Friday, February 18, 2011

The mystery of the Holy Family


Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.

When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us).

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.

 – Matthew 1:18-25

I don't think that most of us often spend the time to really contemplate the full mystery of the Holy Family. First there is the mystery of the Virgin birth of Jesus Christ. This is a matter of faith which challenges our intellect to bend to the authority of God. From this mystery arises the even greater mystery of the Holy Trinity.

The full mystery of the Holy Family cannot begin to be appreciated until we contemplate the role of St. Joseph. The Bible does not tell us very much about this "just man", but what it does say hints at a much greater truth.

Recently I found myself praying to St. Joseph for courage and strength. I don't know how that happened. But when I turned to him, it seemed that he lifted me up and took me in his arms – just as he must have done many times with the infant Jesus.

Joseph – the man to whom angels appeared in dreams – is the earthly father of Our Lord. He is the spouse of the Virgin Mary. Theirs is a heavenly matrimony, unencumbered by earthly desires. In Mary and in Joseph we see holiness manifested. Their love of God is so absolute and so complete that they both were willing to sacrifice everything in order to fulfill the destinies that God had planned for them.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

Pope Pius IX (Pio Nono) declared St. Joseph to be the Patron of the Universal Church in 1870. March is the month that the Catholic Church dedicates to St. Joseph. This was established officially in an encyclical about St. Joseph written by Pope Leo XIII in 1889 titled "Quamquam Pluries". One hundred years later, Pope John Paul II wrote another encyclical on St. Joseph titled "Redemptoris Custos" in honor of the earlier one by Pope Leo XIII.

The 19th of March, which is just one month away, is the Feast of St. Joseph. According to Canon Law, this is a Holy Day of Obligation. But it is up to the bishops of a country as to how these days are observed. Sadly, the feast of St. Joseph has been given a secondary status and is not celebrated as a day of obligation in the United States.

Nonetheless, Pope Leo XIII had this recommendation in 1889, which I think is as valid today as it was then...
It is a salutary practice and very praiseworthy, already established in some countries, to consecrate the month of March to the honour of the holy Patriarch by daily exercises of piety. Where this custom cannot be easily established, it is as least desirable, that before the feast-day, in the principal church of each parish, a triduo of prayer be celebrated. In those lands where the 19th of March - the Feast of St. Joseph - is not a Festival of Obligation, We exhort the faithful to sanctify it as far as possible by private pious practices, in honour of their heavenly patron, as though it were a day of Obligation.

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[I found these prayers to St. Joseph which I liked in a comment section. They are apparently written by Susan E. Stone, since I found them on her Catholic Meditations blog. The blog hasn't been updated in a few years. The last entry I could find from Susan anywhere online was around 2007.]

Saint Joseph,
gentle protector of our Lady,
guardian and teacher of Jesus in his youth,
patron of fathers everywhere,
guardian of families,
helper of all those who work,
thank you for being who you are,
gentle,
kind,
understanding,
and oh so patient.

Saint Joseph,
how often we take you for granted,
and you sit there, in the shadows,
doing the work
that God has asked you to do,
with the skilled hands of a patient craftsman.

On this day,
I wish to honor you for who you are,
and what you have done,
and let me say thank you
for being willing to answer the call of God,
for loving and caring for our Lady,
for loving and caring for our Lord,
for loving and caring for us, your foster children.

Amen.

O Saint Joseph,
Patron of the family,
protector of women and children,
guardian of the church,
how often I turn to you in times of need,
You, who God chose to be the foster father of our Lord,
You, of the kind and merciful heart,
who, when learning the news about our Lady being with child,
and not knowing the Father,
would not make her a spectacle, either,
You, of the faithful heart,
who stood beside her all the way to Bethlehem,
and guarded Jesus and Mary
on the road to Egypt,
who searched diligently for him
when the child Jesus stayed behind at the temple,
who raised our Lord as a good father,
caring for him, teaching him,
guiding him in the ways of being a man,
O Saint Joseph,
I love you for the example you set,
for the way you are so willing to help,
for your willingness to follow God's requests,
for having been there with our Lord when he was a child.

Saint Joseph,
in this my time of need,
pray for me.
Be thou my foster father as well,
and guide me always in the paths of righteousness
that lead me to your foster son, Jesus.

Saint Joseph, pray for me
Now, and at the hour of my death, Amen.

1 comment:

  1. The day after I posted this article, I learned that St. Teresa of Avila was so devoted to St. Joseph that she named the first convent that she founded after him.

    How appropriate that Joseph – the man to whom angels appeared in dreams – was an inspiration to St. Teresa who taught us so much about communing with the indwelling Trinity.

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