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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Joseph remains with us

Today, the Universal Church celebrates the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Foster-Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  This just and holy Patriarch is also the Patron Saint of the Universal Church.

We know very little about St. Joseph, but, what we do know is highly significant.  We know that he is of the House of David, Israel's beloved king from whose lineage would come the Messiah.  He is compared to our first patriarch, Abraham, who was constantly ready to serve God no matter where that journey would take him.

When looking through images of the beloved saint, I came upon this beautiful depiction.  We tend to assume that St. Joseph was an elderly man, but, this particular image depicts him as young and strong. St. Joseph, like perhaps most of the young men in Nazareth, probably had plans about his future.  He met and fell in love with a wonderful young woman and he was set on building a home for her and their future family.

Yet, God had other plans.  While Joseph was building a house for his beloved betrothed, Mary, unbeknownst to him, received a visit from the Archangel Gabriel who told her that she would conceive and bear the Son of God. Mary gave her consent, setting the wheels in motion for our redemption.  Joseph learned that Mary was with child, and being a righteous man, he chose not to expose her publicly to the Law of Moses.

St. Paul calls Abraham a just man.  In Genesis, God credits Abraham's act of faith as righteousness.  St. Matthew, in his Gospel account, uses these same adjectives to describe St. Joseph.  This young carpenter loved Mary with his whole being.  He knew in his heart that she could not be unfaithful to him; yet, there was something mysterious about the circumstances.  Perhaps he perceived that Mary's condition might have been supernatural and he did not consider himself worthy of such a profound mystery.  That night, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to St. Joseph and told him not to fear taking Mary as his wife for the child she has conceived is of the Holy Spirit.

God asked Joseph to set aside his dreams and his carefully laid plans.  He led him on a different path, a path that was not even on his radar screen.  Yet, of his own free will, Joseph accepted and trusted, not once, but many times.  Shortly after the Christ child was born, the Lord led Joseph to take Mary and the Child Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod's wrath.  Once the vile king was dead, the Lord told Joseph to take the Holy Family back home.  Some 12 years later, even when he and Mary thought that they had lost the Child Jesus, they persevered for three days until they finally found Him in Jerusalem, in the Temple.  What was even more remarkable was that Jesus willingly submitted himself to the authority of two human beings.  Just as Joseph was obedient to God, Jesus was obedient to him and his mother, Mary. He had confidence that this humble carpenter was going to protect the family.  What Adam failed to do in the Garden of Eden when he left Eve unprotected, Joseph was now doing in caring for the Holy Family.  St. Joseph never uttered a word in Sacred Scripture, yet, his actions, his willingness to surrender his plans and follow the will of God unreservedly, speak volumes.  Even though he was hidden and silent, his strong presence reverberated in Nazareth and now in the Church.

But, the beloved Patriarch from Nazareth is not the only Joseph who continues to watch over the Church.

Today is the feast day of another Joseph, one who has tenderly watched over the Church for nearly 33 years, 25 as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and nearly eight years as Pope, the former Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, Supreme Pontiff Emeritus.

Like his namesake, Joseph Ratzinger had his own carefully made plans.  His intent was to serve as a priest and as a professor of Dogmatic Theology.  But, God had other plans, plans that would lead him in a direction he never thought he would take.  When the Metropolitan See of Munich-Freising was vacant, the late Pope Paul VI named Ratzinger its Archbishop.  Ratzinger did not want to take the post as he considered himself ill-equipped for the position.  But, out of obedience, he submitted to the will of God.  Roughly four years later, God would manifest Himself again to the now Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger when Blessed John Paul II asked him to become Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Ratzinger had previously declined the Polish Pope's request that he serve as Prefect of another Congregation.  This time, he could not refuse Peter again.

He stayed by John Paul's side for nearly a quarter of a century.  He wanted to retire, but, John Paul would have none of that and threw Ratzinger's retirement letter away. When the beloved pontiff died on  April 2, 2005, Ratzinger presided over his friend's funeral six days later.  He thought that after the conclave he would return to Regensberg to live with his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger.  But, God had another plan.  He charged Ratzinger with the same charge he made to St. Peter so long ago on Lake Genesaret:  "Feed my sheep.  Tend my lambs."  Like the beloved Patriarch of Nazareth, who was asked by God to abandon his plans, Joseph Ratzinger set aside his dreams of a quiet life and took on the role of shepherding the flock of the Universal Church as Pope Benedict XVI.

With profound wisdom and immense humility, Pope Benedict XVI led the Church for nearly eight years. He nourished us with his teaching.  He guided us with the deepest of love. He confirmed us in the faith.

And now, God has called Benedict to devote himself to a life of prayer and reflection.  But, as the Supreme Pontiff Emeritus explained, he has not abandoned us.  Like St. Joseph, Benedict continues to watch over the Church, praying for her and with her.  While he remains hidden from us, just as St. Joseph was hidden through the Gospels, he remains close to us, just as his namesake remains close to Christ.  Benedict remains with us through a bond that can never be broken, that of love.

Just as Benedict is praying for us, so, we, too, should pray for him.  We should never cease thanking God for this wonderfully humble soul who only seeks to do the will of the Father and who teaches us that true Power lies not in holding on to authority, but, in giving that authority back to God.

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