40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #18 Saint Joseph

Saint Joseph

Today is the feast day of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin.  Like many Catholic men, Saint Joseph is my hero.  Here’s a man who was the step-father of the Son of God yet we don’t know a single word he ever said. We don’t even know when he died.  The last reference we have to him in scripture is the incident where he and Mary found Jesus in the temple when He was still a young boy.  Yet he was a key player in our salvation.  Without Joseph’s participation God’s plan for our salvation would have come to a screeching halt.  We don’t know how old he was at the time he took Mary as his wife though legend has it that he was an older man.

One thing we know is that he had tremendous faith.  He accepted God’s call.  He accepted Mary’s explanation of her pregnancy.  He agreed to allow Mary to remain a virgin, even after their marriage.  At the angel’s command, he abandoned what we assume to be a successful carpentry business and move his family to Egypt.  Then, after he must have restarted his business there, the angel came again and told him to move back to Nazareth.

When the child was left behind in the temple, he helped Mary search for him, and when they found Him, what did Jesus say?  “Didn’t you know I must be in my FATHER’S house?”  How painful must that have been for him?  Yet, he followed his calling and did everything he could do to raise God’s son.  As his human role model, Joseph taught Jesus how to be a man.

When I think of Jesus, I’m reminded of my late father-in-law.  He was a devout Catholic but he didn’t make a big deal out of it.  He did what he thought God wanted him to do in a simple, humble way.  If he had been born a generation later, Harold would have made a much better deacon than his son-in-law.  He lived his faith and, as Saint Francis said, he preached the Gospel every single day without using words.

In spite of what the media and anti-Catholic pundits would like us to believe, the Catholic Church is not dominated by men.  Granted the ordained leadership is male-only, as Jesus wants it to be.  But take a look around you on Sunday at mass.  Women are in the majority.  Our society makes it much more difficult for a man to be a devout Catholic.  It’s just not “manly”, especially in the United States.

One example, and it may not be particularly insightful but it’s still a common occurrence, would be professional sports.  Catholic athletes from other countries, particularly those from Latin America, regularly make the sign of the cross before stepping into the batters box in baseball, and when they’ve had a successful at-bat.  Hispanic goal keepers kiss the goal posts and cross themselves before every game.  But, when was the last time you saw an Anglo-American do the same thing?  Not often.

We men are very blessed to have Joseph as our spiritual role model.  He may not have said anything that the Gospel writers felt was worth writing down, but his actions spoke volumes.

So, here’s to you, Saint Joseph, on your feast day.  You answered God’s call.  You suffered much hardship and raised God’s son to be a man.  You went about your faith and your business with quiet dignity.  Thank you for your example.  It couldn’t have been easy to be you.  Being the only member of the household who was capable of committing sin must have been quite a challenge. Whenever anything went wrong, it had to be your fault.

Saint Joseph, husband of Mary and mentor to the Son of God, thank you for showing all of us what it really means to be cool!

Feast of Saint Joseph

Saint JosephIt’s March 19, the Feast of Saint Joseph.  Here in the United States we really kind of shortchange Joseph.  We wear the white vestments to honor him, but we don’t celebrate the day as they do in other countries, especially in Italy.  It’s probably because Joseph’s feast falls just two days after Saint Patrick’s Day and it’s a bit much to have two celebrations, especially when both involve a lot of food and we’re in the middle of Lent.

It seems that there was a great drought in Italy and the people prayed to Saint Joseph to intercede for them to make it rain.  It did rain, leading to a bumper crop of food.  To celebrate, the people had a great feast in honor of Joseph. They called it Saint Joseph’s table.  Like I said, they still celebrate with Saint Joseph’s in many parts of the world, but in the United States, not so much.

In America we associate Saint Joseph with another interesting phenomenon.  We consider Joseph to be sort of a real estate agent’s assistant.  The story is that if you bury a statue of him in your yard, you’ll be more likely to sell your house.  It’s always seemed a little strange to me that you have a better chance of a sale if you bury a statue of the stepfather of Jesus in your yard, UPSIDE DOWN, but a lot of people believe it and thousands of little plastic statues of him are sold every year.  When you do sell your house, the tradition holds that you dig him up and put him in a place of prominence in your home.

This strange tradition seems to have begun with Saint Theresa of Avila.  Trying to secure land for newly-converted Catholics, Theresa had her sisters bury medals of Saint Joseph.  The sisters were successful in getting the land they wanted and the tradition grew.  With the invention of cheap plastic statues, the medals gave way to today’s plastic statues and the rest, as they say, is history.  It still seems like a strange thing to me, but enough people swear it works that when I sell my house, I’ll make a stop at Catholic Supply.

Saint Joseph was certainly a central figure in salvation history.  The prophets predicted that Jesus would be “of the house of David”.  To make the prophesy come true, Joseph had to say “yes” to the angel’s request.  He had to swallow his pride and take Mary as his wife, even though she was pregnant with a child who wasn’t his.  He had to make the long journey to Jerusalem with Mary and to watch her give birth in a stable.  He had to abandon his carpentry shop and take Mary and the child to Egypt.  Then, he had to get up in the middle of the night and take them back.  It wasn’t easy being Joseph.

We never hear from Joseph after Jesus gets lost in the temple, and we don’t have a single record of anything that he ever said.  Some scholars think that he lived to a very old age, maybe even 100 years.  I personally believe that he died before Jesus began His public ministry.  Remember Jesus and His mother were at the wedding feast in Cana when He performed His first miracle.  It’s hard to believe that Mary would go to a wedding reception without her husband.

It’s definitely hard to believe that, if he’d been alive, he wouldn’t have been there when his step-son was nailed to a cross and that he would have remained silent while it happened.  I can’t imagine any father, even an adopted father would have done that.

So, today we remember this silent saint, this saint who we know so little about.  Even though we don’t know much about his life, we know that he was absolutely essential in the story of our Savior.

Third Friday of Advent

Joseph and JesusWow!  It’s the third Friday of Advent already.  Christmas is just a week from today.  You can tell it’s getting close, not just from the latest “biggest sale of the year”, but because the Church presents us with the story from Matthew’s gospel of how “the birth of Jesus Christ came about.”  It’s such a familiar story that I really don’t know what to say about it that hasn’t already been said.

Maybe we’ll look at it from Joseph’s point of view.  We don’t know a whole lot about Joseph.  Not one single word of his is recorded in any of the four Gospels.  Some scholars think that he was an older man.  Some say he might have been a widower with children from his first wife.  There are some clues, but we really don’t know.

What we do know is this.  He was engaged to a young girl who suddenly became pregnant.  He knew he wasn’t the child’s father.  He thought his fiance was a virgin.  That’s what she told him.  But here she was pregnant with a bizarre story about an angel and the Holy Spirit.  I don’t know about you, but that might be a hard one to swallow.  Remember, in those days people actually followed a moral code, a very strict moral code.  When Mary cloak started stretching at the seams, everyone would assume that Joseph was responsible and that wouldn’t help his carpentry business.  His reputation would be ruined.

So he decided to divorce her quietly.  Then the angel appeared to him in a dream and backed up Mary’s story.  The marriage was back on.  He would raise the Son of God as his own son with all the trials and inconveniences that came with the job.

The last line of the Gospel is one of the things that separate us Catholics from some of our protestant brothers and sisters.  Notice it says, “He had no relations with her until she bore a son.”  We believe that Mary was “ever virgin.”  Anyone who knows Jewish law would understand that if she were ever to have relations with Joseph she would be committing adultery.  In this case, adultery against the Holy Spirit.  That would have been pretty serious stuff.  But our English language doesn’t really translate Matthew’s writing very well.

The words “until she bore a son” could imply that something happened afterwords.  But that’s not the case here.  The way the people would have interpreted it is that they never had relations.  An better example might be “he never smoked another cigarette until he died.”  That doesn’t mean that he started smoking again after he died.  But I digress.

The story of the miraculous conception of Jesus is one of the greatest and most important stories of our Christian history.  As you think about it, put yourself in Joseph’s place.  Would you have done what he did?  Would you have believed an angel who appeared in a dream?  I don’t know about you, but I have some pretty weird dreams sometimes.

But Joseph did believe and followed God’s words and in just seven days we’ll celebrate the story of the little family in the little town of Bethlehem.  Come, Jesus, come.