a long list of men and women in the biblical narratives, and the saints down through the centuries show us that it is possible to live by faith; and they encourage us to follow their example. Yet, like Abraham, Joseph, Mary and all the others we must freely place our trust in God. We may think that our faith is small and weak; but like a seed our faith will grow and become strong, if we act on the faith we have.
Solemnity of St. Joseph
[Scripture Readings: 2 Sam 7: 4-5a, 12-14a, 16; Rom 4: 13-22; Mt 1: 16, 18-21, 24a]
One result of becoming too familiar with the words we use is that we tend to take them for granted and use them without reflecting about what we mean by them. An example that this morning’s readings bring to my mind is the word “faith.” I think most of us have an intuitive sense that faith has to do with our beliefs; yet faith isn’t limited to ideas that we have in our heads. Neither is faith a subjective feeling, although faith is not something about which we are indifferent. Ultimately we are thrown back onto the realization that faith is a unique experience; and although it involves both our thinking and our feeling it cannot be reduced to either one of them or both of them together. We experience faith when we act in faith, but our experience never fits completely into the words we use. In situations like this it is helpful to have something we can point to. In a wide variety of situations the lives of the saints give us examples of what it means to live in faith that help our understanding when definitions fail us.
St. Joseph was certainly a man of faith, and the infancy narratives show us that his faith was tested again and again. He was confronted with Mary’s pregnancy, and although he was told in a dream that this was the work of the Holy Spirit, that seems to me more a call to faith than an explanation.He was told in a dream to take Jesus and Mary into Egypt for their protection. Then he was told to take up his family again and return to Galilee. Joseph’s response was consistent; he acted according to the instructions God gave him. More than in any other way, we prove our faith through how we behave.
The gospels tell us little about Mary and even less about Joseph. Yet it was to this couple that God entrusted himself in the vulnerability of infancy and childhood; and he was subject to them. Each day God entrusts himself to us. How seriously do we take this? Although the quantity of information about Joseph in the gospels is slight, we can learn much from reflecting on the quality of his faith. The question that today’s feast presents to us is: Are we willing to accept the task to which God calls us, and are we willing to trust God’s word to guide us in how we are to carry it out?
Solemnity of St. Joseph
[Scripture Readings: 2 Sam 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16; Rom 4:13-22; Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a]
A parish was renovating its church. With the inspiration from the parish priest, the parish leaders were enthusiastic to see their church finished soon and be ready for full worship use. Aside from solicitations for donations from individuals and private companies, they used the feast day celebrations of saints to rally for more contributions. Then on the feast of St. Joseph, a more intensive campaign was launched. Each time that invocations on the name of Joseph were said and with the response, “pray for us,” the leaders silently added, “that we may complete our church.” I once asked why they have a great devotion to St. Joseph. One enthusiastically said, “Since St. Joseph is the good husband of Mary and the provider of the Holy Family, he is the patron of fund-raisers.” Then another added, “Because he is the patron of the universal Church, we are sure that he will pray for our church, too.”
I guess, St. Joseph will not even say a word about that, as he was used to being quiet when it came to building their family home in Nazareth and keeping the family intact. If the church or the home of God was necessary to keep the family of God’s children under one roof, no doubt, he will also intercede for that intention. When Pope Pius IX proclaimed Joseph patron of the Universal Church, it was because when the adoptive father of Jesus took the role as head of the Holy Family, he assumed the task of being a protector of all and provider to all who, by God’s grace and through the saving merits of Jesus his foster son, have become brothers and sisters of Jesus.
Avery Cardinal Dulles, a renowned ecclesiologist at Fordham University in New York City, notes that the saint “may be seen as having special bonds with many groups in the Church“. He is the patron of workers, as named by Pius XII because he worked with his hands as a carpenter. He is the patron of the dying since presumably Jesus and Mary were at his side when he died. He is the patron of the fathers by his paternal virtues. Having led the Holy Family to Egypt, he becomes the patron of refugees. In his search for young Jesus who was lost in the temple, he is taken as a patron of anxious parents. St. Teresa of Avila said of St. Joseph, “It seems that to other saints our Lord has given power to help us in only one kind of necessity; but this glorious saint, I know by my own experience, assists us in all kinds of necessities.” No wonder then that we can live through life with the assurance of having someone to intercede for all our needs — in the person of St. Joseph.
St. Joseph is presented to us especially on this feast day for his virtues that qualified him to be the custodian of Jesus and Mary on earth. He was described as a “just man”yet he was kind and discreet enough to spare Mary of public shame by divorcing her who was found to be with child, even at their betrothal. He knew and was decided on what to do, but upon divine intervention through the angel, at once he acted as the Lord willed. He may have had plans of his own to make his life meaningful and well-organized, but as the Lord directed him on what steps to take, he obeyed without hesitation. Going to Bethlehem, living in discomfort in search of an inn, having to transfer residence in Egypt to avoid the killing of his foster son and protect the family, then having to return to Nazareth when things were already settling down for him, getting worried that his son got lost and still abiding by the boy’s mission to do his Father’s business – all of these could have tested the patience, courage and faith of Joseph. But he was outright obedient to God.
If Joseph was described as just or righteous, wise and loyal servant, with paternal care over Jesus and dedicated guardian to Mary and Jesus, it is because he was a man of contemplation. He came from the royal lineage of David. He was aware that it was through the knowledge of the divine promises in the Scriptures that would keep the great dignity bestowed on his family lineage alive in him. No doubt, he was a man who read the Scriptures a lot, prayed much and was in divine communication often. We cannot discount the fact that Jesus learned the Bible beginning from his parents. He was introduced into the temple practices by his parents. Many of us could attest that we first learned how to pray and go to church through the examples of our parents. Jesus as a young boy was no exception. He had very devout parents, Mary and Joseph who taught him the ways of God which led him to pursue them with greater intensity.
Linked with the value of prayer and study in acquiring a contemplative spirit is the manual work. We work with our hands—in maintaining the house, in planting and harvesting the fruits of the earth, and in creating handicrafts. Joseph had lots of contact with God even through his work at his carpentry shop. Jesus learned the art also through his foster father. Some stories about Jesus also tell that at his father’s shop, he learned how to fix two pieces of wood in intersecting position (a cross) and while proudly holding it before his Mom and Dad, he was saying, “I will promote my Father’s business.” A lot of things meant also a mystery to Joseph as to the unfolding of his role as guardian to Jesus and Mary, but like Mary, he kept all these things in his heart, silently contemplating what they meant, and at once forthright in living them as God’s word. As he followed Jesus, he is also the man to emulate in our following of Jesus.
Solemnity of St. Joseph
[Scripture Readings: 2 Sam 7:4-5, 12-16; Rom 4:13-22; Mt 1:16-24a ]
Greatness is sometimes hidden in humble packages. Albert Einstein did not speak until he was four years old, and could not read until age seven. His teacher called him “mentally slow and adrift in foolish dreams.” The famous French sculptor, Rodin, who carved that great work of art called “The Thinker,” was described by his father as an idiot. Three times he failed to gain admittance into art school. Beethoven’s teacher said he was “hopeless” as a composer. Winston Churchill suffered a lifetime of setbacks starting when he failed sixth grade. Rudyard Kipling was rejected by the San Francisco Examiner with the comment, “You just don’t know how to use the English language.” Like all of these so-called “losers” who went on to stunning success, perhaps St. Joseph considered himself a loser. First he was faced with the trauma of realizing Mary was pregnant, and later he was unable to protect the child Jesus except by fleeing his homeland with Mary and the child to become refugees in Egypt.
Joseph took Mary into his home. She bore a son, and Joseph named him Jesus. An ordinary carpenter, a devout wife, and a child. It was a family hardly worth noticing, unless you knew that the boy was the Son of God, and Joseph’s wife was the Mother of God and would become Queen of the Universe, and Joseph himself was the guardian of God incarnate, and of the Church that is the very Mystical Body of Christ. Their greatness was hidden in humble packages.
Today the Cistercian Order and the Church itself breaks the silence and fasting of Lent in order to take notice of Joseph’s life. We celebrate his continuing paternity by a life entirely dedicated to prayer and to intercession for his foster children who are still laboring in the world. The season of Lent is interrupted so that we may celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph with a shout of joy.
St. Joseph was probably quite a young man when he took Mary into his home. Rabbis at the time of Christ taught that men should be married between the ages of 13 and 19 . Our mental images of St. Joseph as an older man with a streaks of gray running through his beard come from the art of medieval painters. Medievalists did not think that a youthful, handsome lad should be in the same house as a virgin consecrated to God. But in the catacombs Joseph is always shown as a young beardless man, hardly much older than Mary. To these two youngsters the Savior of the world was entrusted. And like the Savior they lived their lives in virginity, following a path that neighbors would have ridiculed if they had known about it. Chastity, virginity, and celibacy are not popular virtues in our culture today. But in the theology of John Cassian the pursuit of chastity is the centerpiece of monastic asceticism because it prepares us for contemplation. That is why we take notice, and raise a shout of joy on this solemnity of St. Joseph.
Like St. Joseph the Worker, our lives manifests the value of manual labor. We ought to live by the work of our own hands. When most people have been retired for many years, we continue to serve our communities by working and caring for one another. Our Br. Walter, who is 80, takes care of the infirm. Fr. Daniel who is 96 continues to offer Mass in the infirmary chapel every day for the sick. There is tremendous greatness in monks and nuns like these. We are grateful to our seniors for their labors of love, year in and year out, willing to be of service, to be Josephs in our monasteries. For this the Cistercian Order, the Church, and everyone here present can raise a shout of joy.
We are encouraged by Joseph’s example. We know that within the humble package that formed the envelope of his life on earth, there existed and continues to exist a greatness from God. It greatness will only be seen in all its splendor when we are gathered together with Joseph in the kingdom of heaven.