My dear friends from Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,
On December 8, 2020, Pope Francis published Patris Corde, an apostolic letter commemorating the 150th anniversary of St. Joseph being named the Patron of the Universal Church. In his letter, the Pope detailed the different aspects of Joseph’s fatherhood.
In mid December, we Marianists hosted our annual College-Age Evening of Recollection. At that virtual Evening of Recollection, Bro. Joseph, Bro. Stephen, and I spoke about the three key figures for Advent: the Prophet Isaiah; St. John the Baptist; and Our Holy Mother, Mary. I’m afraid, however, that one key figure, St. Joseph, was -- and often is -- overlooked. So, taking my cue from Pope Francis, I’d like to offer some prayerful reflections on St. Joseph, this silent figure who has been brought into the spotlight. His fortitude, obedience, and paternal care can inspire us for our Lenten journey in our practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Pope Francis’ third reflection about St. Joseph details his role as an obedient father. The Pope focuses on God’s communication with St. Joseph through dreams, “a way for Him to make His will known.” Joseph’s dreams and his responses to them provide a beautiful model for our own prayer lives, and while I’m not specifically talking about sleeping more, that would certainly be good for your life in general.
All kidding aside, Lent affords us an opportunity to fine-tune our prayer lives. Lent reminds us that prayer is not just for times of stress. Instead, prayer is an ongoing conversation with God in which we present our wills to Him, and He tells us His plan for us -- in one way or another. The Pope wrote “ ‘When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him’ (Mt 1:24). Obedience made it possible for him to surmount his difficulties. . . . ”
Oftentimes prayer can feel like periods of extended silence, but St. Joseph encourages us to accept the silence. A man of no recorded words in the Gospel, St. Joseph is nevertheless an important figure and the Patron of the Church.
The Church asks us to fast and abstain throughout the season of Lent so that we might be better prepared for the Triduum and Easter Sunday. Fasting “helps us to acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2043). Fasting and abstinence recall St. Joseph’s virtue of obedience.
Fasting and abstinence also highlight St. Joseph’s fatherhood, because fasting, abstinence, and fatherhood all require sacrifice. The Pope writes, “[Joseph] employed his legal authority over the Holy Family to devote himself completely to them in his life and work. He turned his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of himself. . . . ”
Fasting is inherently about sacrifice, but fasting is not an end in itself. Rather, it is an opportunity for us to be reminded that “[God’s] grace is sufficient . . . for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:7-9). Pope Francis adds that “we must learn to look upon our weaknesses with tender mercy” (Patria Corde 2). And while we acclaim Joseph for his powerful witness, we know that his life of quiet witness was not accomplished without fear; nor was it realized without much grace and guidance. Consequently, Joseph is a model for us, showing us how God can work through our fears.
Fasting from our sinful habits is always a Lenten struggle. While we celebrate our victories, too often we are quick to beat ourselves up over our failures, those times when we let our sins slide. I encourage
you to boldly take up a fast that will challenge you toward holiness, either by subduing a vice or reinforcing a virtue, like prayer, prudence, chastity, or charity. While we may fail throughout our Lenten journey, we can take strength from Joseph’s model and intercession. We can always, always, always run to Joseph as a father, just as we look to our Heavenly Father for compassion and love.
The third and final pillar of Lent is almsgiving. By giving alms, we actively work to better the plight of the poor by sharing not only from our excess, but, as Jesus exhorts us, by giving our all. Further, the call to give all concerns not only money, but our time, our talents, our mercy, and our compassion as well.
Two final characteristics of St Joseph on which Pope Francis reflects are Joseph as a “creatively courageous father” and “a working father.” In his prayerful reflection, Pope Francis writes:
The Gospel does not tell us how long Mary, Joseph and the child remained in Egypt. Yet they certainly needed to eat, to find a home and employment. It does not take much imagination to fill in those details. The Holy Family had to face concrete problems like every other family, like so many of our migrant brothers and sisters who, today too, risk their lives to escape misfortune and hunger. In this regard, I consider Saint Joseph the special patron of all those forced to leave their native lands because of war, hatred, persecution and poverty.
Just as our hearts would be moved to help the Holy Family, so too does St. Joseph push our hearts to have compassion on all families and people suffering in our world today. Almsgiving reminds us that we are all members of the one body of Christ. When one part suffers, the whole body feels it. St. Joseph is the protector of the unfortunate, the needy, exiles, the afflicted, the poor, and the dying, and from him we are called to the same level of care and responsibility. While almsgiving is more commonly interpreted as a monetary donation, St. Joseph gives to us a new lens for us to view this Lenten practice,
Pope Francis encourages us to Ite Ad Joseph, “Go to Joseph.” Under Joseph’s paternal care, we too can learn and grow and be formed, just as the Son of God did under his earthly father’s care. This Lenten season, I pray that all of us will spend more time with St. Joseph, joyfully adopting the practices of the
Lenten season with all the encouragement St. Joseph gives to us. Be assured that the Marianist Communities at Chaminade and Kellenberg are praying for you and your families. Continue to be safe, and to spread the joy of the Gospel.
Bro. Peter Francis