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St. Joseph’s lessons for Lent

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This week, in the midst of the Lenten season, we pause to celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church. Upon first glance, it might seem ill-timed to reflect upon this saint during our preparation for Easter, when there is no record of him in the Gospels at the time of Jesus' public ministry, Passion or Death - let alone the Resurrection. What does the earthly foster father of Jesus have to teach us about our Lenten pilgrimage and our preparation for Holy Week if he did not witness Christ's Suffering, Death, and Resurrection firsthand? My dear brothers and sisters, let us reflect upon three significant ways in which Saint Joseph models for us a plan of preparation for Holy Week and a spiritual disposition throughout the entire year.

Next to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph stands as a model of complete trust in God's Providence. Developing this spirit of unconditional trust is an essential part of the spiritual life, particularly in Lent. After all, Lent is a season in which we are called to acknowledge honestly our brokenness and sinfulness, and yet trust in God's abundant mercy: His ability to "make all things new." Trust precludes despair.

When life's circumstances might understandably create the opportunity to doubt, we cannot afford to disbelieve in God's goodness. Faith, first and foremost, means trusting that God is Who He says He is, and that leads to believing in His providential care for us. This awareness comes, in part, from examining our past and recognizing the times in which the Lord has been so faithful to us.

In his Gospel, St. Matthew documents Saint Joseph's readiness to fulfill the will of God, trusting that He would make good on His promises. Saint Joseph could have understandably been swayed not to trust: first, when he learned that Mary was with child, and secondly, when he was instructed to uproot his family and flee to Egypt. As Pope Francis reminds us, "St. Joseph also experienced moments of difficulty, but he never lost faith and was able to overcome them, in the certainty that God never abandons us" (cf. General Audience, May 1, 2013). Although St. Joseph did not know the exact way in which the Father would bring him through these trials, His radical trust propelled him onward. We must likewise pray for faith like his, which is intrinsically linked with trust.

Secondly, Saint Joseph teaches us about the value of silent contemplation, an essential aspect of prayer, during Lent and always. There are no recorded words of Saint Joseph in the Gospel. This is not to say the man never spoke! No, instead we get a profound sense of how the husband of Mary, she who "pondered all these things in her heart," also spent time in prayer and silent contemplation.

Saint Joseph must have spent so much time gazing upon Jesus as He "grew in grace and wisdom," pondering the meeting of the human and divine. We should take some time in these remaining days of Lent to observe Jesus by prayerfully reading the Gospels and studying the way in which He spoke and lived. Or perhaps we can meditate upon a crucifix, contemplating the Lord Jesus' wounds and the broken body He offered up for our salvation. In any case, gaze upon Jesus and ponder His gaze upon you.

In light of the many demands for our attention, we may not be able to afford to set aside large periods of time to do this. But then again, St. Joseph, busy in his carpenter's shop, did not likely either. Instead, it is his constant attentiveness to Jesus that we can model in the midst of our busyness, his interior gaze upon the Lord.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, "Redemptoris Custos," Pope Saint John Paul II wrote, "The Gospels speak exclusively of what Joseph 'did.' Still, they allow us to discover in his 'actions' - shrouded in silence as they are - an aura of deep contemplation. Joseph was in daily contact with the mystery 'hidden from ages past,' and which 'dwelt' under his roof" (cf. Pope John Paul II, "Redemptoris Custos," Aug. 15, 1989). By turning our minds throughout the day to Saint Joseph, perhaps with a visual reminder in your home or workplace, we will more deeply be united with him, and our work can be joined to his contemplative yet active love for contemplation and self-offering.

Finally, we can ask Saint Joseph for his intercession in order to understand better Christ's Passion and Death as we draw closer to Holy Week. Though Saint Joseph was not at the Lord Jesus' side on the Cross, he surely suffered in knowing - in advance - what his Foster Son was to suffer as prophesied by Simeon at the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

And surely, when Joseph and Mary lost the child Jesus for three days in the Temple they must have been tempted to succumb to anxiety or hopelessness - the same feelings that Jesus laments from the Cross when He exclaims, "My God, my God, why have you foresaken me?" (cf. Mt 27:46) As Jesus' guardian, we can imagine Saint Joseph's terror at losing his Foster Son. And yet the finding of Jesus provides a moment of revelation: His young child points Saint Joseph's attention back to the Heavenly Father - "Did you not know that I would be in my Father's house?" (cf. Lk 2:50). That very same Heavenly Father is the one, Who with infinite and boundless love, offers His Son as our ransom.

As the Lenten season draws ever closer to an end, let us ask for St. Joseph's intercession, that our contemplative gaze upon Christ will draw us intimately close to Our Heavenly Father!

Follow Bishop Loverde on Twitter @Bishop_Loverde.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015