I know that many readers here are not Catholics, so let me start with a quick explanation.
Today is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the adoptive father of Jesus. We revere him as the Protector of the Family, as well as the Protector of the Church. If you know your Bible, not much is known about Joseph but what is known is powerful - he defied Jewish law of the time to marry his pregnant fiancee to protect her, and also saved the Child Jesus by bringing his family to Egypt when Herod sought to kill male children.
It is then no coincidence that this morning Pope Francis was installed as the Vicar of Christ for the Holy Catholic Church in Rome on this day. He has been tasked - among many things - to protect Mother Church. His Holiness noted in his Homily:
In the Gospel we heard that “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife” (Mt 1:24). These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: “Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model”
How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.
How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own. This is what God asked of David, as we heard in the first reading. God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit. Joseph is a “protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!
The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!
Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically, in every period of history there are “Herods” who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women.
I am struck by something the Pope said: Let us never forget that authentic power is service. It is no mistake that service is also the source of authentic happiness, and the two go hand in hand. Indeed, His Holiness touched upon this:
Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be “protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!
Want a pick-me-up? Go do something for someone. If someone asks you to pray for them, thank them for the opportunity to do so and thus bring you one step closer to sainthood. In fact, just choose one person today and say a prayer for them - I keep a little post-it note on my monitor to remind me of my prayer intentions. Some of the people on it have no clue they are there.
I have in my home, hanging over the hearth, a gift given to me by my dear friend, Trish. It is a simple cross, but it was made from leftover wood from the renovation of pews at St. Joseph Church in Santa Ana, California, where she and I both attended Mass and served on various committees and ministries. It means a lot to me, since St. Joseoh Church was my spiritual home since 1995 - actually, it still is, a point made to me by its administrator, Fr. Ed Becker. I was looking at that cross today and felt protected - by St. Joseph, by the Virgin Mary, and by Christ, through the graciousness of people like Trish and Fr. Ed, and all others who have shown me their love and friendship. Right now is an anxious time, due to issues with my husband's employment and all the monetary effects thereon. But . . . I have the means to keep calm and keep focused, all the while still maintaining an attitude of service. And gratitude.
We call today the "solemnity" of St. Joseph - but be not solemn. Put on a happy face and toast this magnificent man who gladly heeds God's call to be our protector and to help us. The Italians usually have a St. Joseph's table, laden with sweets and delicacies - may I suggest eating a cannoli while thinking about what you can do to take of someone else. And, through them, yourself.
St. Joseph says, "Relax. You can do this. I got your back."