Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Solemnity of St. Joseph
March 19, 2017
2 Sam 7:4-5.12-14.16, Ps 89, Rom 4:13.16-18.22, Mt 1:16.18-21.24
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- A couple of weeks ago I was preaching a retreat for Bishops just outside of Chicago in a beautiful retreat center run by Opus Dei. St. Josemaria Escriva, the Founder of Opus Dei, had an extraordinary devotion to St. Joseph, something that would make sense as St. Joseph, St. John Paul II once said, was the “epitome of the Gospel of Work” and St. Josemaria (“Joseph-Mary”) was inspired by God to found “The Work” precisely to help people sanctify their ordinary daily work, and sanctify themselves and others through it. In every chapel of the Work I can ever remember visiting there was an image of St. Joseph, normally in images of the Holy Family in one of the Gospel scenes or in Joseph’s carpenter shop. But in that beautiful chapel, I looked around and found no image of St. Joseph. I felt like the Spanish boy in the early 1980s who mentioned to St. John Paul II that out of the 152 statues of saints in St. Peter’s Square none was of the Queen of Saints, Mary, which is why, finding that out, St. John Paul II had the Vatican Mosaic Study make an image of Our Lady, Mother of the Church, and had it installed in a window looking over St. Peter’s Square. I hope the next time I return to Shellbourne Conference Center, I — having mentioned the lacuna to the priests who normally give retreats there — will find an image of the “just man” whom the Church celebrates today!
- I tell that story because since that time I have been looking more assiduously in all the Churches and Chapels I visit for an image of St. Joseph. I’ve also begun to notice how many images of St. Joseph I have, where they’re placed, and how often I acknowledge St. Joseph as I go through the ordinary day. I’d like to share seven such images that we routinely see, because they give us seven different windows with which to examine the life of St. Joseph and how we’re called to grow in his image.
- Images with Mary — One of the most common depictions of St. Joseph is with the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially to show their wedding and the fact that he is the Spouse of the Virgin. He shows us all how to relate to the Blessed Virgin, but in a special way during this year celebrating the centenary of Mary’s apparitions in Fatima, we can focus on how he, better than anyone at any time, was consecrated to her. If anyone could say St. Louis de Montfort’s famous consecratory prayer, from which St. John Paul II took his motto, it was he: “I am all yours, Mary, and all I have is yours. I accept you into the totality of my being. Give me your heart!” St. Joseph was a man of silence, not because he was mute, but because, like Mary, learning from Mary and perhaps even teaching her, he knew how to treasure all things in his heart, putting every scene together as tesserae in the bigger mosaic. He was also a man who in his own life echoed Mary’s fiat. His annunciation was like hers, and when the Angel told him in today’s Gospel not to be afraid to take Mary, his wife, into his home, he wasn’t. He immediately let it be done to him according to the Lord’s word and will. He shows us how to consecrate ourselves to Mary, how to imitate her heart, how to reverberate her fiat.
- Images with Jesus — St. Joseph is likewise depicted with the baby Jesus, like the statue here in this Chapel. What a beautiful depiction of the loving bond between the two of them, a relationship of spiritual paternity and filiation, one in which the superior honored and obeyed the inferior. St. Joseph as a foster dad protected Jesus, rescuing him from the clutches of Herod’s henchmen, torturing himself later when he lost him for three days when Jesus didn’t inform him he was staying back. He provided as a dad for Jesus and Mary, working in Bethlehem, in Egypt and for many years in Nazareth in order that they would have enough to eat and a place to sleep. He was a teacher of Jesus, praying with him in the Synagogue and teaching him his own trade. St. Joseph shows us how to relate to Jesus and how to care for him in others, especially when we find them hungry, thirsty, a stranger, ill or in need.
- Images with the Holy Family — The third set of images are with Mary and Joseph together in the early scenes in the Gospel in Bethlehem, in Egypt, in Nazareth, sharing the ordinary experiences of family life. St. Joseph is a particular patron of the family, a celestial protector. He deserves to be named the Patron and Protector of Human Life and invoked more in the protection particularly of the unborn and of those at the end of life whose lives are threatened and whom others are seeking to bring not to a “good death” — understood as according to God’s plans — but one of false compassion or selfishness. I also think St. Joseph can be a great intercessor for families in trouble. He was, after all, tempted to divorce Mary quietly when he couldn’t comprehend how she became a few months pregnant and, if it were because of divine agency, how he would be able to handle that reality. But when God indicated to him that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit, he immediately embraced. We should turn to him in prayer for those who are tempted to divorce in other circumstances.
- Images with the Church — That leads to the many images of St. Joseph with the Church. At Holy Family Church where I pray early each morning, the altar of St. Joseph has him holding an image of Holy Family Church in New York. At St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford, at his altar he was holding an image of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. It’s a sign that he is the protector of the Church as a whole, which is God’s new family. How important it is for us to consecrate ourselves, our dioceses, our parishes, our domestic churches to his protection.
- Images with a Lily — When St. Joseph is depicted alone, he’s almost always holding a lily, a symbol of his purity and chastity. He’s called not just Mary’s “chaste” spouse but her “most chaste” spouse, sponsus castissimus. Often we can think that chastity is the virtue that fights against love, but that’s exactly the opposite: chastity is what helps purify our eros so that our love of friendship (philia) and Christ-like love (agape) can become white hot. Joseph was a passionate lover of Mary but not in a way that was at all possessive, self-directed. He gave himself to her and received her self-gift with a totality that did not involve erotic expression. To say he was most chaste was to say he was most loving, seen in his capacity for total self-giving. The whole Church, and each one of us, needs to learn from his this type of most chaste loving. Celibate priests and religious need to recognize that we’re all called, like St. Therese, to be love in the heart of the Church, and we would be wise to model our spousal love on the committed, passionate love that we see in Joseph and Mary. Sometimes consecrated men and women live their chastity as if they’re someone called to be loveless and lifeless, just fulfilling our duties as worthless servants who have just done what we were obliged. That’s not the way Jesus lived his chaste celibacy, or Joseph or Mary lived theirs for that matter! Similarly married couples are called to live their conjugal bonds in “most chaste” ways, which means more loving, not less, but in a holy rather than a horny way.
- Images of St. Joseph Working — St. Joseph is often depicted working, either alone or with Jesus. I have statues at my desk both at the Mission as well as in my study at the Rectory with him working hard. He is the model of the Gospel of Work, as St. John Paul II stressed. He not only make things as a tekton — builder or construction worker — but made himself in the process, through the intransitive impact of our work on our character. And he trained Jesus according to his humanity to be a tekton too, helping Jesus to make it his “vocation” during his hidden life. Joseph is the model of someone who unites one’s work to Jesus and all Christians seeking to turn their work into prayer ought to look toward him.
- Images of St. Joseph Sleeping — The last image is a relatively new one, popularized by Pope Francis and many Filipinos. It’s of St. Joseph sleeping. Pope Francis has an image of St. Joseph sleeping at his bedside and he’s spoken about it on many occasions. I was given one of these images a month ago for my birthday and now I have it at my bedside. What’s the image about? We normally don’t have images, for example, of Mary’s sleeping or of the adult Jesus sleeping (although there are a few paintings of Jesus’ sleeping in the boat during a storm). But the image of St. Joseph sleeping focuses on how God communicated to him regularly in dreams, that even in his sleep St. Joseph was obedient and attentive to God’s voice. God spoke to him in a dream telling him not to be afraid to take Mary his wife into his home. God spoke to him in a dream telling him to take Jesus and his mother and flee to Egypt. God spoke to him in a dream telling him to return after Herod’s death. And in all of these occasions, even though he could have deconstructed dreams, he obeyed. He was praying in his sleep and seeking to do God’s will. And Pope Francis has encouraged us while we’re sleeping not only to entrust our prayers to St. Joseph but to imitate his prompt obedience. “I have great love for St. Joseph, because he is a man of silence and strength,” he once said. “On my table I have a statue of St. Joseph sleeping. Even when he is asleep, he is taking care of the church! Yes! We know that he can do that. So when I have a problem, a difficulty, I write a little note and I put it underneath St. Joseph, so that he can dream about it! In other words I tell him: pray for this problem!” Elsewhere he added: “Joseph’s rest revealed God’s will to him. In our moment of rest in the Lord, as we pause from our many daily obligations and activities, God is also speaking to us.” He said on another occasion:“But like St. Joseph, once we have heard God’s voice, we must rise from our slumber; we must get up and act.” This is a devotion, like Our Lady, Untier of Knots, that Pope Francis has brought to the universal Church.
- In all of these ways, we’re called to imitate St. Joseph. He can teach us how to relate to Mary, to Jesus, to our family members, to the Church, to grow in chastity, in sanctifying our work and in sanctifying our sleep. St. Joseph has so much to teach us and today is a day in which we ask him to do so.
- No matter what the image, the most common inscription on pedestals of statues of St. Joseph is Ite ad Joseph, the ancient aphorism that means, “Go to Joseph.” He is, par excellence, the “wise and faithful servant whom the Lord put in charge of his household (Lk 12:42). As we prepare to receive the same Son he used to hold in his arms, as we prepare to be nourished by the divine child who in his humanity was nourished by the work of St. Joseph’s hands, let us ask go to Joseph to ask him to intercede for us so that we might imitate him in dedicating ourselves totally to God and his plan for us and others, so that as we adore and receive Jesus here at Mass with similar sentiments to how he adored him in the manger in Bethlehem and at the carpenter’s table in Nazareth, we may come through the grace of a happy death to adore that same Jesus with him, with Mary, and with all the saints!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 2 Sm 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16
“Go, tell my servant David,
‘When your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his kingdom firm.
It is he who shall build a house for my name.
And I will make his royal throne firm forever.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand firm forever.’”
Responsorial Psalm Ps 89:2-3, 4-5, 27 and 29
The promises of the LORD I will sing forever;
through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness,
For you have said, “My kindness is established forever”;
in heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness.
R. The son of David will live for ever.
“I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
Forever will I confirm your posterity
and establish your throne for all generations.”
R. The son of David will live for ever.
“He shall say of me, ‘You are my father,
my God, the Rock, my savior.’
Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him,
and my covenant with him stands firm.”
R. The son of David will live for ever.
Reading 2 Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22
It was not through the law
that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants
that he would inherit the world,
but through the righteousness that comes from faith.
For this reason, it depends on faith,
so that it may be a gift,
and the promise may be guaranteed to all his descendants,
not to those who only adhere to the law
but to those who follow the faith of Abraham,
who is the father of all of us, as it is written,
I have made you father of many nations.
He is our father in the sight of God,
in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead
and calls into being what does not exist.
He believed, hoping against hope,
that he would become the father of many nations,
according to what was said, Thus shall your descendants be.
That is why it was credited to him as righteousness.
Verse Before the Gospel Ps 84:5
Blessed are those who dwell in your house, O Lord;
they never cease to praise you.
Gospel Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.