Here we are on the threshold of spring! The weather outside, however, does not look much like spring. We are in the midst of what is being called “the storm of the season.” Schools are closed all around us and we are told that travel conditions will be hazardous as the day continues. Whatever the weather and my eagerness for the end of winter and the beginning of spring, I realized I needed to spend some time on my article for the Catholic Sun.
I decided to write about St. Joseph. Christian art pictures this venerable man in a variety of ways. Among my favorite pictures of St. Joseph are those which depict him as a young man with his family, Mary and Jesus; as a loving father holding the infant Jesus in his arms or tenderly holding Jesus’ hand as a young boy or teaching a teenager the skills of a carpenter; as deep in sleep receiving the message of the angel announcing what he should do and where he should go; on his death bed with Mary and Jesus close at his side; and of course those that place him in the stable at the birth of Jesus or on the road to Egypt leading his family to safety and later returning to their homeland. There are no recorded words of Joseph in Scripture. The words about him in the Gospel, however, and Christian art attest to his important role in God’s plan.
I think of St. Joseph as a quiet man who nonetheless offers us profound insights and striking examples of Christian discipleship. In his book on the Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict offers a number of descriptions of a “just” man. He is one who sinks his roots into the word of God, maintains living contact with this word and a loving and personal openness to God. His life is spent “in dialogue with God” (Cf. The Infancy Narratives: Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict, p. 39, 40).
After Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant, knowing the child was not his, he interprets and applies the law of God, the word of God, correctly. He embraces Mary with love rather than giving her up to public shame. “He wishes her well, even in the hour of his great disappointment. He lives the law as Gospel, good news. He walks the path that brings law and love into unity” (The Infancy Narratives, p. 41). May St. Joseph help us to live the Gospel.
Joseph is a great example of one who listens to God and does His will. This man of dreams, as he slept, had two significant encounters with an angel. In both instances Joseph needed to discern whether he was simply having a dream or whether the dream was really the vehicle of God’s message. He recognized God’s presence, listened to the angel and acted on the message. The message conveyed to Joseph is overwhelming and demands an extraordinarily courageous act of faith. Only a man who is inwardly watchful for the divine, only someone with a real sensitivity for God and His ways, can receive God’s message as Joseph did. He is deserving of the Gospel blessing bestowed on those “who hear the word of God and act upon it” (Lk 11:28). May St. Joseph help us to listen to God’s word and act upon it.
I often reflect on Mary’s “fiat,” her “yes” to what God was asking of her: “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Joseph also responded positively to God’s invitation. He lived his “yes” to God’s plan for him when he took Mary into his home, accepted her mysterious pregnancy as God’s will, embraced her Son and raised Him as their son, migrated to a foreign land to protect his family and uprooted them a second time to return to their homeland. Talk about having your life turned upside down and your carved out plans unravel! To all of this Joseph spoke his “yes” of faith. May St. Joseph help us to say “yes” to God’s plans for us.
Joseph was a poor working man. “Is this not Jesus, the carpenter’s son” (Mt 11:55). Though linked to the house of David, Joseph is a carpenter in a Galilean town so miniscule that it serves as the butt of jokes. “What good can come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). Joseph reminds us of Jesus’ humanity and humble origins. Joseph the worker, the provider and protector of the Holy Family, stands as an example of one dedicated to his calling as father, husband and laborer. May St. Joseph help us to be committed to our calling in life.
For many centuries the Church paid little attention to St. Joseph. Only in the sixteenth century did the Church officially encourage his cult, as St. Joseph began to figure as an ideal “provider and protector” of the Holy Family. In 1870 Pius IX declared him Patron of the Universal Church. Besides his feast day on March 19, an additional feast for St. Joseph the Worker was assigned by Pope Pius XII to May 1. Blessed John XXIII added his name to the first Eucharist Prayer in 1962. In 2013 Pope Francis confirmed the decision originally made by Benedict XVI to insert Joseph’s name into Eucharistic Prayers II, III and IV.
In recent years, Sister Madeleva, an artist and a Sister of St. Joseph, has contributed to St. Joseph’s legacy. I have often seen her “Joseph Posters,” created each year for the feast of St. Joseph, displayed on walls or on cards that I have received. Allow me to share some of Sister Madeleva’s wisdom.
“Joseph was a parent. He knew the ups and downs, the day to day way of love and letting go.”
“Caught in the grip of fear, Joseph came to rely on the presence that says: Do not be afraid.”
“Not much is known of Joseph. He was a husband, father, provider — everyday and he had dreams. What more can be said?”
“For Joseph it wasn’t a question of success — it was being faithful to the mix we call life.”
“As a day laborer Joseph had little. Yet he had compassion and that was everything.”
Saint Joseph, protect the Church, safeguard family life, assist the dying, strengthen our faith and journey with us as we make our way to eternal life.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.