Pastor’s Corner for March 19, 2017:
Great St. Joseph, pray for us!
This year the solemnity of St. Joseph, March 19, gets bumped because it falls on a Sunday in Lent. But because St. Joseph is so important a player in salvation history, he is not just “skipped over” as other saints would be. Rather, his feast gets moved to Monday, March 20, the next available day. (The same thing also happens when the feast of the Annunciation falls on a Sunday of Lent; this year it falls on a Saturday, so there is no conflict.) The foster father of Jesus was the last of the Old Testament patriarchs, just as John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He is the archetypal example of what the Hebrew Scriptures refer to as a righteous man. Although born a sinner (unlike his blameless and immaculate spouse), he was intimately united to God and docile to the divine will. Here’s a snapshot of what we know about him:
- He was of royal descent. Both Matthew and Luke trace Joseph’s lineage to King David, Israel’s greatest king and from whose line God promised the Messiah. When speaking to St. Joseph, the angel uses the royal title, “Son of David.” People would also address Jesus with this title.
- He was a craftsman. “Tekton,” traditionally translated “carpenter,” is used to describe Joseph’s trade. While not incorrect, the word can also imply a broader range of skills: one who works with their hands in general. I like to think of St. Joseph as a “jack of all trades.”
- He was not wealthy. When he and Mary presented the baby Jesus in the Temple, they offered the offering of the poor: two turtledoves or pigeons.
- He was both a firm adherent of the Mosaic Law and a compassionate man. He knew that the child that Mary carried was not his. He decided to exercise the option of divorcing Mary, but he also did not want the full fury of the Law, a death sentence by public stoning, to come upon his beloved. Later on, he made sure that the family followed the Law’s dictates regarding Mary’s purification after giving birth to Jesus, and that Jesus was circumcised. And from the incident in the Temple when Jesus was 12, we know that they made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem regularly for Passover.
- He was a man of action. When he learned that his wife and foster son were in danger, he did not hesitate to leave everyone and everything he knew to ensure their safety. And if living as an exile was not bad enough, when the family returned to Palestine, they resettled in a different place.
- Because he does not appear after the incident of losing Jesus in the Temple, tradition holds that he died sometime between then and when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. A consequence of this is that St. Joseph is often depicted as an older man. (This could also explain the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus as Joseph’s children of a previous marriage that had ended by his first wife’s death.)
Lent is a marvelous time to reflect on the fidelity of St. Joseph and how we might imitate that fidelity in our own lives. Like many of the saints, he shows that following God’s will is not always easy or pleasant and can come with great personal sacrifice. If the lack of recorded words in Scripture is a reflection of St. Joseph’s personality, it reminds us that our actions can speak more powerfully than words. Indeed, the school’s “motto” for the year, created by the 8th graders, begins, “Silence your words.” May St. Joseph continue to protect and inspire all of us!