Solemnity of St. Joseph: A Family Celebration
Wednesday, the Solemnity of St Joseph, is always a bright and welcome celebration amidst the penitence of Lent, "Solemnities are counted as the principal days in the calendar." (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar). We put aside our Lenten purple. The priest dons white vestments and we even pray the Gloria at Mass. This is not a holyday of obligation in the United States, but it is in other parts of the world. The world is honoring the foster-father of Jesus, the husband of the Virgin Mary, and the protector of the Holy Family. The only other saints that have the privilege of a solemnity are Sts. Peter and Paul and St. John the Baptist. All four saints had a close but unique relationship to Christ, but following Our Lady, St. Joseph is the greatest of saints in heaven.
Although one wouldn't readily know it by all the green decorations in March, St. Joseph is probably one of the most beloved and popular saints of all time. His patronage list is quite long, and because he is Patron of the Universal Church (declared by Pope Pius IX in 1870), everyone can consider him their special patron.
His feast reminds us how close his relationship was to Jesus and Mary, and how he was the protector and provider for their physical needs on earth, with everything done in great love. His providential care doesn't end with the Holy Family, but extends to us. This is our family feast day! We celebrate St. Joseph as our loving father who can assist us in all our needs:
It seems that to other saints our Lord has given power to help us in only one kind of necessity; but this glorious saint, I know by my own experience, assists us in all kinds of necessities...I only request, for the love of God, that whoever will not believe me will test the truth of what I say, for he will see by experience how great a blessing it is to recommend oneself to this glorious Patriarch and to be devout to him.... Whoever wants a master to instruct him how to pray, let him choose this glorious saint for his guide, and he will not lose his way (St. Teresa of Avila, Autobiography, c. 6, n. 11).
All we know of St. Joseph is found in the first two chapters of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. There is not one word of St. Joseph recorded, and yet there are volumes written on St. Joseph, including two encyclicals, Quamquam Pluries by Pope Leo XIII published in 1889 and Guardian of the Redeemer by Pope John Paul II published in 1989. Both encyclicals are very beautiful, but I have been reading and meditating particularly on John Paul II's encyclical, knowing that the author is to be canonized a little more than a month away!
What strikes me most when preparing for this feast is how St. Joseph is prominent member of our spiritual family. As in Guardian of the Redeemer:
Inspired by the Gospel, the Fathers of the Church from the earliest centuries stressed that just as St. 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, that is, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model....
How much the family of today can learn from this! "The essence and role of the family are in the final analysis specified by love. Hence the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God's love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church his bride." This being the case, it is in the Holy Family, the original "Church in miniature (Ecclesia domestica)," that every Christian family must be reflected. "Through God's mysterious design, it was in that family that the Son of God spent long years of a hidden life. It is therefore the prototype and example for all Christian families."
And from Quamquam Pluries (quoted by John Paul II):
The reasons why St. Joseph must be considered the special patron of the Church, and the Church in turn draws exceeding hope from his care and patronage, chiefly arise from his having been the husband of Mary and the presumed father of Jesus..., Joseph was in his day the lawful and natural guardian, head and defender of the Holy Family.... It is thus fitting and most worthy of Joseph's dignity that, in the same way that he once kept unceasing holy watch over the family of Nazareth, so now does he protect and defend with his heavenly patronage the Church of Christ.
I have always had a special devotion to St. Joseph, even as a young girl, looking to him as a father. He helps me with my physical needs at times, but he also provides a fatherly love and a gentle guidance when I need him in my daily life, and even more in difficult times. St. Joseph was the member of the Holy Family most like us. While Jesus was both God and Man, and the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived free of original sin, St. Joseph was a man still with original sin and its effects, and yet had the greatest privilege to be the guardian of Jesus and Mary and lived a very saintly life.
There is an out-of-print book by Rosalie Levy entitled Joseph the Just Man that, while not the most well-written book, contains wonderful personal stories about St. Joseph. The author includes stories from saints and religious orders that recounted different ways that St. Joseph helped them. One order in particular, the Little Sisters of the Poor, have St. Joseph as their patron, and depend on him to provide for their order. Anything they need, they go to Joseph, putting items or slips of paper at the feet of his statue for their request. There is a beautiful familiarity with the saint.
This is what has struck me in preparing for this feast. How can I encourage our family to recognize and appreciate St. Joseph as a member of our family? How can I put him as the head of our family, and turn to him to protect and guide our own domestic church?
I realize that we have already begun our small collection of family stories with St. Joseph. I know he helped me find my spouse. I had just finished my 30 Days Prayer to St. Joseph for guidance in choosing my vocation (I was 30 and sure that my chances for marriage were over), and the next day was my first date with my future husband. But that is only one story. I can see how as a family we need to expand our trust and love and build our collection. My husband and I often share anecdotes of when we were younger and tell our boys about their aunts and uncles, their grandparents, and even some great-grandparents and great-aunts. It is this same familiarity that I hope to encourage with devotion to Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph. We should be able to sit together share stories of blessings from St. Joseph seamlessly with the stories of our family.
Building up our domestic church and our relationship with the Holy Family is the purpose of all the foods and traditions linked with St. Joseph's Day. There are little traditions to show the expression of love to St. Joseph at home, but there are larger celebrations to celebrate with the bigger family, the Church, who also embraces St. Joseph as father. Traditions such as the St. Joseph's Altar (or Table) share the love of St. Joseph to family and parishioners.
I will be encouraging our family to "Ite Ad Joseph" -- "Go to Joseph!" because he understands us and will guide us in such a loving way, just as he was the guardian and protector and provider of the Holy Family. Our family will be trying to build that familiarity with our spiritual father, St. Joseph.
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