Q: Some people think that celebrating saints’ days during Lent draws our attention away from the Great Forty Days of preparation for Easter. Do you think that the feast of St. Joseph should be moved out of Lent?
A: No. It is true that where the solemnity of St. Joseph “is not observed as a Holy Day of Obligation, it may be transferred by the Conference of Bishops to another day outside Lent” (“Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar,” no. 56).
The U.S. bishops have not moved this solemnity and thus the solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19 can enhance our celebration of Lent. He is the patron of the Universal Church, and the whole church needs his powerful intercession, especially during Lent.
Before Joseph became our intercessor, he was a carpenter. Mary of Nazareth must have heard lots of pounding and banging and hammering while Joseph, her husband, and Jesus, her son, worked in their carpenter shop next to her kitchen.
Maybe she enjoyed the quiet when they went to nearby Sepphoris, a city being built near Nazareth. There was a building boom going on in Sepphoris, and carpenters could find lots of work there. I’ll bet that Joseph and Jesus must have talked about a lot of things along the way there and back — maybe about Mary, Joseph’s special love from his youth, the one whose “yes” to God required many “yeses” to God on his part. Joseph came to know that faith requires many “yeses,” both in ordinary and extraordinary circumstances. Lent helps us to speak such “yeses” and live such “yeses” in our lives.
Turning toward God
Decades ago I bought a wooden statue of St. Joseph, about a foot high, probably carved in Puerto Rico. I gave it to my parents, Joseph and Josephine. My mother had it while she lived at Arlington Place in St. Joseph, a city that shares her patron saint’s name. Later I gave it to one of my Benedictine confreres at St. John’s Abbey named Joseph.
I love the artist’s portrayal of Joseph the carpenter: he rests his weight upon his saw, his eyes turned downward, as if he is turned to God in a moment of quiet rest. That, after all, is the purpose of Lent: to turn us more frequently and deeply to our saving God.
For centuries, St. Joseph often stood in the shadows in the Holy Family, the First Family of Christendom. But the image of Joseph as a good, earthly father to Jesus has made him beloved for 600 years, and Franciscan theologians had a lot to do with this.
Several of them argued that although Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, he served as his father in every other way. The influential friar Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444) presented Joseph as so perfect in his treatment of Mary and Jesus that he should serve as a model for all husbands and fathers.
Joseph figures prominently in the 2007 film “The Nativity Story.” Screenwriter Mike Rich notes that Joseph’s “defining attitude is the righteousness — his sense of fairness. It explains why he is drawn to Mary in the first place: she is virtuous.”
And director Catherine Hardwicke says that “Joseph did not place his pride before [Mary’s] well-being. His decision to accept Mary and her child and to trust the word of God took great faith and courage.”
Litany of saintly virtues
It is his humility, trust in the word of God, great faith and courage that make Joseph a good Lenten saint for us on the way to Easter. As we rub shoulders with this holy carpenter in the liturgy, maybe some of the spiritual sawdust of his virtues will rub off on us.
Here I borrow a bit from the Litany of St. Joseph, and offer you a kind of homiletical litany, or a litanical homily (if you prefer):
- St. Joseph, chaste guardian of the Virgin, watchful defender of Christ
Have you ever wanted to protect a special person you love very much? If you have, then Joseph is a saint for you.
- Head of the Holy Family
Have you ever been responsible for the physical and mental well-being of others? Have you ever experienced how much that can cost you personally? If you have, then Joseph is a saint for you.
- Lover of poverty
Have you found joy in the non-attachment to possessions that lets you enrich others by your sacrifice and generosity? If you have, then Joseph is a saint for you.
- Model of artisans
Have you ever imagined what joy could be yours in handing on a skill or talent to someone you love? If you have, then Joseph is a saint for you.
- Patron of the dying
Have you ever prayed to know the embrace of Christ in the hour of your death? If you have, then Joseph is a saint for you.
- Protector of the church
Have we, the church of Jesus Christ, ever been in greater need of unity and peace, mutual love and forgiveness, courage and perseverance, wise direction and counsel, strength to keep on doing good?
Do we need these blessings now?
If we do, then Joseph is a saint for us, this Lent and always.
Joseph most faithful, pray for us!
Benedictine Father Michael Kwatera, a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, serves as the abbey’s director of liturgy. Please send your questions on liturgy to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at St. John’s Abbey, P.O. Box 2015, Collegeville, MN 56321-2015.