St. Joseph pray for us
This is the first simple invocation which begins the Litany of St. Joseph proper, after the praises of the Trinity and the invocation to Our Lady to pray for us. I think really in it is the name Joseph which says it all. Joseph means "increase", which at first sight seems only rather interesting because it seems rather obscure, but in actual fact it is very interesting. Devotion to St. Joseph has been gradually increasing since about 13th century. Very little was happening in the Latin West with regard to him until that time, and not much had been happening in the East. It is with St. Bernard that St. Joseph makes his presence felt, and then the Franciscan School of spirituality begins to champion him, the most notable Franciscan to sing his praises is St. Bernardine of Siena, one of the really great preachers of the Franciscan Order and the Church. The great Jean Gerson, one of the leading lights at the Council of Constance, in many ways very similar to Vatican II, in that it was a very controversial council, adds more lustre to St. Joseph, but it is really with St. Teresa of Avila that devotion to St. Joseph takes centre stage, and after that there really is not stopping it. St. Francis de Sales takes things further and suggests very strongly that St. Joseph was assumed into Heaven. Theologians, and I think it was that other great Franciscan luminary, St. Laurence of Brindisi a doctor of the Church and formidable man to say the least, who speaheaded the theory that there is The Order of the Hypostatic Union, which includes firstly and obviously Christ, then Our Lady,and then St. Joseph. Both Our Lady and St. Joseph are ordered to the Incarnate God, whereas the rest of us are not, or that is how I understand it. It is left to Blessed Pius IX, another Franciscan, in this case a Franciscan tertiary, to make Joseph the patron and protector of the universal Church.
As darkness covers more and more of the World and the Church, as men become either more emasculated or more brutalised, and as women depend less on men, both anger in men and women coupled with burning resentment gets worse and worse. We hear of the appalling things done to women by men in Congo, where the surgeons have wept while trying to operate on them and undo the evil done by devilish brutality of men. It is not women who start wars, it is men, and who suffers women and children and boys who are sent to fight cynical middle aged men's wars. It is then that Joseph comes into his own. I heard a story of this young woman who was given a lift by a man whom she thought she could trust. He told her to get out and then presumably was going to rape her and worst. She prayed to St. Joseph and suddenly this man appeared who saw him off. Joseph gives to his devotees that wonderful quality, which is not so much courage, but a sense of safety, that whatever will happen, all will be well. This is hardly surprising as he had to care and protect the infant Church which was Jesus and Mary,and then when the family grew, with the apostles and disciples, and finds its fulfilment proper with the birth of the Church on the feast of Pentecost.
In a modern world where people are endlessly talking about themselves or other people in a verbal avalanche of either compliments to themselves or each other,or covering their opponents with insults Joseph teaches us that silence is not only golden, but healing. The less we talk the more we learn about others and ourselves, and we keep our counsel and pray. So much time is wasted and wasted and often in harmful words, but if we wish to increase the love of God in the worlds. We will do it best by silence, and we will protect ourselves from sins of the tongue and protect others' reputations and even their lives if we become not only like St. Joseph, but he whose shadow he is, namely God the Father.
Illustrious Son of David
On Tuesday we celebrated the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. When we consider the first of the invocations to St. Joseph in his Litany that includes a title, we see him referred to as Illustrious Son of David. What links the two men? Well Joseph is descended from David and that looks about all that they have in common. David the great warrior, the boy who slays the giant, Goliath with his sling and stone, the man who kills more Philistines in battle than Saul, who from that moment on is consumed with jealousy of David’s popularity. “And the women sung as they played, and they said: Saul slew his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”(1 Samuel 18: 7) David is also the one who writes the psalms, who commits adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and then kills him, so that his guilt may not be found out. What a contrast to Joseph, who is silent and almost shadowy, but the two men share one great feature in common, and that is the virtue of humility.
David’s successes never go to his head, and he is always painfully aware of his weaknesses and sins. When he is fleeing Jerusalem, because Absalom, his son, is rebelling against his Father, David is cursed by Shimei, and when Abishai one of David’s officers suggests that he kill Shimei, who is also one of Saul’s family, David will have none of it. He says to Abishai; “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord has bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look upon my affliction, and that the Lord will repay me with good for this cursing today.” ( 2 Samuel: 11-12)
David always is aware that he is a sinner, and always turns to the Lord and asks for mercy. This surely is the theme of the Miserere. Joseph says nothing, but he is always open to what God asks of him, even if he does not understand. His life is devoted totally to God, to God’s son; to the God man he gives everything and to the Mother of God he is the most devoted of husbands. He is utterly forgetful of self and utterly devoted to others. Nothing is too much for this humble carpenter, who is descended from the Kings of Judah, and is the foster father of the King of Kings. Joseph does not push himself forwards, he is truly one who serves. For him love is service, and his loving heart pours out all its devotion before Jesus Son of David, and his mantle encloses both the Child and the Mother in a security and safety that is stronger than the armies of even the most powerful of kings. This nobility of spirit is a great consolation to us all, who with Jesus and Mary can find shelter there. Joseph is truly a bulwark against all the armies of Satan and wicked men. Illustrious Son of David pray for us.
Splendour of Patriarchs
How is Joseph splendour of Patriarchs? I suppose it is in his relationship with God, which is so very different from that of the Patriarchs. Abraham certainly walks and talks with God. God tells him to be circumcised as that is the symbol of the Covenant between God and his chosen people. He appears to him at the Oak of Mamre as three visitors and so gives a presentiment to Abraham of the Doctrine of the Trinity. Abraham talks to God with great intimacy but also with great reverence. He pleads with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah. Then finally he is tested in the extreme when God asks him to sacrifice his only son Isaac to Him. Abraham rises magnificently to the occasion. Isaac seems a very mild character in comparison, but nothing can be more lovely than the description of his meeting with Rebecca. She is brought to him by Abraham’s oldest servant, who was sent to her father by Abraham to sue for her hand in marriage for her kinsman Isaac. The servant arrives at the city of Nahor and we are given a marvellous vision of the world of the Patriarch’s:
“Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor. And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water. And he said, “O LORD, GOD of my master Abraham, grant me success today, I pray thee, and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Let the maiden to whom I shall say, ‘Pray let down your jar that I may drink’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’---let he be the one whom thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac. By this I shall know that thou hast shown steadfast love to my my master.” And of course the marriage negotiations go like a dream with only the minor hiccup that Rebecca’s brother Laban and her mother want her to stay ten days more before departing, but the servant insists that he must take her to Isaac as soon as possible, and so he takes Rebecca home to his master, and he and Rebecca arrive when Isaac is meditating in the fields, who sees the camels coming towards him in the evening light, and Rebecca “lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she alighted from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man yonder, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things he had done. Then Isaac brought her into the tent, and took Rebecca, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So he was comforted after his mother’s death.
Jacob’s story is rather more problematic and has nothing of the innocence of his father, Isaac, but he does wrestle with the angel, and no doubt wrestles with himself. His son Joseph, though a type for both Joseph and Christ, could not be less like St. Joseph if he tried. Perhaps the patriarch who most resembles Joseph is Noah, who has to save the human race in the members of his family. The building of the Ark must have been the most monumental affair, given its massive dimensions, but with patience he did it, and so saved mankind. One could imagine St. Joseph doing something similar if called upon to do so.
Mary the Ark of the Covenant enfolds in her womb, Christ who will save the human race from being forever excluded from Heaven, and Joseph is there to protect her. However great the patriarchs were, they were not given to hold in their arms and kiss Our Lord, who is God and Man. Such a privilege is given to the simple carpenter of Nazareth, who in his person encapsulates all that is best, most loving, and most lovable in those incomparable men, the patriarchs, whose openness, simplicity, and fidelity to God remain a testament to all that was best in the Old Covenant, and which hardly resonates with anything that we find in the so called Christian West today.
Chaste Guardian of the Virgin,
Foster-Father of the Son of God,
Watchful Defender of Christ.
These three invocations are all of a piece, and follow on naturally from Joseph’s marriage to Mary, and his earthly but not natural fathering of Jesus. There are theologians who talk about the Order of the Hypostatic Union, to which Joseph and Mary belong. As far as one can gather this is utterly different from the way all other men and women relate to Christ, for no-one else has a mothering role for Christ, nor a fathering role. These two belong to Mary and Joseph alone. For Mary, it is physical and spiritual, for Joseph it is spiritual and vicarious. He takes the place of God the Father on Earth, but Mary is utterly unique and is the one and only Mother of God. As all Mary’s prerogatives spring from her being Mother of God, so do all Joseph’s and so it puts him in a different category to all other saints. Very often St. Francis of Assisi is cited as being the greatest of the saints, which may be 13th century Franciscan propaganda, but it may also be due to the fact that he is in many ways the most perfect imitator of Christ. Christ gives St. John the Baptist the greatest praise of all by saying I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John; yet who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. (Luke 7:28). Joseph, like John belongs to the closing chapter of the Old Testament; neither belong to the Church as such. However no-one in their right mind would say that John is greater than Our Lady, if those born of women includes men. It remains a fact that Joseph, after Mary has the most exalted vocation in the Kingdom, for he has to represent God the Father on Earth. Christ was obedient to Mary and Joseph. God was obedient to mere human beings, however exalted and holy they might be. Thus Christ’s relationship with Mary and Joseph, is quite different to any other relationship that the redeemed have Him. The splendour and the mystery of the Holy Family will never be plumbed in this life, or the next.
Joseph under these titles of guardian, father, and defender gives us an insight in his relationship to us. For every virgin can turn to Joseph for help, and she will be helped, and those who have lost their virginity, but have regained their innocence through repentance can do the same. Every child can look to Joseph to protect him and be a father to him and never more so than today. Joseph has to ward off demonic temptations to doubt Mary’s virginity. He has find a place for Jesus to be born, a place suitable for the Mother of God, and the Son of God. He has to flee to Egypt to save Jesus from being murdered by an enraged, jealous, and by this time mad, King Herod the Great. He has to find work and a home for his family in an alien land, which, it must be added, had a large Jewish community. He then returns to Palestine on the death of Herod, but feels it is safer to return to Nazareth rather than go to Bethlehem, because he did not trust Archelaus, who had succeeded Herod as King of Judea and Samaria and given the title Ethnarch by Augustus. Whether Joseph had originally intended to settle his affairs in Bethlehem as some commentators have observed, or to live there, we do not know. However her realized that Archelaus would be equally hostile to a Messiah, whether he be the true one, or a false one. When we next hear of Joseph, we see him facing yet another terrible crisis, he and Mary have lost Jesus. The horror of this can best be realized by parents who lose their children, and fear the worst; that they have been kidnapped by paedophile murderers. So Joseph automatically becomes the protector of innocence, and the protector of the unborn. In fact this silent saint is incredibly active, for his foster fathering continues throughout the life of the Church, as does his protection of virginity, for he was virgin, father, and protector. Nowadays most men in the West are not virgins, they do not guard virgins, and they neither protect, nor defend; in that sense a marriage between young men and women, who are not virgins, and worse still are often sexually quite experienced, there will be something very false in both their marriages, and in their outlook on virginity, which unless repented of will continue the cycle of depravity, for that is what it is. If the Church holds up St. Agnes and St. Maria Goretti as examples of heroic virginity, and the response from the faithful is less than enthusiastic we should not be surprised, because the hatred of virginity, oddly enough is a hatred for life. Virgins who marry are truly fruitful. The temple of a virgin’s womb has never been sullied by anyone else, and so is a fitting place to bring forth a child for the kingdom of God, just as Mary’s womb was the most fitting temple of all, for there was conceived the God Man. Sexually immorality has taken the wonder out of sex, and turned the whole of reproduction upside down. The world of sexual behaviour aided by contraception, in-vitro fertilization, cloning, surrogate mothers, homosexuality, abortion, and goodness knows what else,has ripped the family apart, and made fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters strangers, and paved the way for many unknowing incestuous relationships and marriages, because virginity is no longer honoured. Thus we need Joseph to guide us steadily through the maze of a disordered Western World, where all values have become relative, and where truth has been lost.
We need a chaste guardian for all the women who have lost their virginity and are desperately trying to recapture their innocence, but know no how to. We need Joseph to protect virgins from the vicious onslaught of a sexually immoral media, and sexually driven men, and women, who must be running into the millions upon millions in the West which came into being because of Christianity. Europe and the New Worlds of the Americas, North and South, and Australasia have now rebelled to a far greater degree than Israel in the Old Testament, for they had not been redeemed by Christ; we have and so we need Joseph to protect us from the epidemic impurity that so befouls the world today. We need a watchful defender who will defend us from the millions of demons who daily assail us. It is up to us to really trust him, and believe that he will be to us, as much as a father as he was to Jesus.
Head of the Holy Family,
Joseph most just,
Joseph most pure,
Joseph most prudent,
Joseph most courageous,
Joseph most obedient,
Joseph most faithful,
Mirror of patience
If the invocation Head of the Holy Family finishes off Joseph’s titles as to what he does, it also ushers in what he is like interiorly. Precisely because he has been made spouse of the Mother of God, and Foster-Father of the Son of God, he is then given the headship of the Holy Family. He is there in place of God the Father, and in a way similar to Mary, all his prerogatives spring from him being Jesus’ earthly father, though not being his physical one. In fact according to Jewish law if you were legally made somebody’s father, it was equivalent to being the father by blood. Joseph is the father of Jesus by the will of the Trinity. To fulfil this role he must be just, pure, prudent, courageous. Obedient, and faithful to an almost unimaginable degree. How does he do this? Well the key to how Joseph does it is not revealed in the litany, but it is humility. Overwhelmed by the immense dignity that he has been called to, he must rely totally on the Holy Spirit. After Mary no one has been endowed with such graces for a vocation, because this vocation was to cherish, love, protect and guide the Mother of God, and the God Man, Jesus. It is Joseph’s humility that allows his justice to be perfect, his purity spiritually diamond like in appearance, his prudence surpassing Solomon’s wisdom, his courage like a martyr’s, and his faithfulness, rock-like. Finally it is one of his greatest devotees, namely St, Teresa of Avila who in her famous book mark says this “Patience attains all that it strives for”. Patience that daughter of humility that always waits on the Providence of God, and always trusts God totally. God who is unbelievably patient with us demands us to be patient in return. We have to be patient with ourselves, our sins, our weaknesses and shortcomings. Joseph had to be patient with every situation that presented itself to him, and which centred on his wife, and even more so on his putative son, Jesus. His whole being, and attention was lovingly lavished on the Son of God. As vicar or regent for the Father he was aided by the Holy Spirit to a truly extraordinary degree in carrying out this great vocation of husband, father, and head of the Holy Family.
Joseph had to teach God his lessons, show him how to be a carpenter, tell him what to do. He had to make decisions with Mary, and to exercise his authority over both her, and Jesus, which he must have found terrifying indeed, but because he was so humble, he never put a foot wrong. This family, The Holy Family, was Heaven on Earth, and if families want to attain happiness, all they need to do is to meditate on the Holy Family, and in it they will find all the guidance that they will need. Though most marriages are not virginal, they can learn that necessary purity for marriage, which is not about sex as fun, excitement, or for sheer eroticism, but it is about the pure burning love of the Holy Spirit, that Divine love which should fire all our loves. It is precisely because of her Immaculate Conception that Mary was so perfectly humble, and by something similar that Joseph was too. His was not an immaculately conceived, but what happened to him was most probably similar to the sanctification of John the Baptist in Elizabeth’s womb. No doubt in the fullness of time, or in the Heavenly City we will be told the marvellous truths of Joseph’s life from his conception to his passing into the Eternal Halls of Everlasting Peace.
Lover of poverty,
Model of all who labour,
Glory of family life,
Safeguard of virgins,
Mainstay of families,
This next section of invocations move from Joseph’s role as Head of the Holy Family, and Foster Father of the Son of God to his role as bread winner and guardian of families. He is also a model for men.
It is most important in the Western World of today which values career, status, business, leisure and pleasure to an almost exalted degree, but does not really appreciate the beauty of work. Where do we find beautifully seasoned wood that the carpenter can work with? Where do we find blacksmiths these days? Where do we find goldsmiths, and silversmiths these days. In the ancient lands of the Middle East, the Far East and Asia these will still be found. Such work cannot be done in a rush; it needs time and meditation. Clockmakers and watchmakers have become a rarity. Everything is mass produced, and as a result everything has a certain sameness about it. Vast factories may produce an immense variety of things, but there is a lack of individuality. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of clothes, and fashion. Things could not be more dull and bleak in certain cities of the West, but now through the entire world. Jeans have become the emblem of the late 20th and early 21st century. Amazonian Indians would look more interesting and more modest, and they are almost completely naked. Sportswear dominates everything, because sport, and health and sex are everything. Football is most definitely a religion, and big business as well. Life is overwhelmed with advertising and the imperative need for everyone to buy things continually. For advertising is the devil’s latest ploy in getting vast amounts of people to commit the sin of avarice. Most things we do not need. Man can live on very little. In fact in most parts of the world man does live on very little, in fact he lives on next to nothing.
Joseph the Silent, and eminently just man stands like his Foster Son, Jesus before this deluge of materialistic, secular, and sensual culture like some massive rock. His very life proclaims, order, peace, discipline and calm. He is in that sense Adam redeemed, as opposed to the New Adam who is Christ, though Blessed John Paul, if my memory is correct, described Joseph as a New Adam for the simple reason that he is married to the New Eve.
Joseph is not only the model workman, the carpenter par excellence, after Jesus his son, but he is a lover of poverty. Now scripture scholars would think that this notion that Joseph and Mary were poor is all nonsense. A carpenter would be able to make a decent living, but it would seem here that they miss the point. St. Francis was convinced that the Holy Family were poor, and many other saints have thought the same. Others would argue that the reason why St. Francis was convinced that the Holy Family was poor, was because he was obsessed with poverty. Whether Francis was obsessed with poverty is neither here nor there. The question to ask is what was the poverty of the Holy Family? Mystics and visionaries, on one level, are not the best of guides, but sometimes their intuitions are spot on, and go to the heart of the matter, whereas the learned scripture scholars are wide of the mark; this is usually because these scholars live in a world of Academia, which can be far removed from the real world, and more worryingly, far removed from reality. Joseph and Mary’s poverty was a voluntary poverty, it was all part of Christ’s poverty his self-emptying, his Incarnation, his descent from Glory into the world of men. Mary and Joseph wanted to share in their Divine Son’s poverty, and so they would, as Blessed Anna Catherine Emmerich thinks, a life of great simplicity, and frugality, giving all their surplus to the poor. After all Scripture teaches us that the love of money is the root of all evil, because wealth gives power, and power invariably leads to pride and thus to spiritual disaster. Voluntary poverty is the outward sign of deep humility, because Mary and Joseph were so humble so were they truly poor.
It never ceases to me amaze that incredibly powerful or wealthy Christians never seem to understand that if the Holy Family were so poor and simple should that not cause them to think that they should give their money away with greater ease, or do things with their money. We need only think of St Katherine Drexel, one of the wealthiest women in America in the late 19th century, and the good she did with her wealth to see a wealthy person who is really following in the footsteps of the Holy Family.
Joseph is the true model of all workman, because he shows that a trade really should be an individual occupation, not something done on a conveyor belt. Such dehumanizing work is all about capitalism and profit; it is not about being a co-creator. We see Joseph and Jesus in the father son apprentice mode, something lost since the Industrial Revolution. Joseph would have done his work “For The Greater Glory of God” as St. Ignatius of Loyola would say. Joseph had to sanctify all his work and make it somehow different to all that work that since Adam, had been more often than not a drudgery, since God had cursed the land at made it something that had to be subdued, and that went for every form of work. Something in Eden that would have been a joy was since the Fall, a penance and still is. Joseph had to teach Jesus in his humanithy to be a good carpenter, a perfect carpenter. The Deist view of God as the Divine Architect which thoroughly imbues Freemasonry misses the point.
God is far more than an architect at his drawings, somewhat distanced from the building which in fact does not help to build with his own hands, he is far more like Joseph and Jesus working with wood, and also building houses, as carpenters in First Century Palestine would have had to have done. Joseph and Jesus are thoroughly involved in what they are doing unlike Communist or Soviet factory bosses, or Capitalist Industrial bosses. Such men as these are detached. Joseph is certainly not. When we think of the Desert Fathers we see them praying while making ropes or baskets. We think of St. Dunstan who was a goldsmith making beautiful things for the Divine Service, and then we think of all those monks who illuminated bibles or psalters, or we see the great work done by the Cistercian lay brothers who worked on the large Cistercian farms attached to the monasteries, and created such thriving wool trade that it had a detrimental effect on the life of the monk. Even the Cistercians forgot the poverty that Joseph and Mary never forgot.
Joseph, who was created by God, is given the unique privilege of teaching God Incarnate to work. This is Joseph’s glory and should be ours too. How wonderful to teach others how to work or do a trade as if we were teaching Jesus in the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. If we could do this we would be entering into a great mystery, whose depths we will never plumb.
Joseph is seen as “Glory of Family Life”. Quite what feminists would make of this title one wonders. All we could do is divert them to Our Lady’s Litany of Loreto, as trying to convince them of anything good about Joseph would most probably fall on deaf ears, or would it? Does not every woman at the end of the day want a strong man to rely on, and does not every child irrespective of sex want a father who they can rely on and who they can trust. Children want, instinctively to proud of their parents, children are naturally loving to their parents; the tragedy is that very often parents do not love their children. If Joseph had the extraordinary honour of being the presumed father of Jesus, and was the husband of Mary, by the very token that the Father is the head of the family, he is the glory of family life, but his glory is not his own. Everything that Joseph has, so to speak, is loaned to him. He represents God the Father, whose vicar, or representative he is. His authority over Jesus is not his own, it is the Father’s and he must carry out this authority as if he were God the Father. He is husband of Mary, but not in the fullest sense, though it is the most perfect of unions, though not sexual, for The Spouse is The Holy Spirit. Joseph is utterly aware of all this, and this more than anything else gives him glory. There is not the slightest abuse of authority either over Mary, or Jesus. His authority is one of unremitting care and service, of protection, and guardianship. He is like a Captain of ship protecting the passengers from storms, pirates, and every danger that can be met with on the high seas. He is a watchman of a city, He is like a general of an army defending a country or city. He is a refuge in time of danger, and a consoler of wives and children. This is his glory endless care, love, and protection of his family, which of course, since the Redemption, now includes The Church. This of course then dovetails perfectly with “Mainstay of families” or “Pillar of families” to be more accurate when translating the Latin. Joseph’s glory is in the fact that he is the mainstay of The Holy Family, and the mainstay of all families who place themselves under his protection, and surely that is what any Christian would want to do. If Joseph was good enough to be the head of the Holy Family then it is the greatest privilege to have Joseph, as our foster father and protector who reflects the Father’s care onto us.
In our terrible and permissive age where sexual sin is seen as normal we need to invoke Joseph as safeguard of virgins. It is interesting to note that St. Joseph of Cupertino had this to say about sexual sin “the impure stink before the angels and men”. St. Philip Neri, and St. Anthony Mary Claret also could smell the sins of impurity. So overwhelming is the sin of impurity now in the Western World that one might ask “Are there any virgins left, and that goes for both sexes?” There must be far more than we realize, but the situation is still extremely grave. Such is the crisis that Heaven is our only hope, and it is to Joseph that we turn. He who protected Mary will protect our purity if we turn to him trustingly, and he will hide us in his cloak so that the devil may not tempt us beyond our strength. The eyes, however are the windows of the soul, and if we are to preserve our purity we must be very careful of the Media, which is determined to destroy purity at all costs. Television and the Internet are very dangerous in this area, and there is no point in asking Joseph to protect our virginity or our purity if we expose ourselves to the dangers to be found in these forms of communication. St. Joseph Safeguard of virgins pray for us.
SOLACE OF THE AFFLICTED
HOPE OF THE SICK
PATRON OF THE DYING
TERROR OF DEMONS,PROTECTOR OF HOLY CHURCH
Here we see in these last five invocations to St. Joseph the real heart in many ways of St. Joseph's relationship with us especially in these troubled times. Who would have thought that when I began these meditations last year that another Joseph, our Holy Father Emeritus Pope, Benedict XVI would have abdicated and appeared to have left the Church to Satan and his cohorts, but of course he did nothing of the kind. Seeing that the Church was suffering so desperately and sadly at the hands of Cardinals, bishops, priests and religious, he felt that he must hand the tiller of the Barque of Peter to somebody with greater strength. This was a courageous and wonderfully humble act. What the consequences of such an extraordinaray action may be is hard to imagine, but the Church as always needs to be purified. Again and again it is her priests who let her down. This was true of the Levitical priesthoood. It was true of Caiaphas and Annas. It was true of John XII arguably the worst pope of them all, and it was most definitely true of Alexander VI, and Julius II. Such men have done great damage to the Church, but it is God's Church ultimately and he will triumph. In Joseph Ratzinger as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the new title for what was called originally The Inquisition we had a Joseph who was caring for the Church's doctrine. As soon as he became Pope he heroically tried to sort out all the sexual abuse problems. He was criticized by bishops whose private lives could hardly stand up to scrutiny, and criticized by that dreadful strata in the Catholic Church, the middle class know it alls, who want nothing but endless discussions, forums, workshops, etc. but the last thing they want is to be obedient to the Church, especially when it comes to the teaching of morality, especially sexual morality. Benedict has been hounded by pseudo intellectuals like Dawkins, who does not deserved to be taken seriously, and a whole army of liberal scientists, sociologists, and goodness knows who else. But what are such people compared to those little saints, who are in fact giants, ironically through their humility. We think of Blessed Peter the comb maker, that lovely Franciscan tertiary and widower. We think of the glorious humility of St. Bernadette, who through her complete guilessness could get the better of any priest, and any politician, or bureaucrat by simply being totally and utterly true to God and herself. Then we consider the great beggar saint, St. Benedict Joseph Labre, or a Dorothy Day, a Peter Maurin, a Catherine Docherty, and the wonderful children of Fatima, and then finally the penny begins to drop and we realize the truth of Christ's words that the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are those with the hearts of children. Then everything begins to make sense. All else is vanity, and in Fr. Robert Barron's marvellous series "Catholicism" in the second of the series when talking of The Beatitudes he says that they are in stark opposition to what Thomas sees as the really dangerous vices wealth, pleasure, power and honour. In the lives of these saints that I have mentioned there was none of this, and in the life of Joseph there was a complete absence. Vainglory was something that he could not have imagined in month of Sundays. Because Joseph was so pure, so simple, so humble, so loving, and so self-effacing, so utterly, in the proper sense of the word ,in love with Mary, and utterly in love with Jesus, and because he is the shadow of God then Father, he can console the afflicted give hope to the sick, comfort the sick, terrify demons, and protect the Church. Therefore it is only fitting that I should conclude this meditation on the Litany of St. Joseph with Pope Francis' wonderful homily that he preached at the Mass of his inauguration as Pope.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I thank the Lord that I can celebrate this Holy Mass for the inauguration of my Petrine ministry on the solemnity of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the patron of the universal Church. It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the name-day of my venerable predecessor: we are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude.
I offer a warm greeting to my brother cardinals and bishops, the priests, deacons, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful. I thank the representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial Communities, as well as the representatives of the Jewish community and the other religious communities, for their presence. My cordial greetings go to the Heads of State and Government, the members of the official Delegations from many countries throughout the world, and the Diplomatic Corps.
In the Gospel we heard that “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife” (Mt 1:24). These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: “Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model” (Redemptoris Custos, 1).
How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.
How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own. This is what God asked of David, as we heard in the first reading. God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit. Joseph is a “protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!
The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!
Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically, in every period of history there are “Herods” who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women.
Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be “protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!
Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!
Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!
In the second reading, Saint Paul speaks of Abraham, who, “hoping against hope, believed” (Rom 4:18). Hoping against hope! Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope! For believers, for us Christians, like Abraham, like Saint Joseph, the hope that we bring is set against the horizon of God, which has opened up before us in Christ. It is a hope built on the rock which is God.
To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!
I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me! Amen.