As a parishioner of St. Joseph’s University Parish in Buffalo these days, I was particularly disappointed to not be able to go to mass there on the Feast of the Holy Family. After all, St Joseph has no lines in the bible and has a feast day that is royally overshadowed on March 19th by the great feast of St Patrick just two days earlier. So Joseph is inclined to take any feast day that he gets a mention!
One of the more remarkable stories that I’ve heard on the Feast of the Holy Family comes from my good friend, Fr. Ron Franco, CSP. This Sunday, since we were visiting friends and family in NYC, I went to the Church of St. Paul the Apostle (the Paulist motherhouse and the church that Marion and I were married in) and was hoping that perhaps this story would get a repeat performance in his homily. Alas, the good Father was not presiding. However, I will do my best to recall his story.
Back in the day, Fr. Ron’s grandmother was pregnant and she decided that she was going to name the baby after St. Joseph. Unfortunately, she miscarried. Pregnant again, she again vowed to name the baby after the foster-father of Jesus. But after a second miscarriage, she cried out, “That St. Joseph is a jinx! Never again, will I EVER name a child after St. Joseph.”
Who could blame her really?
When she became pregnant again the question presented to her was how was she going to decide the name of the baby since St. Joseph was persona non grata?
“That’s easy,” she replied. “I will just name the child after the saint whose feast is on the day that she or he is born!”
A simple solution, to be sure. However, when the baby was born on March 19, that idea presented her with a conundrum. St. Joseph’s Day. The dreaded jinx. But true to her word, Fr. Ron’s grandmother gave her little girl the promised name. And so she became Fr. Ron’s Aunt Josephine.
But even more remarkable was that Fr. Ron’s grandmother renwed her faith with a great devotion indeed to St. Joseph.
I too, have been quite close to Josephs in my own life. My parent’s were married in St. Joseph’s Church in Yonkers and I too, was baptized there. My college roommate and close friend is named Joseph. My financial adviser is named Joseph. And the young man who has been such a joy for me to listen to in spiritual direction as his director when I often feel very close to God the most is in fact, also named Joseph. And now I embark on a new phase in my life at a church where Joseph is the patron.
An interesting character, St. Joseph has no lines spoken in the gospels. We know he was a craftsman or artisan of some kind, some say a carpenter, but others say he was a bit more than simply a worker of wood. And indeed his life was one insurmountable task after another. It’s no wonder that Fr. Ron’s grandma was able to reacquaint with the great saint after some time of trouble.
Joseph was promised that Mary would be his wife and then, one day, out of the blue, she ends up pregnant. Joseph’s first reaction is to say simply, “Oh well. I’ll just end this marriage deal quietly and fade out of the picture.” We gloss over the fact that by law, Joseph had the right to stone Mary to death. Instead he shows mercy and restraint. I like to imagine Joseph tearfully, considering whether he should stone this woman that perhaps he has come to love, that in his old age he was looking forward to marrying. He can’t bear to even think of doing that and so he walks away. It is great foreshadowing for a later gospel story of the woman caught in adultery who Jesus forgives and in fact, saves from stoning.
Joseph chooses to simply back out. But during what was no doubt a restless sleep, Joseph’s insecurities play out in a dream. God comforts these insecurities by telling Joseph those words that we hear more than any other words in the bible: “Do not be afraid.” In this case, God tells him to take Mary into his home and to raise this son who he will name Jesus.
The man who wanted nothing to do with this relationship, who was dismissive of the whole thing, now becomes the protector of God himself. God places His human body in the strong sure hands of a simple carpenter who indeed designed the plan that would keep both Jesus and Mary safe indeed, especially in a poor society where infant mortality was very high and where people didn’t always live into their 30s.
Besides all this, imagine having to teach God! Imagine throwing a baseball to God and telling Him that he throws like a girl that first time out? Imagine teaching him how to make a chair–when you know full well that he probably knows 27 better and faster ways to do it? Imagine worrying if you were teaching him anything at all, or if you were actually doing a good job of protecting God from the ills of society? Would Joseph have to punish Jesus for being late? Would he have to help him discern his vocation in life? Would he be upset at his new ideas and his choice of ministry?
Joseph indeed has it tough.
But the fact that Jesus and Mary live as long as they do in no small way is due to this hidden saint. Joseph the silent provider does his job without any fanfare. We don’t hear much about Joseph after the infancy narratives. We presume him to be dead during Jesus’ passion and death because he is not with Mary at the foot of the cross. Joseph doesn’t live to see God’s plan fulfilled. But in my imagination, I often fantasize about Joseph sitting at the right hand of God the Father after the Ascension and after standing up, he runs, embraces his son and says, “Here you go, Son, I made this chair just for you.”
Could we be that unassuming? Could we trust that God has the plan for us when we can barely understand what is going on around us, when all seems strange and unexpected?
Could we take such good care of God and moreover, do we let God take good care of us?
Today my prayer is one of imagination. I imagine Joseph in his old age being comforted by a sad Jesus at his deathbed. I think it is there that Joseph got a special gift. He got to see God seconds before his death and then again seconds after it. May we all be comforted by Jesus in our final hours and each day that we live to serve God with all that we are…
Even when times seem difficult.