Ite Ad Joseph
|St Joseph: Protector of the Universal Church|
I hope I know my faith, I'm no expert on prayer, nor am I any kind of expert on theology, my faith, I think is quite simple, but one thing I do know is that in every situation - in every personal conflict, Jesus Christ has the answer because He is the answer. He may not be the answer I always want, but the Answer He Is. No Pope, no Synod can possibly pull a rabbit out of the hat that will solve the difficult 'pastoral situations' faced by a number in the Church. All we can give people is Jesus.
I cast my mind back to - and perhaps forward to - the many obstacles and problems I have had - and may in future have, spiritual problems, life problems, career problems or even difficulties with a particular doctrine or duty of my state in life. I recall times in my life when I have been to see a priest to talk about my 'problems' - in great distress - and received comfort from that, but even more than that I am thankful to God that the Catholic Church has never, yet, attempted to change its fixed - 'inflexible' - positions especially on sexual matters to basically make my life, my 'Christian walk' easier.
Take, for example, the Catholic Church's position on homosexuality. Most readers will know that this is an issue of which I have plenty of knowledge and experience. As a married Catholic man, married - that is - to a woman, I am so thankful to God for my wife, even though marriage is both beautiful and demanding. Marriage is not always easy but is so wonderful to have someone to love - a very wonderful person - and somebody - another human being - to live for and, actually, to die for, since if there is a 'secret to happiness', we Catholics know that to live for ourselves brings us misery and to live for God and others - especially a special someone you cherish - brings great happiness. I know I do not do it well enough, but I know that to die to ourselves is to rise with Jesus Christ. The more I die, the more I rise, and if only I would let myself die to myself so completely that Jesus Christ may live in me fully. The Christian vocation to be re-made into the image of Christ is not easy but for us to follow Christ is to be on the path to true fulfillment and happiness.
We cannot act purely out of self-interest and generate happiness for ourselves, at the same time, nor everybody, indeed, most likely not anybody else. And, as we have learned from various Communistic regimes that have unambiguously attacked the dignity of human life, the State can never solve this problem, much as it tries to, in the human condition of selfishness. Only God, Whom the State tries to replace, can help us to become selfless creatures, united to Him, living for Him. For all of us who are Catholics, to be made more and more into the image of the Son of God is a lifetime's work of daily Cross-bearing that may involve a multitude of falls and failures. Yet, we do know the Way. We cannot say we do not. It has been traced for us by Jesus Christ, yet not by Him alone. He is made manifest in the lives of His Saints and Martyrs.
The most obvious case is the life of Our Blessed Lady which we believe is one of complete self-abandonment to God and complete docility to His will and we can never point to her enough. Another example - and we do well to remember to pray to him as we run up to the Synod, is St Joseph, who the Church honours as Protector and Guardian of the Church, just as he was protector and guardian of the Christ-child and Our Lady. If we look at St Joseph, we see this strange - this unique - marriage to the Blessed Virgin in which there is seemingly nothing - absolutely nothing - in it for him. We honour Mary as the Mother of God, the Immaculate one, but St Joseph fills this other unique role as a father - a foster-father yet a true father figure - to the Incarnate Holy One and though we really don't know much about him, we know a few things which stand as an affront to modern conceptions of manhood and male behaviour especially.
We do not know how old St Joseph is when he enters into this mysterious marriage to the Blessed Virgin. We cannot be certain when he knew that this would be a unique marriage and that his role would be unique, but we can ascertain from his dream and from his responsiveness to God that this man is in this marriage for reasons that the World today simply could not recognise as normal or even comprehensible. It is doubtful, in my opinion, that Joseph enters into a marriage to a Virgin unaware that this marriage would never be consummated, since we believe that Our Lady had already consecrated herself to God entirely in the Temple. Yet, God still calls him, by the message of the Angel, to marry this most beautiful, this most holy, this most Immaculate Virgin. Immediately he is summoned to chastity and continence within Marriage. We don't know how much Joseph knows about what his role will be, nor how much the Blessed Virgin tells him of it, nor how much God tells him of it. All we do know is that he trusts God, listens to God and is obedient to God despite the fact that he, unlike Mary, is not sinless. It may be that, as holy tradition tells us, he was 'the most just man in the World at the time' - for how could God entrust the Virgin and His Son to a fool? - but the Church teaches that he was by no means Immaculate.
|St Joseph's life tells us its never the right question...|
We say that Jesus is a man like all men - in all things but sin. We say that Our Lady was a woman like all women - in all things but sin, but we cannot say the same of St Joseph. Not being 100% 'full of grace', St Joseph will have faced a profound, perhaps ongoing, recurring 'interior struggle' - a battle between his own will, his own natural inclinations and thoughts of contentment and of doing God's will, living by faith and abandoning himself to God's Providence. His love is shown to be true and pure love, his faith purified as if in a furnace. He may even have suffered great anxiety at times as to what he was to do and think, inhabiting some of those blind spots and shades of grey that we, as imperfect creatures, do from day to day, lacking the constant light of God's own light held ceaselessly before the eyes of Our Lady. Yet this person - this mortal man like you and I - is entrusted with this incredible task of being a chaste husband and protector to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the sinless Queen of Heaven and Earth, and her Divine Son, Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Universe.
Consistently, the Church has pointed towards the Holy Family as the model of family life, the model of family prayer and of sanctity in marriage. The very life of the Son of God, the Eternal God entrusted to a mere man, as well as the protection of His Blessed Mother. So much at stake, so much entrusted to one man! And yet this marriage of perpetual continence is the model of happiness beyond our comprehension, despite the fact that involves no sex whatsoever while Joseph was a man like us - including original sin. How baffling the World would find that and even some in the Church. Just how relevant that is to the homosexual and the divorced and remarried, and to a great many in 'difficult pastoral situations', cannot be overstated.
That situation may not be what the vast majority of Catholic married couples are called to and yet - yet - St Joseph shows us by his obedience to God, by his life of virtue, by his faithfulness and loyalty, by his great charity and self-sacrificial love, that marriage is truly sacred and God has blessed and sanctified it by being born into it for our Salvation. "What's in this marriage for me?" does not appear to be a question that St Joseph asked, yet we might ask whether - and I mean not to slander him at all - he might have thought it at some point because, apart from protecting and honouring the Blessed Virgin Mary, serving her all the days of his life, adoring, reverencing the Lord Jesus Christ, teaching Him who is the Teacher of all mankind and the incomprehensible spiritual benefits of being the foster-father to the Incarnate God, in earthly terms, there was absolutely nothing in it for St Joseph.
Indeed, love wins, but only if you are truly interested in real love. Catholic men and women need to recover a sense of devotion, certainly, to our wives if we have them, and, if we have them, our families. We need to abandon the idea that the Church will 'concretely solve' every issue in our lives, our marriages and our 'difficulties'. St Joseph teaches us that we need to abandon ourselves to God's care, to the will of God and to prayer. We need to recover a sense of devotion to St Joseph. Catholic men in authority in the Church also need to recover devotion to St Joseph because, like him, they have been called as custodians and guardians and protectors of the Lord's Church and yes, the Lord Himself in the Eucharist. The heavenly reward of St Joseph and his great merits are known, though not widely spoken of in the Church today so much as they once were. So much of this debate over homosexuality, homosexual unions, divorced and remarried persons, concubinage and the rest goes straight to the heart of the matter about what does and what can and what cannot and does not make us happy in this life and blissfully happy in the next. If we desire to see what a just and virtuous man looks like, if we are still interested, we will look at the model of St Joseph and seek to imitate him. He had faith when not a great deal made much sense and yet he trusted God and was not put to shame.
Remember and meditate on the blessed happiness of the Holy Family and the selfless service, the self-sacrificial love, the ardent charity that created this beautiful, happy, joyful and most blessed domestic life. It may not have been a marriage quite like 99.9% of marriages, but this was a marriage made in Heaven and it was 100% valid. What seems impossible to us is made sweet by God. The family - and marriage - under sustained attack in the Church and torn apart outside of it, have been sanctified, hallowed by the Son of God and through His Blessed Mother, yet St Joseph - too - co-operated in that sanctification. He said 'yes' too. His role can never - should never - be forgotten and if you are attending the Synod in October and you are unsure where to go, what to say and what to do, if you feel called to be a wise, prudent and faithful steward, then go to St Joseph. Indeed, whoever you are, pray to St Joseph for your needs and the urgent needs of the Church.
The Church, by and large, simply does not possess nor can possess the 'concrete solutions', to the myriad difficult pastoral situations that Catholics get involved in, but Jesus Christ does. It is a relationship with Him in His Church. We must be reminded by the Synod that our relationship with God is more important than anything else on the face of this Earth. God's mercy and His truth is what we must proclaim. Most likely, our situations require our radical transformation, not that of the Church's teachings and disciplines. Right now, the Church on Earth needs all the protection She can get, so as we approach the Synod, go to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but also, ite ad Joseph! I need him, you need him, we need him, marriage needs him, the family desperately needs him, the Church on Earth urgently needs him, his intercession and example. Family is in crisis, marriage is in crisis, gender is in crisis, the Church is in crisis. It may confound the expectations of most people but in the Holy Family, there was no internal crisis at all, only harmony, mutual respect and love of God and neighbour.
St Joseph, Protector of the Universal Church, ora pro nobis!