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Joseph: Guardian and Protector

When the inspiration came to travel to Rome last March for the historic Conclave, a prime concern was to choose realistic dates for the stay. How long would the Conclave last? When would the inaugural Mass of the new Pope be held? I happened to meet Cardinal Timothy Dolan and put the question to him. Without sure knowledge, he allowed himself to express a hope: "it would be wonderful if it were held on the Feast of Saint Joseph." And so it came to pass.

Monday March 18, 2013 was one of the rawest rainiest days I have ever experienced in Rome. Wednesday the 20th was almost equally dismal. But Tuesday the 19th, the Feast of Saint Joseph, dawned with glorious sunshine. The blue sky above Saint Peter's Square was radiant, and as the Mass proceeded, the overflow and enthusiastic congregation removed jackets and were basking in sunlit joy: Gaudium magnum, indeed!

Here is some of what we heard from the new Bishop of Rome:

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!

And he went on:

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!

These inaugural themes have been sounded again and again during the year that has passed, in words and, even mores strikingly, in deeds. The full homily is here.

 

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.

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The Catholic devotion to Joseph is so moving.  Francis speaks beautifully about Joseph’s role as a tender and courageous protector, and insists on his unfailing presence.  Yet, Joseph is mentioned maybe a dozen times in the gospels, and the last mention of him is when Jesus is twelve, and he and Mary are confounded by their son’s staying back at the Temple and asserting that he must be in his Father’s house.  Luke says that they did not understand what Jesus had said to them.  I always love that.  But we can’t fail to remark Joseph’s absence in the rest of the gospel. And yet we, and Francis, do somehow find in Joseph the “core of the Christian vocation.” 

 

Partly that’s because Joseph’s initial appearance is so gripping.  He finds out that his betrothed is pregnant, not by him, and then is informed in a dream that he must not be afraid to take Mary into his home and that “God is to be with us” through that baby. He shapes his life accordingly. He stays with her, and the child, and warned in another dream, he takes his family off to Egypt to escape Herod.  Strong stuff.  Enough to warrant, I suppose, all of our traditional beliefs about his continued presence. Certainly he becomes a model for the rest of us, ordinary Christians with ordinary vocations, absent and present at the same time.

Joseph is underrated as a saint and figure and very little theological reflection has been done on him.

if womens stereotypical weakness is vanity, a man's stereotypical weakness is the need to be admired.  But Jospeh does not receive this I the scripture yet nonetheless is the kind of husband and father I would like to be and be known as; faithful and who makes my family feel safe. 

If I can die being known as a good and righteous man, that would be a grace. I know few men who could make that claim themselves or who others would make that claim about. So even though little is known about him, that much is and that is really something! Powerful in its understatement.

As a child of maybe 8 or 10, I could always tell which Christmas cards sent to our family were from Catholics because St. Joseph was depicted with a halo. On Protestant cards he was not, so I would draw them in with the gold crayon from my Crayola box. My mother noticed this and got kind of annoyed, but I'd heard stories from my Catholic friends about how St. Joseph protected Jesus and Mary, and helped raise Jesus, so I felt he should get some kind of recognition. After awhile, she kind of enjoyed the game. She'd open the cards one by one and say, "Uh oh, no halo," and hand it to me, and I would draw it in.

I sometimes think St. Joseph helped form my Catholic imagination, such as it is. I always imagined him as someone brave and smart, good in a crisis, but not in a showoffy heroic kind of way. I could see him helping his neighbors rebuild stoop, shim windows, or plane the bottoms of sticky doors, as I'd seen the dads in our neighborhood do, telling stupid jokes, letting us kids hand them nails or play with the levels, and enjoying a Goebel beer when the job was done.

While I wasn't raised to believe in heaven, but I liked to imagined that if there was one, St. Joseph would have been the one waiting to greet Jesus first.

One of my siblings, a ND grad (we're surrounded by 'em in our family), forwarded me the link to a daily reflection by a C.S.C brother who focuses on St. Joseph through the life and devotion of one of St. Joseph's most devoted disciples, Brother Andre Bessette, now St. Andre Bessette or St. Andre of Montreal, and by all accounts a humble and selfless man like his patron saint. They say that when Brother Andre died, more than a million people filed by his casket.

http://faith.nd.edu/s/1210/faith/interior.aspx?sid=1210&gid=609&pgid=185...

One of the reasons I especially like the movie "Jesus" ... http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Jeremy-Sisto/dp/B002Z2X7GK ... is that it has Joseph as a character, still alive when Jesus is an adult and hanging around with him.  I also liked a past movie, The Staircase ...  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0152588/  ...  which has a modern incarnation of Joseph as the carpenter building an unusual staircase in the 1870s for the Sisters of Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  You can see the real life staircase here ... http://www.lorettochapel.com/staircase.html

During the first session of the Council, Pope John XXIII suddenly decided to accede to requests that had been coming to Rome for some time that St. Joseph's name be added to the Canon of the Mass. The Pope was said to have been moved to the act by the rude treatment by the Cardinal-president that day of a Yugoslav bishop, who had suffered for years in a Communist prison, who had spoken of the great devotion of his people to St. Joseph.

The decision provoked certain disagrements. Some thought it a trivial matter, given all the great problems the world and the Church were facing. Others thought that it would encourage a sentimental theology of the Holy Family. Karl Barth had fewer difficulties, saying that he himself preferred to compare the Church to St. Joseph than to the Blessed Virgin. Some jokes were also told about it:

One of the signs of the vitality of this old Roman church is (as I have observed before) the delight that its priests take in telling stories on themselves and the ways of Rome. The current saying that is floating about is to the effect that, now that St. Joseph's name has been included in the canon of the mass, we shall presently have promulgated a doctrine of the assumption of the blessed St. Joseph, to parallel the doctrine of the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary--that is, of course, direct assumption into heaven--and this on the theological basis that the family that prays together stays together! (Douglas Horton, Vatican Diary 1962)

More seriously, two interpretations were given of the Pope's action. On the one hand, it was thought astonishing that he should have acted in this way, alone, while the Council was discussing liturgical matters. On the other hand, many read it as a sign that at least as far as the Pope was concerned, the Canon of the Mass could indeed be changed.

How do you think Jesus referred to Joseph ... you are my guardian?  you are my protector?  how about calling him dad/daddy/father?

Aside from Joseph being called to protect Mary, is there anything in those two excerpts that is said of Joseph and that could not just as well be said of Mary?  Maybe the idea that he/she might be tempted to follow his/her own plans. Maybe being realistic, in touch with her surroundings, and wise, are not particularly attributes of Mary, but do we really have a reason to think that they are a better description of Joseph? One accepts a pregnancy coming out of nowhere, the other accepts his fiancee's story of a pregnancy out of nowhere. They are both exhibiting a kind of foolish wisdom, in touch with messages that transcend them.

How does Mary respond to her calling to be the protector of  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 her 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. Mary is a “protector” because she is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason she is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to her safekeeping. She can look at things realistically, she is in touch with his surroundings, she can make truly wise decisions. In her, 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!

Today, together with the feast of the Virgin Mary, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. [...] 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 the Virgin Mary and, like her, he must open her arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, ...

Claire:

There is an icon of the birth of Jesus that is very touching. It shows Mary laying down after the birth of Jesus and looking downwards to Joseph who is sitting on a rock.

 

There is an older figure talking to him who is symbol of the devil or tempter. He is putting doubts in the mind of Joseph.Doubts of the whole story, doubts of who Jesus might be. Mary is looking at him tenderly understanding how difficult this is.

Mary knew for certain that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Joseph cannot be so certain. His fiance pregnant and he has not even been with her sexually and she is now pregnant to boot! Agreeing to raise a child that is not his own. But he just works through these private doubts on his own and is faithful and loving to Mary. Mary for her part looks over with love and understanding to Joseph.

http://marshmk.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/nativity-2.jpg

I once heard Krister Stehdahl deliver a sermon on Joseph, the content of which I do not remember (something about how people always forget about him), but the tone, force, and beauty of which I frequently recall.

I Like James' Joseph of stilled time:

http://earlychristianwritings.com/text/infancyjames-hock.html

I am also deeply amused by this, though other may not be:

http://www.spaceavalanche.com/2011/06/13/family-get-together/

 

I will pray to St Joseph that he guards and protects Manhattan against Lousiville tonight.  I tihnk this will need more than St Jude.

 

An image that would fit this post is an icon of the holy family.

George, you're right, it's a lovely icon.

I was thinking of this one: https://wordonfire.org/getmedia/2741e906-deda-426f-bb71-e0d038b2d9ab/!!!...

 

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