Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Solemnity of Saint Joseph – March 19, 2017
This day has special meaning for all of us, doesn’t it? … We celebrate a treasured saint – the father figure of the family into which Jesus, the Savior, was born. … We celebrate the patron saint of the universal Church. … We celebrate the patron of this blessed community of priests – the Oblates of Saint Joseph – who have served the faithful of this diocese for over 88 years.
And our own Pope Francis, who was installed as Bishop of Rome four years ago on the Feast of Saint Joseph, has special devotion to the beloved saint. But his own devotion to the saint is not merely the result of a coincidence related to the timing of his election as successor of Saint Peter. Francis’ devotion goes back to the days of his childhood in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where his parish church was dedicated to Saint Joseph. And the love and appreciation of the pontiff for the foster father of Jesus has grown and flourished throughout his many years.
Recently, in an exchange with 140 Superiors General of Religious Congregations of Men, Pope Francis shared a practice that he has maintained for many years, including during the four years that he has served the Church as Pope. “If there’s a problem, I write a note to Saint Joseph and put it under a statue that I have in my room. It is a statue of St. Joseph sleeping.” In fact, the statue that is treasured by the Pope is one of the few things that he had sent from Argentina to Rome following his election. The head came off during the journey to Italy but the Holy Father saw to it that it was fixed.
I don’t know if any of you have a similar statue, but its place in the vast array of images of Saint Joseph is not insignificant. There are numerous icons and images of Joseph sleeping. While this posture of the saint may seem like an odd action or pose for sacred art, the image is rooted in the few things we know for certain about Saint Joseph from Sacred Scripture. In two separate occasions, we are told that God speaks to Joseph through an angel in his dreams (Matthew 1:24 and Matthew 2:14,21,22).
A simple, quiet, humble man who listened carefully to the voice of God, while awake and at rest – a man who trusted in the power of God to save – a man of deep faith who cooperated with the plan of God entrusted to him: that’s the saint whom we honor and celebrate this day.
Saint Matthew, in the opening chapter of his gospel, lays groundwork for the birth of Jesus. He reminds us that when Mary was engaged to Joseph – but before they lived together – she was found with child through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph was rightly confused about this and wanted to divorce her quietly, when suddenly an angel appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife.”
These are key words in the life of Joseph. “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife.” With these words, God entrusts to Joseph – the carpenter of Nazareth – the mystery of salvation. … That mystery was given first to Mary, when she was chosen to be the mother of the savior. But Joseph too, became a unique participant in the same mystery of God. God’s plan for his creation was revealed to a virgin … and then to a carpenter.
But why the carpenter? Why this man? Why Joseph?
First of all, Joseph is a man of faith. Everything that we know about him points to that reality. In the scriptures, Joseph comes across as a man who was attuned to the voice of God. Joseph wasn’t afraid to look inside of himself and listen to God speaking in his heart. And he let God’s word guide not only his thoughts but his actions. Saint Joseph trusted in God more than in himself. And he obeyed God even when it didn’t all add up – like taking Mary as his wife when she was already with child.
Saint Joseph was also committed to his vocation. Once he realized that God wanted him to be a part of this great mystery of faith, Joseph risked everything for those entrusted to his care. He accepted God’s call and cooperated with God in the unfolding of salvation.
Finally, Joseph worked hard in a harsh land during a difficult time in history. But by his life, he taught us that the value of our work isn’t just about producing things. It’s about cooperating with God – seeing in our work the opportunity to contribute to the good of society – and to serve those in need, especially the poor and the vulnerable.
Saint Joseph teaches us a great deal despite the fact that not a single word spoken by this great saint in recorded in the scriptures. … He speaks eloquently through the example of his life – his prayerful relationship with God – his generous embrace of his vocation as husband and father – his commitment to work and to building a just, humane and generous world. And he speaks to us of all that is possible through faith in God.
Recalling once again the image of the sleeping Saint Joseph that is so dear to Pope Francis, the Holy Father captured the essence of the great saint in a homily that he delivered during a pastoral visit to the Philippines a few years ago. “Like the sleeping Saint Joseph who listened to the voice of God in his dreams, once we have heard God’s voice, we must rise from our slumber. We must get up and act!”
Our faith as believers in Jesus Christ is never meant to simply bring us to a quiet posture of prayer and peace. Joseph reminds us that authentic discipleship demands much, much more.
Remember the words spoken on this great feast four years ago by our Holy Father at the moment when he began his ministry among us. “Let us never forget that authentic power is service.” Let us be “inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, open our 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” – like the blest Saint – Joseph – whom we honor this day.