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Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Our Lenten Journey: What Would Saint Joseph Do?

By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 15, 2021 | In The Liturgical Year

With Ash Wednesday arriving shortly, it is time to make plans on how to use the gift of the season of Lent to help grow in our relationship with Christ.

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The Lenten season of penance and preparation comes every year. I approach making a personal plan for Lent in a similar way from year to year, as I detailed in these posts:

We use the pillars of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to start the plans, keeping in mind that if I remove something such as a habit, food, etc., that it needs to have a positive replacement, since “nature abhors a vacuum.” This year the family needs to eradicate some bad habits that seem to have arisen since Covid-19 measures were put into place.

As parents we will adjust for the needs of our two teenage sons. They are growing to be adults, and their spiritual progress is more personal and needs to be owned by them. It is shifting from practices of childhood.

While my husband and I have our personal plans, we do try to meet as a couple and as a family to focus on what we will do together as a family, and sometimes help each member of the family (gently) with some observations and guidance.

The Year of St. Joseph

Pope Francis declared December 8, 2020 through December 8, 2021 as the Year of St. Joseph. He provided an Apostolic Letter on St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church 2020, Patris Corde—With the Heart of a Father. It is marvelous that on the 150th anniversary of St. Joseph as the Patron of the Universal Church we are given this gift of time to learn more about the earthly father of Jesus. It has been a slow process for the Church to understand, recognize and elevate this saint (as revealed in this Q&A by the great Josephologist Father Francis Filas, SJ Questions People Ask about Saint Joseph), with still so much to uncover and realize about him.

What Would “SJ” Do?

In all these Lenten plans, I want the whole journey of Lent to be guided by St. Joseph. I am not suggesting using my Lent to do a long study about St. Joseph and lose the Paschal preparation character of Lent. Rather, St. Joseph leads us to his Son; he will bring us Christ. Along the lines of that popular slogan, “W.W.J.D.” (What would Jesus do?), I want to know what “SJ” would do. I decided my theme for Lent will be framed around “What Would St. Joseph Do?” or W.W.SJ.D.?

As I examine my conscience, I realize how much I could grow by imitating St. Joseph. Just a little walk in my daily life compared with “SJ” I see these aspects shining through this humble saint:

  • simple, not elaborate or complicated
  • quiet, contemplative
  • modest, not showy, not vocal
  • does what is right
  • does his duty to best of his ability
  • does everything out of love
  • does not call attention to himself
  • sticks to essentiality, not extra frills
  • obedient, even to religious laws that didn’t apply to his family

I am an Elementary catechist in a Catholic Montessori school. I recently gave a lesson to my 4th and 5th graders on the Virtues, covering the Cardinal virtues and the sister virtues. As we begin talking about Justice, Prudence, Fortitude and Temperance and the interconnected virtues, we started seeing how St. Joseph lived these to the fullest. The Litany of St. Joseph lists so many of these virtues as embodied by St. Joseph (Joseph most just, chaste, prudent, courageous, obedient, faithful, etc.). A prayerful study of the Litany line by line can give us so much material when we ponder “What Would SJ Do.”

Infancy Narratives

The only place St. Joseph appears in Scripture is in the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke. Not a word of his is recorded, and there are not many tales of action.

  • The Annunciation: Luke 1:26-38
  • The Visitation: Luke 1:39-56
  • The Birth of Jesus: Luke 2:1-21; Matthew 1:18-25
  • The Presentation in the Temple: Luke 2:22-40
  • The Adoration of Magi: Matthew 2:1-12
  • The Flight into Egypt: Matthew 2:13-23
  • The Finding in the Temple: Luke 2:41-52

Prayerfully reading each of these passages can help us know St. Joseph and how he responded to these events in his life. We have to use spiritual eyes and ears to fill in what isn’t written. I have been re-reading these Narratives with my students since Advent, and asking them to ponder St. Joseph in these scenes. We discussed that when there are no actions or words or even St. Joseph not being mentioned, does it mean less of him or a show of strong virtue? What virtues do we observe and what can we imitate? We will continue this process through Lent.

Praying with the Mystical Body of Christ

Although he is not overtly mentioned in the Infancy Narratives, I’ve been struck by St. Joseph’s obedience and faithfulness to the Mosaic Laws and his Jewish faith. The different actions recorded, such as the Circumcision, the Presentation in the Temple, traveling to Jerusalem for worship, etc., shows someone who was devoutly living his faith, and not just his personal prayers, but liturgically connected.

I have often thought (without having it mentioned in Scriptures) that Mary and Joseph would have been faithfully praying and reading the prayers and readings prescribed for the Jewish people. And in their example, I think that when I take on extra prayers, first they should be united with the Universal Church, part of the Liturgy. So before I take on personal devotions, there should be a primacy in the Liturgy.

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy described this primacy:

The faithful should be made conscious of the preeminence of the Liturgy over any other possible form of legitimate Christian prayer. While sacramental actions are necessary to life in Christ, the various forms of popular piety are properly optional. Such is clearly proven by the Church’s precept which obliges attendance at Sunday Mass. No such obligation, however, has obtained with regard to pious exercises, notwithstanding their worthiness or their widespread diffusion. Such, however, may be assumed as obligations by a community or by individual members of the faithful.

The foregoing requires that the formation of priests and of the faithful give preeminence to liturgical prayer and to the liturgical year over any other form of devotion.

I am not under obligations for daily Mass and praying the hours of the Divine Office, but the Liturgy is going to take primacy in my choices for my Lenten plans. One reason is wanting to be united with the Mystical Body—to know that across the world we are praying and reading the same thing together is awe inspiring!

Other Prayer, Reading and Action

As we are a little more than a month away from the great Solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19, some of my spiritual reading and prayers will be concentrated on St. Joseph:

There are some special Indulgences granted by the Apostolic Penitentiary for the occasion of the Year of Saint Joseph. The presentation of the indulgences are unique in that each act or prayer is focused on aspects of St. Joseph’s spirituality and life. The examples include performing a Spiritual or Corporal Work of Mercy following St. Joseph’s example, praying the rosary with one’s family or fiancé, etc. All these spiritual acts easily fit into parts of our Lenten plans keeping “What Would St. Joseph Do?” in mind.

This year because of many Covid-19 regulations it is harder to find an in person or physical way of almsgiving. We can no longer organize our older students to sort food in a donation pantry or physically serve food to the hungry. We have to be a little more creative. I was thinking about ways to implement a St. Joseph Altar but with prepared and canned foods that can be donated. More on those thoughts in another post.

I usually don’t look forward to Lent, as I find it not so easy to be hard on “Brother Ass,” but this year I’m a little more hopeful as I have an extra helper on my side. I know that St. Joseph is such a wonderful intercessor and advocate. In implementing an intentional “What Would St. Joseph Do?” in my day, I have full confidence that St. Joseph will help bring me closer to Christ. He doesn’t want the attention, but redirects it all back to his Son.

For Further Reading on St. Joseph, see my previous posts:

For More on Lenten Plans, see these previous posts:

Lent:

Roman Stations (note that for both 2020 and 2021 the Stations in Rome have been cancelled):

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, mother, CGS catechist and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org’s liturgical year section. See full bio.

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