Thursday, June 21, 2018

Homily for the Feast of St. Joseph - March 19, 2018

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Seven days before the Feast of the Annunciation, which is celebrated on March 25th and which commemorates Gabriel's visit to Mary announcing that she is to give birth to the Messiah, we meet St. Joseph, her spouse.

St. Joseph was born in Bethlehem and worked as a carpenter, an occupation he later passed on to his Son. He became betrothed to Mary, a consecrated Virgin, in order to serve as her protector. Apocryphal writings indicate that Joseph was an older man at the time, and was a widower with grown-up children, but there is no way to know for certain.

When Mary came to be with child, his confusion and resolve to "put her away privately" in order to spare her any public humiliation was done away with when an angel of the Lord visited him in a dream and explained things to him. And Joseph, rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto himself Mary, to be his wife. After Jesus was born, an angel again appeared to St. Joseph and told him to take the Holy Family away to Egypt in order to escape the wrath of Herod. After time in Egypt, an angel came twice more to St. Joseph: once to tell him that Herod was dead and that the family could return to Egypt and then again to counsel Joseph regarding his uncertainty about returning to Jerusalem. The next, and last, time we hear of St. Joseph in Sacred Scripture is when Jesus was "lost" in the Temple:

Let us consider together what the biblical texts tell us about St. Joseph. Though there are not many words, they have profound meaning for all of us as we seek to live a life of holiness, no matter what our state in life or vocation. They are of particular importance for men but certainly apply to all men and women.

In the infancy narrative offered to us by the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew, we find a unique focus on Joseph, the husband of Mary. After tracing the lineage of the Savior from the perspective of Joseph (Matthew. 1: 1-7), we are introduced to Joseph's response to God's invitation. This was, so to speak, Joseph's “Annunciation.” Too often we forget that an angel also appeared to Joseph, to prepare him for the significant role He would play in God's saving plan for the whole human race. He was invited to exercise his human freedom, to give his assent to the Lord's invitation - and he did. His manly response to God reminds all men that actions speak louder than words.

From antiquity, Christians have reflected upon Joseph as a model of genuine manly virtue - and for good reason. His response to the angel teaches all men how we are called to respond to God's invitations in our own lives. We use an expression to refer to men who are comfortable in their skin and content with being men. We say of such a man: “He is a man's man.” Joseph is a true man's man. He was a man of few words, he spoke through his actions, and he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded. Joseph's response was action.

St. Joseph was a man for others. Though the Scriptures say so little about Joseph, even that absence speaks volumes. Why? Because for Joseph, he was not the one who was important, others were. He loved Mary above himself and his behavior was just a result of his love. He was prepared to do the right thing when she was found to be with child. He could have chosen otherwise. How refreshing this upright manly behavior is in an age where men often cower in the face of difficulty.

Joseph was a man of faith and courage. Along with loving his betrothed, he loved His God courageously. He had a close, intimate personal relationship with the God of His Fathers. In fact, this just man was, in a sense, the last Patriarch, completing the lineage. Through his response of faith, He would receive the great gift promised for all men and women and hold in His arms the One that His fathers had only longed to see. God's messenger, an angel, visited Joseph in a dream.

Joseph was ready to receive. He was disposed of not only to the encounter but to the invitation it presented to pour himself out in love and for Love. He heard the message and, without hesitation, did what the Lord commanded! This is, in a real sense, Joseph's fiat, his “Yes”, his exercise of human freedom to advance God's eternal plan. How refreshing such manly faith and courage are in an age filled with cowardice, rebellion, and self-serving behavior.

Joseph was a humble man. There was not an ounce of false bravado or machismo in this servant of God. Named after the great Patriarch who was sold into slavery in Egypt; Joseph bore the name with similar humility. As the Old Testament Joseph embraced his lot, rejecting the temptation to bitterness or victimhood, and came to rule Egypt, forgiving the very brothers who had sold him into slavery; so too this son of the Covenant embraced the One who would establish the New Covenant on the altar of Calvary.

In the manner by which he lived his life, Joseph becomes a model for all men who choose to walk the way of the Cross. Joseph emptied himself of self and became filled with the love and life of God. He gave himself fully to God by accepting his unique and specific vocation as guardian of the Redeemer. The child Jesus, God in the flesh, was given to Joseph. A carpenter, Joseph taught this child how to work with wood. That was, after all, all he had to give. During these so-called “hidden years", Jesus was with Joseph and Joseph was with Jesus.

Joseph uniquely participated in the mystery of God’s plan of redemption by simply being the man he was called to be. How challenging in an age of narcissism and inordinate self-love. How many so-called “real men” today would do what Joseph did or behave the way Joseph behaved?

Since the early 17th century, the Italo-Greek Orthodox Catholic Church has observed St. Joseph’s Day on March 19th, the day assigned the commemoration by the Roman Church. This seemed fitting to the hierarchy in that St. Joseph has always been held in high esteem by the Sicilian people, both Orthodox Catholics, and Catholics. As in the Roman Church, St. Joseph is honored as the patron saint of husbands and of all workers.

The simple carpenter who taught the Word Incarnate, the Child Jesus, how to work with wood, is a man we hold to be an exemplary model of what it means to be a man. This man, who was the foster father of the Incarnate Word of God and Whom he loved with all his heart, shows us how to be focused yet caring, strong yet compassionate, protective yet nurturing, determined yet loving.

This same Jesus who learned to work with wood from the hands of Joseph would, during his 33rd year, save the world through the wood of the Cross. In an age that has lost its way, given over to the selfish pursuit of illusory pleasure, Joseph should again be lifted up as a model, particularly to men who desire to follow Jesus Christ.

Over two millennia, the mission of Jesus has continued through His Body on earth, His Church. He has entrusted the work of that mission to all men and women who accept the invitation to empty themselves of themselves in order to be filled with the very life and love of God and then be used in His redemptive mission for the world.

Through the fount of living water called Baptism, God invites each one of us into His new family, the Body of His Son, the Church. He still gives His message to men who, like Joseph, cultivate ears to hear and then choose to exercise authentic manly virtue and act out of courage. He still invites men to turn the ordinary into extraordinary through cooperation and participation. He is truly looking for a few good men like Joseph who will work in the workshop of the world that He created in order to recreate it anew in His Son.

In this age so desperately in need of men of courage, we need to turn to this man's man named Joseph. We need to follow his example by courageously, humbly and faithfully loving Jesus Christ.

We need to learn to give our “Yes” to the God whose love always invites participation. Joseph is our teacher and shows us the way, a true Man's Man, calling all men to follow Jesus. Teaching us that actions speak louder than words.

Tradition tells us that Joseph had the great honor to have died in the presence of Our Lady and his Son, which fact makes him the patron of a holy death. Because during his life he was given the great responsibility of caring for and protecting the Virgin, who is the Mother of all Israel, and her Son, St. Joseph is considered the patron and protector of the entire Church.

As you all know, St. Joseph's Day is a big feast for the Sicilian people because in the Middle Ages, God, through St. Joseph's intercessions, saved the Sicilians from a very serious drought. I am so happy to see many of you wearing red, although no one can tell me why we do! The best answer I have heard is that we wear red because it represents the red of the Sicilian flag. I guess that is as good a reason as any.

Today, after Divine Liturgy, I will bless our parish St. Joseph’s Table, which you saw to the left as you entered the Chapel. Our "la Tavola di San Giuse" is laden with food lovingly and generously prepared or in other ways provided by many of our parishioners, even those who were not able to be with us this morning. Even though some you have erected St. Joseph’s Tables in your homes, please remain with us for a few minutes to partake of the food we have here. What remains will be donated to one of our local soup kitchens.

For those of you who have asked me to come and bless your home St. Joseph’s Tables, I will do the blessings in alphabetical order beginning at 1:30pm. I have allotted 20 minutes for each blessing. I believe this will allow me ample time to get all the tables blessed before dinner time. This year’s offering for blessing your St. Joseph’s Table will be three Sfinge di San Giuseppe (one for each member of the Holy Family). These will be in addition to the usual fava bean and your prayers, of course. 😊

As usual, I, along with my two trusted assistants here, will be on the lookout for the best St. Joseph’s Day Table. The winner of the contest will receive a $100 gift card for the Olive Garden and four movie passes to the Marquee Cinema.

Tables will be judged on the basis of authenticity and adherence to tradition. This means that every table must have three tiers and consist of the following: an icon and/or statue of St. Joseph properly placed, food proper to the feast and season of Great Lent; 12 different kinds of fish (representing the Twelve Apostles); bread and wine (symbolizing the Last Supper), Pineapple (symbolizing hospitality); lemons (symbolizing zest for life); red eggs (symbolizing the Resurrection); water (Symbolizing the source of life); incense (symbolizing our prayers rising to God); a crucifix, three candles (symbolizing the Holy Trinity); a white linen table cloth (symbolizing the Burial Shroud of Christ); white lilies (representing St. Joseph): white roses (symbolizing the Virgin Mary); white lace (symbolizing the beauty of the Eucharist); and, finally, fava beans and St. Joseph’s Bread. Also, please make sure that baskets containing your prayer petitions are close at hand that I may easily collect the petitions and place them near the Holy Table.

I want to ensure that when I come to your home we are not unnecessarily rushed through the blessing of the table, so please do not plan for the re-enactments of the “Tupa, Tupa.” As meaningful and enjoyable as they are, a tight schedule just does not allow for it.

Today is a special day for all Sicilians and Italians everywhere. Not only does it have significant cultural meaning for our people, but it is also a day of profound religious and personal meaning, especially for the young men and men of our parish. I encourage you all, especially our young men, to embrace and hold up St. Joseph as a model for what a real man should be.

And for those of you, men and women, who are fortunate enough to have a job, offer up your labors and efforts at work to the glory of God. By St. Joseph’s example, Almighty God has blessed and honored physical labor as a noble endeavor. We should not look upon physical work as a burden that has been laid upon us because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience but rather as an opportunity to use our creative talents and skills for the glorification of God.

May St. Joseph, guardian, and protector of the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary and of Our Lord Jesus Christ, inspire you to good works and noble living. May you, through his example of simplicity, obedience, trust, and faith, ever protect the children entrusted to your care, labor fruitfully and conscientiously in the vineyard of the Lord, and be found worthy of a happy, holy, and peaceful death, and a good defense before the awesome Judgment Seat of Christ.

Buona Festa di San Giuseppe!


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