Friday, March 18, 2011

St. Joseph's Day (March 19th)

Tomorrow (March 19) is St. Joseph's Day. He is an immensely popular saint (one of my personal favorites), and with good reason: he is the patron of fathers, workers, the universal Church and a happy death; he was Mary's husband and Jesus' foster father, the protector of the Holy Family. From sacred Scripture, we also know that he was "a righteous man" (Matthew 1:18). He was (and is) a pretty big deal.

What can we learn from St. Joseph's example? Well, he teaches us a few important things as Christians:

1) St. Joseph teaches us to be a good and hard worker. He was was a carpenter by trade, a hard-working man who was not wealthy. When he took the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised and for Mary to be purified, Joseph offered two turtledoves for sacrifice - the sacrifice of a family who could not afford a lamb (Luke 2:24).

2) St. Joseph teaches us to be humble. He was of royal lineage (a descendant of the great King David according to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke), but Joseph never shied away from doing menial labor to provide for his family.

3) St. Joseph teaches us to be caring and compassionate. When Joseph discovered that his fiancee Mary was pregnant, he knew that he was not the father but, at that time, did not know that she was carrying the Son of God. But instead of publicly accusing her of adultery and risking that she be stoned to death, he decided to divorce her quietly according to the law to protect Mary (Matthew 1:19-25).

4) St. Joseph teaches us to be faithful and obedient to God. When an angel sent by God revealed to Joseph that Mary was carrying the Son of God, Joseph unhesitatingly took her into his home, despite the risk of scandal and reproach from others. After Jesus' birth, Joseph again followed God's warnings that the Infant was in danger and led his family away from their home into Egypt until the danger passed (Matthew 2:13-23). He also made sure that Jesus was raised in the fullness of their Jewish faith, making sure the family was present at the Temple in Jerusalem each year to celebrate Passover - a feat that could not have been easy for a working man.

5) St. Joseph teaches us to love Jesus and Mary. Over and over again, Joseph showed his love for Jesus and for Mary. He did whatever was needed to protect them from danger and, upon returning from Egypt, moved the family to a small, obscure village (Nazareth) to raise Jesus in safety. Joseph accepted and raised Jesus as his own son and made sure that he and his mother were provided for. When Jesus stayed behind in the Temple on one of the family's trips to Jerusalem, Joseph joined Mary in her genuine distress as they searched diligently for the child for three days (Luke 2:48).

St. Joseph is a role model to all of us, but especially to Catholic men. Many saints throughout the centuries have had a strong devotion to him. He has been honored by the Church with two feast days on the Church calendar: March 19th and May 1st as "St. Joseph the Worker". Pope John XXIII (d. 1963) even added St. Joseph's name to the Roman Canon (the first Eucharistic prayer).

It should also be noted that we here at St. John's in Oxford have three good reasons to pray for our Church leaders on this day: St. Joseph is the name saint for our pastor (Joseph Tonos), our bishop (Joseph Latino) and our pope (whose baptismal name is Joseph Ratzinger). Won't you say an extra prayer for all three men tomorrow?

The St. Joseph's Altar

A typical St. Joseph Altar.
In Italy (and especially in Sicily), St. Joseph is especially revered as a patron and protector. According to an ancient story, there was a severe drought in Sicily during the Middle Ages and the people of Sicily asked St. Joseph to pray to God for rain. If the rains came, they promised to have a large feast in his honor and to invite the poor. The rains did come, and the people were saved from starvation by a bumper crop of fava beans. And the people of Sicily followed through with their promise to honor God through St. Joseph with a massive banquet to which all in the area were invited.

In New Orleans, a port city which attracted many Sicilian immigrants during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, St. Joseph's altars became a tradition each year. The "altar" usually consists of a large table upon which are prepared floral arrangements and baskets of food - especially fruits and vegetables, breads, pastries and wines. These usually surround an image of St. Joseph. Quite often, fava beans are passed out in homage to the legume which saved the population of Sicily at St. Joseph's intersession. After a community meal, the altars are dismantled and the remaining food is donated to the poor. There's even a cool "virtual St. Joseph Altar" you can check out online.

The tradition of the St. Joseph Altar has spread throughout the Deep South to many families and Catholic parishes in the region. St. John's will host a St. Joseph's Day meal (featuring our annual St. Joseph Altar) tomorrow evening, at 5:00pm in the parish hall. Free will donations will be collected for the Clayton Stevens Fund, which goes directly to help the poor in Oxford and Lafayette County. All are welcome to attend and take part in this wonderful tradition!