St Joseph 2014

The feast of St Joseph is the only solemnity that the universal Church will always celebrate during Lententide.* Sure, the feast of the Annunciation also falls within Lent, but when it falls during Holy Week it is not celebrated until after Easter.

Why is it that the Church places today’s feast in such a way that it will always fall in Lent? Perhaps it is because Joseph is the quiet reflective man and this season is a suitable reflection of his life.

I would like to believe it is because Joseph is so sensitive to our weaknesses that he wants to give us a day free from fasting coming to midway through this penitential season.

Oftentimes in life we look around and see it is the quiet, unobtrusive ones who notice what we are up against and who, in their own gently way, make life that bit easier. Joseph himself knew the hardships of life better than most.

He knew what it was like to be the one expected to be always on call, ready even at the commands of a dream to rise up in the middle of the night and head for a foreign country. Sometimes one feel Joseph must have dreaded going to bed at all!

Yes, Joseph knows more than anyone else the hardships of life. His life in the carpenter’s workshop was tough. But when he had to carry his workshop with him, even as far as Egypt, then it was something else.

There is a story of a teacher who, in one of his Christian Values classes, asked his students to write a brief essay on this topic: What relic of which saint would you like to have, if you were to be granted your wish and why?

On reading one of the masterpieces later, the teacher brightened up. The budding writer had this to say: "I would like to have in a vial some drops of the sweat of Saint Joseph. Reason: Because his sweat would symbolize honest, humble, honorable work. It is because it was by the sweat of his brow that he was able to feed the Son of God, His Mother and himself." **

It is said that hard word sometimes makes people hard. That can be true. But Joseph shows us that through what we do we can come to empathize with all who have burdens to bear and loads to carry. That is why, I feel, he comes to us this Lenten day, when the ground is hard with frost and the fields covered with snow. He wants to be with us most of all in the winter of our lives.

And the Church is quick to recognize this and so places his feast in a season of fasting and mourning so as to let us see we have a great saint walking with us. Joseph, the very one who walked the roads of Palestine with Mary, who walked beside the baby Jesus all the way to Egypt and back again.

Our present Holy Father, Pope Francis wasn’t long in office when he had the name of Joseph inserted into all the common Eucharistic prayers, so that all four now proclaim his name. interesting that the Pope who first inserted Joseph’s name into the old Roman Canon, Pope John XX111, will be canonized in just over a month’s time.

The saint who for so long has been in the background is coming more and more into the forefront. Joseph is getting younger in the eyes of many. For too long we have looked on him as an old man protecting the young virgin and child.

Why have we always portrayed him as a venerable, rather decrepit old man, clutching a lily? Perhaps it has something to do with Mary’s chastity. We felt that it would be more in keeping with Mary’s position to portray him in this light. But Joseph was undoubtedly a young, vigorous man, physically and spiritually.***

A man of few words but of immense faith. A man who would get up in the middle of the night and strike camp in answer to an angel’s message received in a dream, in order to save this special child. But a man also who would give this same child the space to get lost.

Joseph knows what it is like to lose a child. We know how upset he was until he found him. That work of seeking out the lost one didn’t end with the finding in the temple. Joseph’s work goes on to this day.

Like the great patriarch who he is called after, Joseph’s work won’t be finished until he has gathered together all his brothers and sisters and sees them safe and well in God’s eternal home.

* The Roman Curia has decided that from 2008 if Saint Joseph’s feast day falls in Holy Week, it will be recognized the earliest date counting backward from March 19.

**Story told by Fr J S Benitez;

***Fr Jim Donleavy op.