Thursday, March 19, 2020

Go to Joseph!

In the Catholic liturgical calendar, today is the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, the Spouse of the BlessedVirgin Mary and Patron of the Universal Church,  an echo of Christmas in the monochrome purple of our modern Lent.

In the New Testament, Saint Joseph appears only briefly (and silently) in connection with the early life of Jesus. His burial place is unknown, and there seems to have been little noteworthy devotion to him in the 1st millennium. But, amid the many European calamities of 14th and 15th centuries – famine, wars, religious conflicts, and, above all, the Bubonic Plague – popular preachers, like Saint Bernardine of Siena, saw Saint Joseph as a model protector. By the 16th century, devotion to Saint Joseph was flourishing in Spain. Saint Teresa of Avila believed that his intercession had healed her of paralysis, and she placed her project of reforming the Carmelites — and the dangerous journeys it involved — under his protection. Twelve of the monasteries she founded were dedicated to St. Joseph. Her love of Saint Joseph influenced that great 16th-17th century champion of holiness in everyday life, Saint Francis de Sales. As part of the Counter-Reformation’s strategy for re-evangelizing Christendom, families were encouraged to imitate the Holy Family headed by Saint Joseph. He was named patron of Mexico in 1555, Canada in 1624, Bohemia in 1655, Austria in 1675, the Chinese missions in 1678, and the Spanish Empire in 1689, and his name was inserted in the Litany of Saints in 1729. More recently, the Little Sisters of the Poor, founded by Blessed Jeanne Jugan (18792-1879), made him patron of all their homes for the aged. Montreal’s Oratory of St. Joseph, begun in 1904 by Saint AndrĂ© Bessette (1845-1937), draws scores of pilgrims and promotes devotion to Saint Joseph worldwide.

After the Kingdom of Italy conquered Rome from the Pope in 1870, Blessed Pope Pius IX proclaimed Saint Joseph Patron of the Universal Church. In 1955, Pope Pius XII established the new feast of Saint Joseph the Worker (May 1), to counteract the Communist May Day holiday. In 1961, Blessed Pope John XXIII made Saint Joseph patron of Vatican Council II, and the following year he inserted Joseph's name in the Roman canon. In 2013, Pope Francis inserted his name in the other Eucharistic Prayers.

A popular custom practiced in many places is the Blessing of Saint Joseph’s Table. In honor of Saint Joseph, who provided for the Holy Family, bread, pastries, and other food are blessed and a large portion of it given to the poor

In a sermon preached at St. Paul the Apostle Church in 1863 (during the American Civil War), Paulist Fathers' Founder Isaac Hecker said of Saint Joseph: “He was in the world and found God where he was. He sanctified his work by carrying God with him into the workshop. … while occupied with the common, daily duties of life, his mind was fixed on the contemplation of divine truths, thus breathing into all his actions a heavenly influence. He attained in society and 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.”

Hecker called Joseph "the Saint of Our Day." Almost a century and a half later, "our day" is again a threatening and dangerous moment in the history of our nation world, and Church. While the tragic and traumatizing circumstances under which we are living prevent us from celebrating Saint Jospeh's feast day with the full solemnity it deserves, those same circumstances ought to move us to an even greater readiness to invoke his help and protection in our dire need. 

I plan to pray the Litany of Saint Joseph privately in our House Chapel at noon today, and I invite all who are not otherwise occupied at that time, to join me in doing the same in the privacy of their own homes or wherever they may be.

Saint Joseph, Hope of the sick, Patron of the dying, Terror of demons, and Protector of Holy Church, pray for us!

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