by Fr. Francis Kemsley, O.Carm
Year of Saint Joseph
You will have heard that Pope Francis has declared this year a special one dedicated to Saint Joseph as it is one hundred and fifty years since Pope Leo X declared Saint Joseph patron of the Universal Church. Joseph is the protector of the Carmelite Order, and Saint Teresa of Jesus dedicated her first reformed Carmel to him. At Aylesford we have an impressive statue of the saint carved by Michael Clark. The ceramics by Adam Kossowski behind the statue remind us that Joseph is the protector of the Universal Church. As he looked after the child Jesus, he is the protector of the mystical body of Jesus: The Church. There is also a charming statue of the saint in Faversham (pictured above).
Saint Joseph in Advent
The story of the dream of Joseph represents the difficulty of what God was asking of him. Joseph was a man of his time shaped by patriarchy. On the road to Bethlehem both Mary and Joseph would have reflected upon what God’s was asking of them. Joseph as a law-abiding man, who would have had an obligation to report Mary’s pregnancy. God asked Joseph further to bend the rules by marrying Mary becoming the provider and protector of the child. Joseph was not in control of his family, God was. This must have been very challenging for Joseph. All the known demands and expectations of Jewish family life were stripped away. God was truly in charge, Joseph had the faith to accept God’s request but also walk the same path with Mary, supporting and loving her.
God’s will rarely come to us through miracles but through mundane and ordinary events. In moments of sorrow or joy, God comes to us not in a miraculous way but through ordinary, mere mortals who bring us to safely and happiness. God came to Mary through Joseph, who provided for her as a loving husband and father. Let us too this Advent listen to the voice of God who speaks to us through everyday events.
At Christmas we hear from the Gospel of Luke who tells the Christmas story through the eyes of Mary, but it is Matthew who has Joseph at the centre of the stage. In the short infancy narrative of Matthew, Joseph is mentioned four time. In Matthew (1:19) we hear Joseph being described as a ‘just’, ‘upright’ or ‘righteous’ man. This has a deep biblical implication as ‘just’ is the description for the devote Israelite who faithfully observes the Law of the Lord.
God spoke to Joseph like the earlier Joseph of the Book of Exodus through dreams. Both were called into the unknown to follow an unexpected path. We at times may wonder where God is taking us. May we this Advent have the faith of Joseph and walk into the unknown.
The Finding of Jesus in the Temple.
The last time Saint Joseph is mentioned in the Gospels is the story of the finding of the boy Jesus in the Temple. It is the only story of the adolescence of Jesus. The family of Jesus went to Jerusalem, for the Passover every year. There Jesus is lost for three days an echo of the time that Jesus would be in the tomb. Joseph like Mary would have pondered on the events that surrendered the birth of Jesus. During the time that Jesus was lost, the prophecy of Simeon may well have resonated with both: “a sword will piece you own soul” (Lk 2:35). Both Mary and Joseph shared in anticipation the paschal mystery.
This episode of the losing of the boy Jesus is painful reading for any parent who has lost a child. In the same Gospel, we read of the three parables of the loss and finding: the coin, the sheep, and the son (Lk. 15: 1-31). The woman rejoiced when she found the coin, as did the shepherd when he discovered missing sheep. Finally, we hear of the devoted Father who waits patiently for the return of his wayward son.
Joseph was the only human to be addressed by Jesus with the title “Abba”. Joseph gave Jesus a loving and secure home in Nazareth, after the turmoil of their refuge in Egypt. It was Joseph who gave Jesus an example of a loving and caring father. However, the day would come when Joseph would step aside. When Jesus would share his relationship with his heavenly Father with all his disciple. This was to become a new model of Fatherhood between God and humanity. We clearly expressed this relationship every time we pray the Our Father.
The Temple of Jerusalem is of importance in the Gospel of Luke. His Gospel begin in the Temple with the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist and ends in the Temple with the disciples praying there after the Ascensions. The Temple appears three times in the infancy narrative of Luke. Jesus identified himself with the Temple. The body of Jesus is the new temple as is the church. The Church is now the place where God’s presence dwells.
Saint Teresa and Joseph
Saint Teresa had a great devotion to Joseph. In her Book of her Life, she explains how as a young woman, she suffered from a serious illness; so severe that her grave was already being dug and she took Saint Joseph as her advocate and earnestly commended herself to him. After this she wrote how she rejected what she called “superstitious devotions”. She could not recall any occasion when Saint Joseph failed to grant what she had petitioned. She thought this was just as Jesus was subject to Joseph on earth, so in heaven God does whatever Joseph asks. The saint suggested that “anyone who cannot find a master to teach him prayer should take this glorious saint for his master, and he will not go astray”. Teresa wanted everyone to be devoted to Joseph because of her own impressive experience of the good he obtained from God. Teresa’s great faith in Joseph is seen in her dedication of the first Carmel of her reform and several other of her foundations to him.
As we come to the end of the year of Saint Joseph may we be inspired his faith in God. So much was asked of him. Above all he provided a loving and safe home for the infant Jesus. May the same Jesus find a place in our hearts this Christmas.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Why not find out more about Saint Joseph? We would recommend you read some of these excellent books or articles:
- Truly the Son of God - Joseph Chalmers, O.Carm
- Popular Prayers
- A New Hope: Book II (with a reflection from Fr. Francis)
- Carmel School of Prayer
Fr. Francis is currently Prior of Aylesford and was Shrine Director of the Shrine of Saint Jude.