It’s always great to be home - which is what St. Agnes is to me - and for something that is so special to my heart - this devotion to St. Joseph, which I was first taught here 28 years ago by Fr. Marcone. It’s hard to believe it’s that long ago! I want to thank Fr. Cohan for his kind invitation to be here for this St. Agnes tradition. But before I thank him too much, when he gave me the topic for tonight I almost did a "Uhm... wait a second... maybe I’m not available that night after all."
St. Joseph, protector of the Universal Church.
It’s an awesome sounding title... Of all the ones that we pray as we go through the litany, that’s definitely one if you had a choice over you would probably pick over some others (like Patron of the dying).
But for many of you who’ve made this novena in years past have probably heard drilled into your heads - there’s not a ton of scriptural mentions for St. Joseph (only 15 to be exact) - and in those, scripture doesn’t have him speaking any words. So that makes things even more challenging in trying to understand how do we get to this place of devotion where we refer to St. Joseph as protector of the Universal Church.
What finally helped me to understand this complex Catholic, theological, devotional concept - was a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond - you know that fantastic sitcom from a few years ago that’s still on TV in syndication on cable. You can ask my mother, if I’m channel surfing and stumble on that show, even though I’ve seen every episode multiple times, I can’t turn away. They say "art imitate life" - well Raymond and the Barone clan definitely imitates Jim and the Chern family. Don’t worry mom, no family secrets tonight.
Anyway, the episode I stumbled upon has Ray, the Italian-American, sarcastic, sportswriter being awarded an Honorary Doctorate from his alma matter. After the initial excitement and pride from his wife Debra; the family dynamics quickly turn this notable achievement into a source of controversy. His NYPD cop brother Robert is jealous of "Doctor" Barone. His father Frank tries to feign some pride... His overbearing mother beams with excitement... and as the big day approaches where he is to receive the award, he gets more and more worried about the speech he has to make - to the point that he almost turns down the award because he’s so worried about speaking in public. But Debra keeps encouraging him - and the big day arrives, and the whole family goes - and he gets the diploma (which he gives to his mother since he figures she would want it for bragging rights more than he would) - and in his speech he mentions his family, talks about his father Frank, and brother Robert and thanks his mother Marie. And... forgets Debra. As soon as it’s brought to his attention by Robert’s girlfriend Amy - the usual sarcastic, jokey Ray becomes obviously ashamed at the oversight... and after trying to figure out some way to make it up to his long-suffering wife - he writes about her in his sports column...
"I'm often asked by people who want to be sportswriters, 'How did you get started?' And I understand this question, because of all the plum jobs, I've got the plummest. And it's a fair question to ask me, because I am, after all, mostly qualified to do something like deliver futons.
So, how did I get here? You see, there was this futon-delivery guy, and he met a beautiful woman. And even though she was way out of his league, for some unknown reason, she smiled at him. Eventually, and even more amazingly, she married him. And it turns out that when one of your dreams comes true, you begin to take the others a little more seriously.
So, even though I'm as amazed as anybody that I have any success at all, I'm pretty sure it all started with my wife Debra's smile."
What made me think of St. Joseph when watching this rerun I’ve seen at least a dozen times was that it reminded me of the beautiful fruits when marriage works. That the couple’s goal, and aim is to help each other get into heaven - so in the process, they work through the rough parts and hopefully bring out the best parts in one another.
When we first meet Joseph in the scriptures, he was already identified as a "just" and "righteous" man - terms that carry a lot of weight in scripture (which rarely uses those words for anyone other than God himself). He was of the lineage of David, the great King of Israel. So you can easily appreciate that this was a good, faithful, hard working Jewish man - who one day met a beautiful woman who was also way out of his league (being born without sin kind of redefines that category) - and more than likely she smiled at him as well.
In that, Joseph became the protector of Mary his wife, and Jesus, his foster son. Saving Mary from the shame and whispers of a society that would not understand (or care to) how she had become pregnant in this most unique of experiences... Saving Mary and Jesus from the threats of the maniacal Herod who upon hearing of the birth of the "King of the Jews" and unable to find him after the Magi skip town - slaughtered every male child who were two years old and younger - as Joseph takes his family to Egypt... Who when Jesus is "lost" in the temple, searches desperately with his wife Mary for three days.
In all of those ways, Joseph demonstrated he wasn’t simply a figure head. He wasn’t some man who lived with this terrible secret that the son of Mary was not his son - so it wasn’t his problem. He wasn’t some bystander figuring that the same angel who greeted Mary and visited Joseph in his dreams would take care of everything. His love of Mary - their mutual love for each other - enabled Joseph to do things he never imagined for himself . He truly became their protectors while on earth.
And as Catholics we believe that our connection with our loved ones doesn’t end here. That our loved ones continue to care, and pray for us. So it would be for St. Joseph... his love for his wife and his child would continue after his death. And the Church, which is the body of Christ, still looks to St. Joseph to intercede, to pray for us - to protect us from the trials, the scandals, the failures, the attacks that continue. Knowing that as Mary captured his heart, that forever changed him to want to continue to care and love for the things that Mary and Jesus cared and loved.
As we continue this annual novena - coming to a deeper love and understanding of this special man; seeing how God worked in his life and how Joseph responded to those movements; and yes, asking Joseph’s prayers for our many needs and intentions, may we do so with trust and confidence knowing that his relationship to us was born out of that love that he had for his wife Mary...
But may we also make room in our lists of prayers to continue to ask him to serve us as Protector of the Church. That as we face numerous challenges both from within as well as from outside, that St. Joseph may protect us from any threat as He protected Mary and Jesus from Herod; that He will inspire the Church to search for Christ when we lose sight of Him, just as He and Mary searched for Him in those days when he was "lost in the temple"; that he will pray for the us, the Church - that we remain faithful to Christ as He remained faithful to Mary and Jesus.