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SAINT JOSEPH: OUR PATRON SAINT

Saint Joseph

A Reflection on the Official Inauguration

of the Carmelite Provincial Commissariat in Vietnam

 

Joseph Tri Quang Phan, O.Carm.

Roma, 18/03/2019

Though very quiet in the Gospel, Saint Joseph is well-known and widely honored by people of all ages. In Christian tradition, Saint Joseph is the last Patriarch who receives the communications of the Lord through the way of dreams (cf. Genesis 28, 12-14; Mt 1, 20-24). Like the ancient Joseph, he is a righteous and faithful man (Mt 1, 19) whom God had placed as protector of his household. He connects Jesus, the Messianic King, to the line of David (Mt 1, 1-16; Lk 3, 23-38). Joseph, Chaste Spouse of Mary and Foster Father of the Word Incarnate, guided of the Holy Family in their flight to and return from Egypt, retracing the way of the Exodus (Genesis 37; 50, 22-26; Mt 2, 13-21).[1] His feast day on March 19th is celebrated by the whole Church as a solemnity because we all love him. He is not only the Patron Saint of the Universal Church. He is the Principal Protector of the Carmelite Order, and those who come to him in prayer experience his paternal care. Saint Joseph appeared to be the patron saint of everybody. Everyone might claim that “Joseph is my Patron Saint.”  

  1. The Foster Father of Jesus Christ, the Patron of the Church:St Joseph Patron

A historical review allows us to recognize that Saint Joseph is widely venerated in the Catholic Church. There was already a long tradition before Pope Pius IX officially proclaimed him Patron of the Universal Church in 1870 and declared that his feast be celebrated on March 19. In 1962, Pope John XXIII, reaffirming the special role of Saint Joseph in the life of the Catholic Church, inserted his name in the ancient Roman Canon. Recently, under the instruction of Pope Francis, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued the decree Paternas vices (Fatherly care) to order that the name of Saint Joseph be included in all the main Eucharistic Prayers.[2] This decree marks a small but historic change in the beautiful tradition of the Church. As one of the very first actions that Pope Francis did at the beginning of his Pontificate, the inclusion of Saint Joseph’s name in the Eucharistic Prayers demonstrates the continual devotion to Saint Joseph of the successors of Saint Peter, acknowledging his protection of the Church. 

Paternas vices solemnly declares that “exercising his paternal care over Jesus, Saint Joseph of Nazareth, set over the Lord’s family, marvelously fulfilled the office he received by grace. Adhering firmly to the mystery of God’s design of salvation in its very beginnings, he stands as an exemplary model of the kindness and humility that the Christian faith raises to a great destiny and demonstrates the ordinary and simple virtues necessary for men to be good and genuine followers of Christ. Through these virtues, this Just man, caring most lovingly for the Mother of God and happily dedicating himself to the upbringing of Jesus Christ, was placed as guardian over God the Father’s most precious treasures. Therefore, he has been the subject of assiduous devotion on the part of the People of God throughout the centuries, as the support of that mystical body, which is the Church.”[3]

Saint Joseph’s paternal protection of the Lord Jesus Christ continues even from heaven. Therefore, it is truly right to remember him at the Holy Eucharist when the Church, Christ’s Mystical Body, gathers as a community, in union with the Holy Family of Nazareth.

  1. The Protector of the Holy Family, the Protector of the ‘domestic Church’

We all are thankful to Saint Joseph for his patronage of the Church which is the first but not only aspect of his role in the Church. Saint Joseph’s fatherly care is also manifested in his patronage over what is called the "domestic church." This aspect of Saint Joseph’s spiritual fatherhood, according to Bishop James D. Conley, deserves to be explored and appreciated in greater depth. The concept of “domestic church” dates all the way back to the first century and is mentioned in Lumen Gentium 11. The term also appeared in the 2012 letter of Pope Benedict XVI and was described as "a place of formation in faith and prayer, a seedbed of vocations, the natural school of virtues and ethical values, and the primary living cell of society."[4] It clearly refers to “the spiritual life of the Christian family – the prayers, traditions, and religious instruction that should be at the center of every Catholic hearth and home.”[5]

Pope Benedict XVI once shared his beautiful reflection on the quiet life of Saint Joseph, proposing that “he must certainly have taught Jesus to pray, Joseph himself must have taken Jesus to the Synagogue for the rites of the Sabbath, as well as to Jerusalem for the great feasts of the people of Israel. As a faithful Jewish father, Joseph would have led the prayers at home both every day – in the morning, in the evening, at meals – and on the principal religious feasts.[6] Saint Joseph’s patronage toward the Christian family is expressed in his guidance and assistance to our prayers. St. Joseph's call to become the protector of the Holy Family is an invitation for us to enter the divine intimacy. The Christian Family are encouraged to pray together, worship together, share with one another the Word of God and put God’s teachings into practice. Modern families suffer a lot from selfishness, lack of empathy and division. Like St. Joseph, we must give ourselves generously and totally, without reserve, to our family if we want to save our family from its problems. We learn from Saint Joseph who dedicated his total being for his family, to Mary and to Jesus, and together with his Most Chaste Spouse and Holy Son, he offered his undivided submission to God’s will.   

  1. The Protector of the Church, the Spiritual Guide of the Carmelite Order

Saint Joseph is honored and loved by many religious communities, particularly Carmelite ones. The liturgical feast of the Saint already appeared quite early in the Carmelite Order in the second half of the 16th century. In 1680, the General Chapter unanimously elected Saint Joseph as the Principal Protector of the Order. The cherished relationship between Carmelites and the Earthly Father of Jesus is expressed in the Carmelite trust in Saint Joseph's intercession.

As one of the greatest Carmelite Mystics, Saint Teresa of Jesus, also known as Teresa of Avila, wrote well about Saint Joseph whom she loved and honored. She experienced the powerful intercession of Saint Joseph and admitted that she advanced in virtue through the example of Saint Joseph. Let us recall some of her thoughts: “I took for my advocate and lord the glorious Saint Joseph and commended myself earnestly to him; and I found that this my father and lord delivered me both from this trouble and also from other and greater troubles concerning my honor and the loss of my soul, and that he gave me greater blessings than I could ask of him. I do not remember even now that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant. I am astonished at the great favors which God has bestowed on me through this blessed saint, and at the perils from which He has freed me, both in body and in soul. [Therefore,] I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to [Saint Joseph], for I have great experience of the blessings which he can obtain from God. I have never known anyone to be truly devoted to him and render him particular services who did not notably advance in virtue, for he gives very real help to souls who commend themselves to him. For some years now, I think, I have made some request of him every year on his festival and I have always had it granted. If my petition is in any way ill directed, he directs it aright for my greater good. […] Those who practice prayer should have a special affection for Saint Joseph always. I do not know how anyone can think of the Queen of the Angels, during the time that she suffered so much with the Child Jesus, without giving thanks to Saint Joseph for the way he helped them. If anyone cannot find a master to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious saint as his master and he will not go astray.”[7]

The strong sense of trust led Saint Teresa to dedicate her first foundation to Saint Joseph. With this same strong of trust, the Carmelites in Vietnam dedicate their foundation to the paternal care of Saint Joseph. Since Joseph looked after Mary and Christ in a particular way, we Carmelites believe that he also cares for our Order which is devoted to Mary and Christ.[8] The Carmelite Provincial Commissariat in Vietnam is named after the faithful Guardian of God’s household as an expression of the wish to continue this beautiful tradition. We wish to advance in virtue after the model of Saint Joseph, to constantly seek God’s will, and to put serving God’s people in this culturally rich homeland as our priority.   

For ages, Carmelites have meditated and looked upon Saint Joseph as the guardian of their vocation, and as an example for their service to the will of God. The Carmelite Order has regarded him as its Principal Protector, and each Carmelite, in different ways, has experienced Saint Joseph’s patronage for their spiritual life and vocation. We are inspired by Saint Joseph to put ourselves always at seeking “the wisdom that comes from heaven.” (James 3:17This spiritual habit allows us to find considerable peace of mind in knowing that we are faithfully doing God’s will, not ours.   

Conclusion:

One of the greatest modern ecclesiologists, Yves Congar once lamented that “a principle problem for the church in our day is that it appears so unattractive in the eyes of many of our contemporaries.”[9] The crisis of clergy abuse strikes the Church terribly. It makes the church not only appear negatively in the eyes of the world but causes a great loss of the Church’s credibility in the eyes of many of its members as well. As the Feast of Saint Joseph is drawing near, we flee to him with earnest prayers asking him to protect the Church during its crisis. At the same time, we look upon the Patriarch Saint to learn from him ways of supporting the Church in its present struggle.

As we all experience personal closeness to Saint Joseph, we are invited to imitate him in our response to God’s plans. If every Catholic were open to the Word of God and allowed the Word of God to speak to them as Saint Joseph did, they would never be lost or betray the truth. If we Carmelites learned from Saint Joseph to faithfully live our charism by giving ourselves to the active life without neglecting our life of intimate union with God, we would never be afraid of losing our vocation. If members of Catholic families followed the example of Saint Joseph, they would dedicate all their solicitude, energy, resources, and time for the sake of others and the bonds between them would be strengthened by their unselfish love. If we all learned from Saint Joseph’s dedication to Christ, the Church will be recognized as it truly is: “the Father’s most precious treasures” (Paternas vices) The Church, the treasure that God entrusted to the protection of Saint Joseph, is a beautiful Bride who is adorned to welcome her Bridegroom with an excessive delight (cf. Rev. 19:7-8 & 21:1-9.) This Church may be old yet “still lives and moves on”[10] under the protection of Saint Joseph. 

 


[1] From the Website: Carmelites.net

[2] Decree Paternas vices, full text is available at http://osjusa.org/st-joseph/magisterium/paternas-vices/

[3] The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Decree Paternas vices (Fatherly Care), May 1, 2013.

[4] Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 14 September 2012, #59.

[6] Pope Benedict XVI, Discourse at a General Audience on the Holy Family in 2012.

[7] Saint Teresa of Jesus, Autobiography, chapter 6.

[8] See carmelite.org.

[9] As it is quoted in William Henn, Church: The People of God (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 2004), 149.

[10] Henn, 149 & 151.

shieldOCarm

As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister."