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Lessons Learned from Saint Joseph

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the Solemnity of St. Joseph at the annual Knights of Malta Healing Mass, at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Annandale.

In God's loving care for us, this year, this annual Knights of Malta Healing Mass is taking place as we celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Joseph. There is something we can learn from this providential connection. Just as Saint Joseph was chosen by God to be the guardian of Jesus Christ as His foster father and also the husband or spouse of Mary, the Mother of God - today's gospel account reminds us of this fact - so too Saint Joseph has been appointed the guardian and protector of Jesus Christ's other visible presence, the Mystical Body of Christ, His Church. Within the Mystical Body are members who are being asked to carry a heavy burden: the cross of serious illness at various ages in life and the cross of debilitating old age, with the limitations and frustrations it brings. Today, we will administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, seeking both the return of physical health, if that be God's will, and the increase of spiritual strength, so needed inwardly by all who are ill.

As we reflect on the gospel accounts which mention Saint Joseph - the gospels according to Saint Matthew and Saint Luke, we discover the Saint Joseph was steadfastly obedient to the Will of God. Yes, I repeat, Saint Joseph was obedient to the will of God: through the pregnancy of Mary, knowing he was not the father; through the visit of an angel, who told him to remain faithful to his beloved spouse; through the census of Caesar Augustus, which forced him to take his wife, heavy with child, to Bethlehem, where they would be rejected by the innkeepers and Mary would give birth to the Son of God, Whom she wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. God would call upon Saint Joseph to be faithful through so much more: an angel of God commanding him to take his family to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod; the angel telling him to return to make the long journey back to Israel after the death of King Herod; and the heartbreaking loss of Jesus on pilgrimage in Jerusalem, where for three days Joseph and Mary searched for their son "with great anxiety" (Lk 2:42). After they found Jesus in the temple, the Gospels no longer speak of Saint Joseph. Tradition tells us that he died with Jesus and Mary at his side, and thus he is our patron for a happy death, for we cannot imagine a more peaceful way to pass from this life to the next, than to do so with the prayers and under the loving gaze of the Blessed Virgin and our Savior.

Not only is the presence of Saint Joseph in the gospels limited to that period of time before the Baptism of the Lord, the voice of Saint Joseph is silent. Yet despite his silence and brief appearance in Scripture, Saint Joseph has so much to teach us as followers of Christ. Let me focus on two: his intimacy with Jesus and Mary, and his selfless mission to serve the Son of God.

Saint Joseph welcomed the son of God into his family as an infant, held Our Lord in his arms, raised him as a child, ate with Him at the family table, and worked to provide for His care and wellbeing. Through his vocation to be the guardian of Jesus, Saint Joseph was privileged to have this life of intimacy with the Son of God, and not only that, but to do so alongside his wife, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

While we do not share the physical intimacy with Jesus and Mary that Saint Joseph experienced, we know that God dwells among us in prayer, in the Sacraments - especially the Eucharist - and in the Mystical Body of Christ that is His Church. As Knights and Ladies of Malta, we are men and women devoted to prayer and the Sacraments. We are also called in a special way to serve the sick and those in need of healing, and in this way, we find intimacy with Jesus Christ, who said, "For I was ill and you cared for me … . Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Mt 25:39,40). Yes, in our service to those in need, we meet Jesus face-to-face, and they meet Jesus in us.

This healing mission is not only a means of intimacy with Jesus, but it also relates to the second lesson we can learn from the life of Saint Joseph, which is his selfless mission to serve the Son of God. Like Saint Joseph, we are called to sacrifice and serve Jesus Christ in our individual vocations. This means to be present to our families like Saint Joseph, the patron of fathers and families. This means to take part in our parishes, where we join the Body of Christ in prayer and worship, and support the priests and deacons in their mission to sanctify our local church. This means to reach out through the Order of Malta in prayer and service. And this means to do all as Saint Joseph did, quietly and selflessly, pouring himself out for Jesus and Mary, devoting his time, energy and resources into caring for the Holy Family. May we do the same for the Church and those we serve.

Yes, it is a blessing to gather today to give thanks to God for the life and mission of Saint Joseph, protector of the Church, guardian of Jesus and Mary, model for fathers, strength of the sick, and hope for the dying. May we ask him to accompany us in our lives of service to God, to our Church, to our families and to the needy, that he may guide us to such intimacy with Jesus and Mary that sustains us in our faithful and selfless service. We ask him especially to look after and care for the sick, as we invoke the sacramental power of the Lord in the Anointing of the Sick.

Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and guardian of the Church, pray for us!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016