St. Joseph: husband of Mary, companion to parents

by Bishop Joseph N. Perry –

“Father and Son” painting by Corbert Gauthier

We priests and bishops are often asked by parents to add a child of theirs to our prayers.  The implication often is that a particular son or daughter is not turning out in life the way their mom or dad would like.  Mention is often made that the son or daughter in their teens or young adult years has fallen away from practice of the faith or is leading a lifestyle not commensurate with Christian values.  We priests and bishops easily see St. Monica, who spent years storming heaven for the conversion of her son Augustine, in the groans and tears of mothers and fathers for their children.  Their prayers are of great length and our prayer for their children added to theirs makes their prayer even legion.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, who has a personal devotion to St. Joseph and who frequently places scrips of paper with written pleadings under a statue of the sleeping St. Joseph, has proclaimed 2021 the Year of St. Joseph.  The chief pastor of the universal church recognizes the powerful intercession St. Joseph has for the welfare of the Church in these times and the welfare of our families.  St. Joseph is able to help families navigate the gauntlet of struggle and challenge to live lives conformed to the message of Christ and model their children to value lives of faith and trust in God.

Studying closely the few details reported in the gospels about the Holy Family we are stopped in our tracks learning of the difficulties that were theirs plowing through the mess of life and the world of that time – from the conditions within which Jesus entered this world at Bethlehem, to escaping a crazed local monarch who was insane enough to consider a baby a threat to himself, to traveling up and down the rough unpaved roads of Palestine, to watching a young Jesus grow into boyhood, in one instance striking out on his own without telling his folks during an annual trip to Jerusalem, on through to manhood  refereeing the reactions of relatives and neighbors to their son. Saint Joseph with his wife Mary knew the anxieties that most families today face.

For certain, St. Joseph is much more than a routine statue prop of the annual Nativity scene.  We rightfully surmise that St. Joseph was an extraordinary man of faith and trust to have been chosen to guard God’s secret about the origin of His Son and the integrity of the Child’s virgin mother. The gospels tell us that Jesus grew in wisdom, age and grace.  And in so doing, that human father figure was undoubtedly very important.

On a practical level Joseph passed on to Jesus the knowledge and skills which made up the carpentry trade.  For as long as Joseph was around and until Jesus launched into his public life, beginning with his baptism by John and a long preparatory retreat in the desert, Jesus learned and then made a living as a carpenter. Unfortunately, we don’t have details of those years of how Jesus serviced others as a skilled tradesman, who was also known as the son of Joseph and son of David, carpenter of Nazareth.  Jesus proved a good boy from home who made it good in life, but not without the criticism, gossip and wonderments of His neighbors.

We pass on many things to children and others whom we influence or for whom we serve as mentors.  We might wish to pass on a fat bank account and some of the comforts of life for their good start in life.  But all that is a dream by all accounts for most.  Such wealth by lesson of other narratives has proven to ruin as many children as it has helped. The real valuables of life, of course, are not material.  And these include a sense of Christian identity and a level of self-esteem that sees our children mature to an appreciation of their role to be of service to God, perhaps in the Church or because of the Church, people of some stature able to discern right from wrong out of the best of our Catholic tradition, while allowing the mysteries of God to permeate their thoughts and actions.  These abilities on their part bring smiles to our faces as parents, pastors, catechists and others who are invested in the lives of our young people.  These kinds of wishes and these kinds of prayers for our youth are not confining limitations of their freedom, but rather foundations upon which they can build a life as a believer.

Over the years we have come around to understanding how to love someone whose behavior we cannot condone.  It’s the stuff parents are experts at.  And few of us will get clear directions in our sleep on how to do this.  But our waking dreams for our children are no less reliable.  Our dreams for our children are products of our hope and our enduring love.

We give our children the best we know how.  We don’t have the largest control over how they turn out.  One or the other child may turn out a saint; another’s life may turn out embroiled in listlessness, perpetual unsteadiness or immorality.  In the meantime, God knows we’ve done our best with them. This year of observance as we lay before St. Joseph our concerns and anxieties for our sons and daughters, let us route our passion for the success we want our children to have with the higher things.  In the final analysis, whether our children turn out right or wrong, they will know ultimately our love from which they were spawned and nurtured along their way.

Most Rev. Joseph N. Perry is Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Chicago and Episcopal Advisor for the World Apostolate of Fatima, USA – Our Lady’s Blue Army.

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