When asked to write about St. Joseph, there is an image that has stayed with me this whole year. Have you ever thought about the “Passion” of St. Joseph? We speak about Jesus’ Passion. We even speak about Mary’s suffering (the Seven Sorrows of Mary), but we tend to ignore the passion of St. Joseph. Let’s begin by reflecting on Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus in the temple some 40 days after Jesus’ birth. This is the Feast of the Presentation.
Simeon praises the Child Jesus and then gives the chilling prophecy to Mary, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted; and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Lk. 2:34-35) How do you think this prophecy impacted the conversations and prayers between Mary and Joseph? The way they prayed together? Their conversations with Jesus? Joseph’s conversations with God? These words had to be a bomb, that for ordinary people, could have destabilized their peace of mind and trust in God. The Scriptures do not reveal what Joseph might have said, but I think they speak volumes about how he responded in faith and trust and never lost his ability to love with his whole heart.
Consider first the prequel to this prophecy in which St. Joseph receives the call to take Mary, his wife, into his home, though she is with child before they have come to live with one another. He is told by the angel of the Lord in a dream not to be afraid, for Mary has conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Child’s name is to be Jesus, Emmanuel—God with us. As Mary nears the end of her pregnancy, Joseph is then obligated to make the arduous journey to Bethlehem for the census, and there, Mary gives birth to Jesus in a cave. They receive the joyful visit of the shepherds and the mysterious visit of the wise men and their gifts, one of which is myrrh, a symbol of death. Already Joseph and Mary must have had conversations about the mystery and beauty of the mission they were on and which was so much bigger than them.
Joseph’s mission was always to help the family by teaching through the example of daily trust and hope in the Father’s love for them.”
Now we return to the Presentation in the temple. The words of Simeon had to rob Mary and Joseph of any consolation they might have shared at one level, and yet, at a deeper level, this deep awareness of the importance of their mission to care for Jesus in preparation for His mission would have bonded them in a union of love and faith that would be unshakable. Joseph was to teach Jesus, at a human level, the “how to” of daily life as a Jew of that time. And yet, Jesus would also teach Joseph and Mary about His mission which, at times, would leave them puzzled and mystified and they would have to continue to ponder and pray to adapt themselves to the mystery of the Messiah in their midst. The main example we have of this is when Jesus is “lost” in the temple for three days when he was 12 years old. When Mary and Joseph finally find Him, Jesus’ response is “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49) Scripture says that Jesus returned with them to Nazareth and grew in wisdom and age before God and man. I wonder how many times Mary and Joseph pondered together about these and other events as they also grew in their own lives of Faith and trust as they raised Jesus in relative silence in preparation for Jesus’ ministry.
But there is another part of Joseph’s life that must have caused him great suffering. Simeon spoke of Jesus being rejected and that Mary would suffer greatly. He did not mention Joseph in the prophecy. Joseph must have pondered this often, concluding that he would most probably not be present when Mary and Jesus would need him the most. Joseph was preparing them for the moment of their Passion, but in this Passion, God the Father would be the Father to guide Mary and Jesus in their greatest of tests. Thus, Joseph’s mission was always to help the family to prepare for this ultimate test by teaching through the example of daily trust and hope in the Father’s love for them. Think of all the times in which Jesus would teach His followers about the need to not be afraid, to love one’s enemies, to pray, to forgive. How Joseph must have modeled all of this and lived this spirituality in the family for the years leading up to Jesus’ ministry.
How do we apply this message to our lives? When I began my ministry here at Casa Hogar Juan Pablo after Bishop Callahan asked me to come and spend years here with the families, I felt a good but heavy weight knowing all the children at the Casa come with deep family wounds that impact them at every level. I could feel the need that the Lord was calling me along with all those who help at Casa to be a father to these children and to form them in the virtues and the skills they will need to meet the challenges of life. I feel every day that the formation we are giving the children is helping bring healing and confidence as they will face their own trials. I also know, like a dad, that I may not be with them in the moments of their greatest passion and suffering and, therefore, it is essential to try to model and help them to experience that they are truly sons and daughters of the King and that the King will take care of them.
How often in our family lives do we become so busy that we focus on the stuff of life without seeking that which is most important? How do you prepare your children morally and spiritually to face the realities and challenges that are part of daily life? How do you prepare your children for the Passion/Calvary that will be a part of each of our children’s lives? During this year of St. Joseph, this has been my main meditation—the Passion of St. Joseph. I hope these words can help you appreciate the importance of your life. May you be channels of hope and joy and bring to the Lord those under your care in a spirit that can bring a deeper peace to our world.
By Monsignor Joseph Hirsch, Director of Casa Hogar, Lurin, Peru
Published in the November 2021 Issue of Catholic Life Magazine