In a few weeks, on March 19, we will celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. In my last column, I mentioned that this year’s feast is extra special because it is the 150th anniversary of Pope Pius IX’s declaration giving St. Joseph the title “Patron of the Universal Church.” In celebration of this feast, I have declared this next year a “Year of Prayer in Honor of St. Joseph.” You can read more about this year of prayer in my pastoral exhortation in this issue of The Compass.
As we begin this year of focus on St. Joseph, I wanted to share my reflections on how Joseph can be a model of discipleship for us. On the surface, we might not think of him as a disciple of Jesus. After all, to be a disciple means to be a student, and as Jesus’ father, it would seem that Joseph taught Jesus, rather than the other way around. However, the stories we know about Joseph show us how he came to discover, follow, worship and share Jesus, and provide some suggestions for how we might do the same.
St. Joseph first discovered Jesus in his life when he was visited by the angel of the Lord, who announced that Mary was pregnant. The angel told him, “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” You can imagine the shock Joseph must have felt when this news was delivered to him. As a faithful Jewish man, Joseph probably did not expect that this is how he would first learn of the person who would be the Messiah, the one to come to save Israel from their sins. Like Joseph, we must prepare to meet Jesus in places we don’t necessarily expect.
Upon receiving the good news of Jesus’ conception and birth, St. Joseph immediately became a follower of Jesus. After receiving the message from the angel, the Scriptures tell us that, “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.” It is striking how quickly Joseph took this message to heart. He didn’t hesitate, but immediately changed his course, making Jesus the priority and focal point in his life. Have we done the same or are we hesitant to lay down our own plans in order to follow Jesus more closely?
Not only does St. Joseph follow Jesus, but he also worships him. Another word for worship is honor, and the Scriptures reveal how Joseph honored Jesus. We see Joseph honoring Jesus in the Nativity story, when despite the challenging circumstances, he finds a place for the child to be born. Likewise, Joseph honors Jesus by taking care of him and protecting him from those who wish to do him harm. We, too, can find ways to honor Jesus in our lives, even when our culture says that’s not important. One way we can do this is by keeping Sundays sacred as a day to worship Jesus by going to Mass, refraining from unnecessary work and spending time in prayer and communion with our families.
Lastly, St. Joseph shows us the importance of sharing Jesus with others. One example was when the young Jesus was missing on a trip home from Jerusalem, only to be found in the Temple teaching the elders. While Mary and Joseph were worried and a bit confused by his actions, they ultimately were willing to share Jesus with others. Like them, are we able to align our will with the will of Jesus, even when it is confusing? Are we willing to share Jesus with others even when it might be easier or safer to keep him to ourselves?
So as we begin this year of St. Joseph, I invite you to spend some time in prayer and reflection on how you, like Joseph, can become a model disciple. In particular, as we move through the days of Lent, we have a great opportunity to step back and see how we can grow closer to Jesus. I will be praying for each of you in the coming weeks that you might discover, follow, worship and share Jesus this Lent.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter at @BpDavidRicken.