Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ite ad Ioseph

"Ite ad Ioseph et, quidquid vobis dixerit, facite." (Genesis 41:55)

I took for my patron and lord the glorious St. Joseph, and recommended myself earnestly to him.... I cannot call to mind that I have ever asked him at any time for anything which he has not granted; and I am filled with amazement when I consider the great favours which God hath given me through this blessed Saint; the dangers from which he hath delivered me, both of body and of soul. To other Saints, our Lord seems to have given grace to succour men in some special necessity; but to this glorious Saint, I know by experience, to help us in all: and our Lord would have us understand that as He was Himself subject to him upon earth — for St. Joseph having the title of father, and being His guardian, could command Him — so now in heaven He performs all his petitions. I have asked others to recommend themselves to St. Joseph, and they too know this by experience; and there are many who are now of late devout to him, having had experience of this truth.
From The Life of Saint Theresa of Avila, VI
Once upon a time, I gave voice to some personal reflections on why the figure of Joseph is important in my spirituality. These previous posts were somewhat affected with a certain style of rhetoric in order that they not seem too "preachy," since I have no office or mandate to preach about anything. Or, so was my thinking at the time. Two years later, I'm a little more secure in my understanding of my baptismal mandate to spread the Gospel, and even more determined than ever to spread devotion to Saint Joseph. I think that Saint Joseph's patronage is sadly neglected and undersold to those who need it most, and I think that the Church in the modern day would benefit particularly from his example and intercession - it was not for nothing that the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council named Joseph the patron of that Holy Synod, the implementation of which is by no means complete.

I'm currently reading a little booklet called Saint Joseph, Fatima and Fatherhood: Reflections on the Miracle of the Sun, by a Msgr. Cirrincione. The booklet draws attention to the figure of Joseph at that momentous apparition which astounded tens of thousands of witnesses. Along with Our Lady of Fatima, there appeared in the sky next to the sun before it did its miraculous dance, the figure of Saint Joseph holding the Child Jesus in his arms. At least one of the visionaries saw Saint Joseph and the Child blessing the world.

Now, being a seminarian, I'll anticipate here a question which could only occur to the mind of a seminarian long used to splitting straws in discussion ad nauseam, to wit: What right or office had Saint Joseph to bless, and is it not superfluous to the blessing of the Great High Priest being given simultaniously?

Now the answer to this is obvious, but the reason I pose the question is that it serves as a starting point for reflection and, I think, helps reveal to us the great role which Joseph plays in intercession for our Church.

To handle the first part of my question: Saint Joseph is a patriarch. In the Old Testament, both priests and patriarchs blessed the people. In fact, the office of blessing and bestowing gifts was more the role of the latter, while the former were primarily intercessors between men and God in sacrifice. This is one of the reasons that a reader is shocked to find Abraham receiving blessing from the mysterious Melchizedek in the fourteenth chapter of Genesis, left only to conclude that great indeed was the priesthood of that fatherless and ageless king.

Of course, the greatest blessing which could be bestowed by a Patriarch is the blessing of inheritance and prosperity, and this is context in which we find sons kneeling at their fathers' feet throughout the Old Testament. This point may be significant in light of the apparition, as I will point out later.

On to the second point of the question: it is important here that in the apparition, we see the Child Jesus in his father's arms. There are many lessons to be gleaned from this particular image, but I think that there is one which explains why both father and Son were giving blessing. Think of normal earthly relationships of fathers and children. Children imitate their fathers' examples; they are obedient to their fathers' demands. I believe that Saint Joseph is blessing the world and commending the act to His Son, who, as Saint Theresa teaches us, responds to Joseph's demands now in Heaven as He did on earth. I believe that one might interpret from the vision that Jesus is blessing the world at his foster-father's behest. (I think, further, that one might say both are responding to the will of Mary, but that is for another discussion.)

There is nothing untoward about this observation. I am not saying that Christ is compelled in any way by the desires either of Joseph or Mary. Christ's will is entirely the will of His Father in Heaven, and that is completely sovereign. Rather, one might say that it is perfectly Christ's own will that He continue to be obedient to his earthly parents: it is part of the mystery of His infinite humbling in the incarnation. And since those two souls are perfected in grace, there is no disparity to be feared.

So, I think that the vision at Fatima implies Joseph's powerful intercessory role as he "instructs" his foster-Son to bless the world. But what is this blessing that Joseph wills? Well, the blessing most fitting to a Patriarch: the blessing of inheritance and prosperity. Here, I think, we discover a rationale for why we must honor Saint Joseph second only to Mary in the communion of saints. We know from our catechism that we are God's adopted sons and daughters by grace of our Baptism. But there is an intimacy to this reality that I think we fail to appreciate: we have truly been adopted into the household of the Holy Family! Our adopted inheritance is as incarnational as the other mysteries of our faith. We are truly members of the earthly family of which Saint Joseph is the head by his auspicious vocation, with Mary as our true earthly mother and Joseph as our patriarch and guide. This is not some ephemeral relationship that must wait for the life beyond: it is as real and legal as the family relationships into which we were born. Hence, I venture to conclude that devotion to Mary and Joseph is not merely a supplemental exercise to our life in faith, but a heavenly mandate. We must honor our father and mother.

This obligation is to our benefit ultimately. The intercessory power of Saint Joseph is, I believe, typified in the story of the Old Testament patriarch Joseph. Joseph of Israel was a steward of the King (Pharaoh) who had the right to bestow the King's graces as he deemed fit. It is significant that the primary distribution of which Joseph was in charge was the allotment of grain during the famine. Further, it is through Joseph's intercession that the family of Israel was welcomed into the King's rhealm and given a land of prosperity. And we must not forget the compelling command which Pharoah gives to his starving subjects: "Go to Joseph; whatsoever he says to you, do."

Surely, Saint Joseph holds sway over the treasure houses of Heaven in like manner to his Old Testament type. In humble service to Jesus through Mary, Saint Joseph has a unique power of governance and protection over the Church which we do well to invoke as often as we approach the altar (this was truly the sentiment of Blessed Pope John XXIII when he added Joseph's name to the Roman Canon, which was then the only Eucharistic Prayer in usage in the Latin Rite).

I would encourage all of my readers to read the final chapters of Genesis with prayerful consideration, and to take to heart the advice of Saint Theresa with which I opened this post. Many are the benefits to be gained from contemplating our place as adopted members of the Holy Family. How ought we to act, if we have truly been raised in that household? And to whom should we run in time of need, fear, excitement, or joy? It is often said that an essential Catholic motto is, "You can choose your friends: but you're stuck with your family." Indeed. Deo gratias!

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: bless and assist us.

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