Sunday, March 19, 2017

Go to Joseph

Saint Joseph has been commemorated in the Latin Church on March 19 since the 15th century and has been venerated as the Patron of the Universal church since the 19th century.

In the progressive development of devotion to Saint Joseph in the Church's history, Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), a mystic, a reformer of religious life, and a Doctor of the Church, who lived on the cusp of the modern era, was a major influence. In her Autobiography (c. 1567), she wrote:

I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to this glorious saint, for I have great experience of the blessings which he can obtain from God. I have never known anyone to be truly devoted to him and render him particular services who did not notably advance in virtue, for he gives very real help to souls who commend themselves to him. For some years now, I think, I have made some request of him every year on his festival and I have always had it granted. If my petition is in any way ill directed, he directs it aright for my greater good.

In the 19th century, the founder of the Paulist Fathers, Servant of God Isaac Hecker (1819-1888), also recommended devotion to Saint Joseph, whom - in a famous sermon delivered during the U.S. Civil War (March 19, 1863) - he somewhat surprisingly categorized as "The Saint of Our Day."

The life of St. Joseph is both interesting and instructive.… What faith! What obedience! What disinterestedness! … He attained in society and in human relationships a degree of perfection not surpassed, if equaled, by the martyr’s death, the contemplative of the solitude, the cloistered monk, or the missionary hero. … Our age lives in its busy marts, in counting-rooms, in work-shops, in homes, and in the varied relations that form human society, and it is into these that sanctity is to be introduced. St. Joseph stands forth as an excellent and unsurpassed model of this type of perfection.

Correspondingly, the heightened emphasis on the liturgical commemoration of Saint Joseph is itself relatively modern. The feast's "traditional" (pre-1970) Mass and Office date back only to Pope Clement XI in 1714. That Office especially highlighted the parallel between the Old Testament Joseph and the New Testament Joseph. Thus the lessons of the 1st Nocturn were taken from Genesis 39-41, the story of the Old Testament Joseph, while those of the 2nd Nocturn were from a sermon by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux explicitly comparing the two Josephs. The two were obviously very different historical figures, but each of then had his vocation revealed to him through dreams, and to each of whom was entrusted the task of managing and providing for the earthly survival, in the first case, of God's Chosen people, and, in the second, of God's Son himself - and  now, by extension, his Church.

(Photo: Statue of Saint Joseph, Immaculate Conception church, Knoxville, TN)

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