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What Does St. Joseph Teach Us?

Year of St. Joseph presents a gold mine of catechetical opportunities

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Vacation is always a good time to experience the Church universal. You do not even have to go to a foreign country to do so. If you live in the Northeast, attending liturgy in Texas might provide you with a whole different experience of church. I love to explore the worship space after Mass. It reveals so much about the spirituality of the community.

I was on one of those journeys in the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando, Florida. As we were preparing to leave, I noticed an alcove almost hidden on the left side of the sanctuary. As we approached, I beheld one of the most moving religious scenes I have ever experienced. Before me sitting at his workbench was a life-sized St. Joseph. Seated on the workbench was an 8- or 9-year-old Jesus. The two were engaged in conversation. Jesus’ face is animated as if telling a story of one of his adventures that day. Joseph is looking up at him with a gaze that is both attentive and loving.

Even though the statues were created in bronze, I felt as if I had been allowed an intimate glimpse into this precious relationship between father and son. Joseph, Jesus’ father on earth, was illuminating the most sacred act in family life, the act of being truly present.

Pope Francis has dedicated this Year to St. Joseph and the family. I could hear my biological father in heaven say, “It’s about time.” My dad, Joseph, often voiced his concern that St. Joseph was not given enough credit. Perhaps that may have reflected my dad’s feeling that he too was not given enough credit, but I think he and Pope Francis are on to something.

The Year of St. Joseph, which began Dec. 8, 2020, is a catechetical gold mine for meeting fathers, grandfathers, uncles and godfathers in your parish. It is a time ripe for reflection as we begin to come out of quarantines that have allowed many to reflect on the meaning of family. And beginning on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, we will set in motion the Year “Amoris Laetitia Family.” It is the fifth anniversary of the apostolic exhortation.

What can Joseph teach the fathers of today? Like that moment frozen in time in the scene described above, every ounce of Joseph — his face, his body language and the tools laying on the table — said, “I see you, Jesus.” At this moment there is nothing else in the world. You are treasured, accepted and what you think and say matters. You are a gift that has been given to me to return to the Father. A gift received in love and returned in love. You are my child.

Pope St. Paul VI said this about St. Joseph: “Joseph concretely expressed his fatherhood” by making an offering of himself in love, “a love placed at the service of the Messiah who was growing to maturity in his home.” Pope Francis counsels ministers to help couples “find ways to be present to one another,” including the sharing of moments of meaningful silence.

In many countries, the title “Father” is also given to you, our priests. As we reflect on the role of the father of the family, there are many ways the soul of a father is found in your relationship with your community. The art of being present begins with understanding that the person who is speaking, or perhaps shouting, is a gift of God’s creation. She or he is created in the image of the Divine Trinity. If the person has asked you to pay attention, he is making himself vulnerable.

A person only does that when she or he believes that you have created a safe and sacred space. It is as if you were being handed a piece of the child’s very being. The only appropriate response to that gift is wonder and awe. That is why family life is the most fertile ground of spirituality. God created the family to ensure that a child’s holiness would be fermented in that environment so that the child becomes bread for the Kingdom.

That is the environment that Joseph and Mary created for Jesus. It is what God wants every Father to offer his child, every priest to offer his community.

I worked for a pastor once named Joseph, who would invite all boys from our Catholic school named Joseph to lunch in the rectory on March 19. Imagine if you invited eight fathers to a simple dinner in the rectory every other week and asked them to share their experiences of fatherhood with you and one another. I am sure St. Joseph would always be present.

DR. JO ANN PARADISE is a national speaker, writer and thought leader in the field of faith formation.

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