On Saturday, Feb. 27, a spirit-filled gathering was held at the OnCenter for approximately 1,000 men interested in deepening their relationship with the Lord. IGNITE 2010 was a memorable day. I share with you today my homily on St. Joseph — since March is his month in a special way.
When Father Joseph O’Connor first spoke to me about today’s conference and asked if I would celebrate Mass and preach the homily my thoughts turned immediately to St. Joseph. St. Joseph has always been a shining example for me of what manhood truly is. Who better to speak about on this day?
A little more than a year ago I had an opportunity to visit St. Joseph’s Abbey, the Trappist Abbey in Spencer, Mass. One of the monks offered to show the priests I was with and myself around the monastery. As one travels through a monastery there are always certain items that catch your attention and have a story behind them. Brother James pointed out to us one of the prized possessions sitting on top of a cabinet. It was a large statue of St. Joseph, walking hand in hand with the Christ Child who looked to be about 18 months old. The monk said to me, “Joseph appears to be taking the Christ Child out for his first walk.”
That statue and the simplicity of the monk pointing it out to me gave me some wonderful thoughts for reflection the other evening as I was sitting in my room and thinking about this morning’s celebration.
There is nothing quite as secure as the hand of another when we are learning how to walk; nothing as secure as the hand of another when we are sick; nothing as secure as the hand of another in times of trouble or when we are afraid.
For me that statue offers some tremendously consoling truths. Christ reached up and took the hand of Joseph and in so doing teaches us all a lesson, gives us an example, reminds us of our protector, our friend and gives us the grace to feel secure again. Just as Joseph was the guardian and protector of Jesus, he is ours also.
Joseph is the strong, silent type. Virtually ignored by the Gospel writers of the early Church, he emerges, nevertheless, as a man trusting in God even when there was hardly anything to grasp. In all of Sacred Scripture, no words are attributed to Joseph. Yet he was always attentive and alert to Mary and Jesus, present to them and concerned for their well-being. Perhaps this was because Joseph was a man of action and not words — and he did whatever was revealed to him as God’s will. There probably should be a little more of Joseph in each of us — less words, more action. The witness of our lives can be, like Joseph, without words. But our witness must always be manifested in our actions.
In the Gospel, we find the wordless Joseph is a man of faith and trust, of obedience and humble service. When God communicated His will for him and his family, he responded with alacrity, even getting up in the middle of the night to start out on a journey (Matt.2:13-14). He went about what God asked of him — silently, trustingly. He moved through the pages of the Gospel, always open to the promptings of angels, ever mindful of the safety of his wife and Child.
St. Joseph definitely was a strong man, strong in the faith, in body and in fatherly virtue, to bring his family safely to Egypt and then back to Nazareth, where all the powers of Herod were arrayed against them.
In the life of St. Joseph we see fatherhood at its best. We glimpse a holy family life despite hardships and difficulties. We see an active piety. We meet a man who works hard and is known for his work. All of these various elements are united in his life. St. Joseph lived his life in peace because he did not permit himself to be pulled in many directions. When we are distracted with our daily work, when we are overwhelmed with concerns, we need to ask Joseph to take us with him to the quiet of Nazareth where together we can contemplate Jesus and his plan for us. In the quiet we can hear God’s admonition to “be still and know that I am God.” In silence Joseph listened and learned who God wanted him to be and he fulfilled that role admirably.
Today and every day as friends of St. Joseph we should ask him to permit us to live our lives in that same spirit of fidelity and obedience, trusting in God’s promise as we have heard it in our hearts.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan tells this story, which he heard in second grade from his teacher, Sister Bosco. And so he knows it was a true one! One day Jesus was helping St. Joseph in the carpentry shop of Nazareth. Jesus asked, “What are we building, father?” St. Joseph smiled. “A big table and one day friends will gather around it for a great meal.” The next day, Jesus again inquired, “and what will we build today father?” This time, St. Joseph frowned. “The soldiers have ordered a cross, and one day, a man will suffer and die on it.” This was the table, Sister told the second graders, of the Last Supper; this was the cross on which hung this Savior of the world.
We gather this morning at the table of the Lord’s Supper; we share in the cross of Christ. Like the beloved disciple, we are next to Jesus and with His Church at the table of the Eucharist. With our Blessed Mother, we are with Him at the foot of the cross.
This is the sacrifice we offer this morning — the summit and source of our lives. We pray that St. Joseph will walk with us and be our constant companion as we journey toward Christ.
Joseph, just and gentle, man of labor, man of prayer …
guide us, keep us in your care.
Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse
(If you have a request for Bishop Cunningham’s prayer list, please send it to him at P.O. Box 501, Syracuse, N.Y. 13201.)