ARCHBISHOP JEROME E. LISTECKI
I love the saints, their influence on our daily lives and their faithfulness to Jesus and the Gospel. They continue to inspire us to lead lives as committed Catholics even though some have been dead for hundreds or thousands of years. Today, March 19, is the feast of St Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This celebration comes at a very appropriate time. Little is recorded about St. Joseph but his participation in the plan of salvation is significant. When a young man approaches me for the sacrament of confirmation, I speak to him about the character of the man Joseph. Imagine. I tell him that here is God the Father, who knows intimately every being on the earth, and he chooses this man Joseph to care for Mary and the child Jesus.
St. Bernardine of Siena (in his sermon two on St. Joseph) stated, “There is a general rule concerning all special graces granted to any human being. Whenever the divine favor chooses someone to receive a special grace, or to accept a lofty vocation, God adorns the person chosen with all the gifts of the Spirit needed to fulfill the task at hand. This general rule is especially verified in the case of St. Joseph. He was chosen by the eternal Father as the trustworthy guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, namely his divine Son and Mary, Joseph’s wife.”
Facing a personal dilemma with the pregnancy of Mary, he chooses to trust in God and assumes his role as protector and provider. He follows the direction of angelic messengers despite the personal risk to his own life. His protection of the child in the womb has led to his being a patron to the unborn. I will pose a trick question to the confirmand asking: What were the last words of St. Joseph in Sacred Scripture. Often he will look at me puzzled. So, I answer, “None. He never spoke.” He was always depicted as the man of action. Taking the name Joseph as your patron means you must be a man who trusts in God and acts for the good of your brothers and sisters.
The personal piety of the Church has turned to St. Joseph from its very beginnings. The faithful knew that Joseph was special so they sought his intercessions. Even the great St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church, attributed her recovery to health to St. Joseph’s intercession. All of us can easily see that Joseph must have been a model father, a dependable workman and therefore a provider for the family. He was involved in all aspects of family life. He also responded to God’s call to take the child and Mary, and flee to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod. There are many in our immigrant community who seek Joseph’s protection as they establish themselves in the new land. Joseph is the patron of immigrants and travelers.
We know St. Joseph was a carpenter. He must have been a good one, too, because when Jesus returns to Nazareth people recognize him to be the carpenter’s son. Work is good. We contribute our sweat and labor to the accomplishment of a project or task. We also understand that God’s blessing is seen in the work we perform. In 1955, Pius XII established a new feast: St. Joseph the Workman (also patron of the Diocese of La Crosse) May 1. This feast was placed in direct opposition to the May Day celebration, which heralded the worker as part of the Communist Manifesto and celebrated the worker and their accomplishments apart from God. Again, Joseph directs us to follow God.
As a carpenter, he was involved with building. The Church in her wisdom has named him patron of carpenters and realtors. Of course, personal piety will always bury that St. Joseph statue when selling a house. Don’t forget to dig him up after the sale and put him in a place of honor in the new home.
It was Pius IX (1870) who at the end of the First Vatican Council declared St. Joseph patron of the Universal Church. The Church was declaring what was in the hearts of many faithful that if God entrusted Jesus and Mary to Joseph, the Church herself belongs to Joseph’s care. Many cities of various countries have chosen St. Joseph as their patron in Italy, Canada, Mexico, Belgium, Croatia, Korea, Vietnam, etc., to name a few.
At the beginning of the column, I stated that this is a very appropriate time for a celebration of St. Joseph because he is also the patron of the sick, happy death and against doubt. With the world confronting the global pandemic of the coronavirus, we all face our mortality. The uncertainty of the coronavirus leaves many fearful. In the normal scheme of life, we face our mortality individually but the nature of this virus calls all of us to be mindful that our lives are fragile and we must hold ourselves accountable before God.
We have a great health care system and I am sure that science and the medical profession will use their God-given knowledge to address the crisis. I have a confidence in their advancements as well as the health care and community leaders in the direction that they will offer us. But, we must do our part, which is to take responsible actions to protect not only ourselves but also our brothers and sisters. But, above all, we as people of faith must display a trust in God. We ask St. Joseph to dispel any doubts that God will be with us through this crisis. We must ask for St. Joseph’s intercession for the healing for those who are sick now and in the future.
As a boy, I always thought it strange that St. Joseph was patron of a Happy Death. What could be happy about death? But, we all seek to be with God in the next life. When our time comes, nothing could be better than to be in the state of grace. The traditional story of Joseph’s death has him surrounded by Jesus and Mary loving him into the next world.
I know that God has charged us with the fulfillment of his mission. Yet all of us must be ready to be his instruments. Our prayers to St. Joseph remind us to trust in God, especially at this time. St. Joseph pray for us.