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.


Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is the author of Rekindling the Christic Imagination.

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