Saturday, March 19, 2016

Feast of St Joseph - Mar 19, 2016

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Reinaldo Martinez-Cubero, n/OHC
Feast of Saint Joseph - Sunday, March 19, 2016

2 Samuel 2: 4, 8-16
Romans 5: 13-18
Luke 2: 41-52
Sculpture of the Holy Family
at the convent of the Sisters of St Joseph in Brentwood, NY
Saint Joseph has been present in my life since I was born, really. I was born on this day in 1966. I was educated at the Academia Santa Mónica in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was a school founded in the nineteen-forties by Augustinian Priests from Spain, who had intended to staff the school with Augustinian Sisters. When the Augustinian Sisters were not available, the Friars called on the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Brentwood, Long Island. The Sisters of Saint Joseph were in those days known for their missions in education all over the world.

Since I entered the monastery, the novitiate has attended conferences held at the Mother House of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Brentwood. It has been a very happy experience for me to get to have short visits with Sister Vivina Gracia CSJ, who was the principal of my beloved alma mater in the seventies when I was there, and who is now back at the Mother House. To say that these women were a huge influence and helped shape the basic principles by which I have lived all my life would be an understatement. They were firm, but kind educators who instilled in us a sense of self-discipline and responsibility. They taught us about respect for others, justice, and non-violence. They taught us about God’s presence and love in an evolving world.

But, who was Saint Joseph? Well, I will share with you my own version of the story. It is the story of Saint Joseph and the Holy Family according to me, and inspired by the Gospels. I do so, NOT, in any way, to debunk or disrespect the Gospel stories, which, while not factual but true, are, I believe, fundamental to our faith, as the early testimony of the significance that Jesus came to have in the lives, experience, and thought of first century Christians.

Joseph was a carpenter and craftsman who lived in a small peasant village called Nazareth. He was a hard-working man, and was known by many as a just and righteous man. When he was about thirty years old, he was engaged to a very young woman called Mary, who was about thirteen years old. They eventually married, and shortly after, Mary became pregnant.

One night an angel of God appeared to Joseph in a dream, and told him that he was to be the foster father of the child Mary was carrying in her womb. The child was of God, and Joseph was to name him Jesus because he would come to save the world. When Joseph awoke he was troubled and confused, and didn’t know what to make of these things. When he shared the dream with Mary, she was amazed, and told him that an angel of God had also appeared to her while she was praying. The angel told her that the child she was carrying was from God, that she was favored, and that God was with her.

In those days a decree required that all people be registered. So Joseph, and a very pregnant Mary set out for Joseph’s native town of Bethlehem in Judea, which was about 80 miles north of Nazareth. It was a very difficult journey due to Mary’s condition. Once in Bethlehem, it was evening by the time they were registered, and they went to stay at the dwelling place of Joseph’s relatives. It was a humble place, small and crowded, and the only place where Mary and Joseph could be was where people in those days brought their cows and mules indoors. By the time they arrived Mary went into labor. It was a frightening night, as giving birth in those days was a dangerous event and often babies and/or their mothers did not survive. But the child did survive, as did Mary. She wrapped the baby in swaddling cloth and laid him in a manger, and Joseph named the child Jesus as the angel of God had told him, which means “God saves”.

Joseph and Mary stayed in Bethlehem for some years, and one day when Jesus was about two years old, Joseph had another dream in which an angel told him he was to flee with his family to Egypt. King Herod was about to send his troops to kill all boys who were two years or under. Joseph and his family travelled to Egypt, which was over two hundred miles. They settled there for some years. And then, one day, the angel appeared to Joseph once again and told him that Herod had died. It was now safe for them to return to the land of Israel. So, Joseph and Mary and their children (for by this time Jesus had siblings) returned to Israel and made their home in Nazareth.

When Jesus was twelve years old his family made their yearly journey to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. When the festival had ended the family began their journey home. They travelled a whole day before realizing that Jesus was not with them. Mary and Joseph frantically looked for him among their relatives and friends who were travelling with them, but did not find him, so they returned to Jerusalem. After searching for two days, they finally found their son in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening, and asking questions. Mary said to Jesus: “Why have you treated us this way? Your father and I have been searching for you in great anguish!” Jesus replied: “But, didn’t you know I would be here, in my Father’s house?” At that moment Joseph remembered what the angel of God had told him in that dream before Jesus was born, that he was to be the foster father of the child, and he understood. All earthly parents are foster parents, whether or not they are biological. God is our legitimate mother and father. They returned to Nazareth and Jesus continued to increase in wisdom.

Joseph taught Jesus how to pray, and how to work. He was a righteous man, but to him, to be a righteous person according to the law was not enough. So he taught Jesus about God’s righteousness and mercy. He taught Jesus to be willing to be empty, so he could be filled and molded by the grace of God’s transforming, and redemptive power. Joseph understood that fatherhood is much more than a mere fact of biological generation. He invested himself in the spiritual and moral formation of Jesus. Joseph’s faith was the foundation of Jesus’ faith and understanding of God, the Father.

Joseph also taught his son the trade of carpentry, and passed on to Jesus the values required to become a good carpenter. These values would serve him well in his later ministry, a ministry he intended to start just a few years later. But sadly, Joseph died, and Jesus, being the oldest child, became the new head of the family. During these years, he grew in stature and favor with God and in the eyes of other people. And when his youngest siblings had become of age, Jesus left his family to begin his ministry.

Jesus would eventually come to teach his disciples how to pray, and when he began that prayer by saying, “Our Father in heaven…” Jesus introduced to the disciples a new name for God, which was “Abba”. When Jesus called God “Abba”, he was reflecting his relationship with Joseph. When Jesus told the story of the prodigal son, it was a reflection of Joseph, who taught his son about a righteousness that would manifest itself by giving himself in love for others.

In Jesus, his disciples would come to witness the human and the divine coexisting. He would become the model, the exemplar, the promise, and the guarantee for which the world had long waited. He would come to be the savior of the world by giving himself in love to bring us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, and out of death into life. Little did Joseph know that his son would come to embrace that love and mercy expressed through his crucifixion, and revealed in his resurrection. The righteousness Joseph taught his son would not protect him from the blows and wounds of human injustice and bigotry, but it would free him to face such destructive forces wrapped in the graceful love of the living God he called “Abba”.

Saint Joseph, most just, most righteous, most loving husband, most obedient, most faithful, and guardian of the world incarnate: pray for us! Amen.

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