For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 4)

Precisely today, with the Church and even my Pope under attack for scandal in Germany, a cause of great sadness, we’ve never needed St. Joseph more. He is the patron saint of dozens of people and places, including carpenters, fathers, married people, unborn children, and the dying. Since 1847, by decree of Pope Pius IX, he is also the patron of the Universal Catholic Church. Today, our Church needs his intercession.

Since Thursday, I have been tracing just how St. Joseph came into focus after being largely overlooked for the first 1300 years after Christ. Yesterday, it was St. Bonaventure and Jean Gerson who shined a light on the husband of Mary and earthly father of Our Lord. Today, I will look briefly at St. Teresa of Avila (1515–1582). As before I am drawing from an essay by Joseph F. Chorpenning, OSFS, in St. Joseph and the Third Millennium, edited by Michael D. Griffin, OCD.

My daughter is being received into the Catholic Church at this year’s Easter Vigil, and I have commended St. Teresa to her as a possible patron. I told my daughter that St. Teresa is, for my money, the greatest female saint after Mary. She too is a patron for today: a perfect melding of contemplation (those visions! those voices!) and action. She traveled around Spain in a covered wagon, founding seventeen convents of the reformed Discalced Carmelite order, listening to God while driving a hard bargain, a perfect patroness for my daughter the businesswoman to be.

And who was St. Teresa’s own special patron? St. Joseph, for whom she had a supreme devotion. She believed it was his intercession that saved her from dire illness as a young woman, and she adopted him as her father when she was well again, just as she had adopted Mary after her own mother’s early death. Chorpenning writes that this relationship with St. Joseph “was unprecedented in Christian history and was the foundation for the pivotal role that Teresa would play in disseminating St. Joseph’s cult in the period after the Council of Trent.”

Teresa’s first reformed convent, in her hometown of Avila, was named for St. Joseph. While contemplating this first foundation, St. Teresa heard the voice of God tell her that it should be a “little dwelling corner,” a “little Bethlehem.” St. Teresa would write:

His Majesty earnestly commanded me to strive for this new monastery with all my powers, and He made great promises that it would be founded and that He would be highly served in it. He said it should be called St. Joseph and that this saint would keep watch over us at one door, and our Lady at the other, that Christ would remain with us, and that it would be a star shining with great splendor.

Chorpenning concludes: “Teresa is one of those rare individuals in Christian history who has a profound consciousness of the inseparability and integrity of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”

To conclude, here’s more from the homily for the Feast of St. Joseph by Karl Rahner, SJ:

The pages of the Bible tell us little about Joseph. But they tell us enough to know something of our heavenly patron. Not a single word of his has been recorded for us. He pondered, yes; that is expressly attested to. But he spoke little, so little that these words did not have to be transmitted to posterity. We know that he was a descendant of the noble lineage of David, the greatest in his nation’s history. But that was the past that the present, in its sober poverty, had yet to make perceptible. This present, however, was the hard life of one insignificant carpenter in a tiny village in one corner of the world. For the poor this present meant paying taxes and standing in line.

It was the destiny of the “displaced person,” who had to seek scanty shelter among strangers, until the political situation again permitted a return to his homeland, the homeland that he must have loved, since he renounced living in the neighborhood of the capital city and stayed in the “province” country of Galilee. He lived very inconsipicuously in his Nazaareth, so that the life of his family furnished no spectacular background for the public appearance of Jesus (Lk 4:22). However, this humble routine of the life of an insignificant man concealed something else: the silent performance of duty.

[To be continued tomorrow]

Oh, blessed St. Joseph, patron of our Church in troubled times, pray for us!

For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 3)

For the past two and a half years, I have been working on a history of the Massachusetts General Hospital, to be published in the MGH bicentennial year of 2011—if I can keep hitting the deadlines, that is. Many times I have walked between buildings at the hospital, but only yesterday did I pay attention to this statue, which stands behind the Catholic Church abutting the hospital complex. The church is St. Joseph’s.

What I find lovely and unusual about this vision of St. Joseph is that here he is not with Jesus but with a young, barefoot girl, who looks up hopefully into his eyes. I have decided to name the girl Teresa.

Devotion to St. Joseph, expressed beautifully in the statue, really got started in late medieval times, according to an essay by Joseph F. Chorpenning, OSFS, in the book Saint Joseph and the Third Millennium. Two influences were important, according to the author.

St. Bonaventure (1221–1274) was a Franciscan theologian whose Meditations on the Passion are a sort of summary of medieval spirituality. Like the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius three centuries later, the Meditations exhorted readers to meditate imaginatively on the life of Christ, beginning with the life of the Holy Family. On the flight into Egypt, the reader is told, “Accompany them and help to carry the Child and serve them in every way you can.” Chorpenning’s essay shows how devotion to St. Joseph began growing alongside a widening awareness of the Holy Family.

Jean Gerson (1363–1429), a chancellor of the University of Paris, was more direct. He “conducted an active campaign to rescue St. Joseph from the relative neglect of earlier periods, to correct mistaken notions about him found in the apocryphal gospels and often reflected in art and in literature, and to promote his cult among the faithful. Gerson systematically reworked St. Joseph’s image from that of an aged, ineffective attendant to the Virgin and Christ Child to a vigorous, youthful man who was the divinely appointed head of God’s household, . . . an industrious provider for the Holy Family, and, along with his spouse Mary, an exemplar of holy matrimony.”

But enough history for one morning! Let’s continue with the homily for the Feast of St. Joseph by Karl Rahner, SJ, in which he begins to lay out reasons why St. Joseph is a saint for our times:

Certainly every Christian and every Christian nation are charged with the entire fullness of Christian perfection as a duty that is never completed. But every nation and every human being have, so to speak, their own door, their own approach, through which they alone can come nearer to the fullness of Christianity. Not all of us will find access to the boundless vistas of God’s world through the great gate of surging rapture and burning ardor. Some must go through the small gate of quiet loyalty and the ordinary, exact performance of duty. And it is this fact, I am inclined to think, that can help us to discover a rapport between earth and heaven, between Christians today and their heavenly intercessor.

[To be continued tomorrow]

Blessed St. Joseph, who stand at the “small gate of quiet loyalty and the ordinary, exact performance of duty,” pray for us!

For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 2)

As a reader commented yesterday, when I began a novena in anticipation of his feast day, March 19, St. Joseph is the silent man in the Gospels. He speaks not a word, although Matthew and Luke both show him acting decisively in response to the Word of God. Much of what we “know” about St. Joseph is apocryphal; many images of him, for example, the old man holding a staff from which a lily sprouts (left), are derived from the Protoevangelium of James and other texts discredited by Church Fathers. Most modern scholars seem to agree that Joseph was in fact a young man, making his virginal marriage far more impressive.

St. Joseph was silent and pretty much unnoticed for the first 1200 years of Christian history. There is little record of devotion to him during that period. In his essay “Theological Reflections on Devotion to Saint Joseph,” Michael Griffin, OCD, writes: “Though the Church from the beginning was aware that Mary was given to be the spiritual mother of all, it is a fact that consciousness of Saint Joseph as the spiritual father and protector of every Christian was only gradually arrived at.”

As I will be telling in subsequent posts, devotion to St. Joseph and, by extension, to the Holy Family began at the time of the Franciscans (13th Century) and St. Joseph alone has been an increasingly important figure for Popes since the late 19th century. I’ll conclude this short post today with the next paragraphs in a homily for the Feast of St. Joseph written by Karl Rahner, SJ, which began yesterday. It reflects a consensus that in some way the Holy Spirit “reserved” devotion to St. Joseph for our troubled times:

The blessed men and women with whom we have fellowship in the communion of saints are not pale shadows. Rather, they have brought over into the eternal life of God the fruits of their earthly life, and thus have brought with them their own personal uniqueness.

Their God even calls them by name in the one today of eternity. They are ever the same as they were in the unique history of their own lives. We single out one individual from among them to honor him as our heavenly protector and intercessor, because his own individuality means something unique and irreplaceable to us. We mean that between him and us there exists a specific rapport that makes him a special blessing for us and assigns a special duty to us, if we are to be worthy of his protection.

From this point of view, is it possible to think that Joseph, the spouse of the Blessed Virgin and foster father of our Lord, is particularly suited to be a patron of a twentieth-century person? Is it possible to think that anyone living today will be able to see himself reflected in Joseph? Are there not people today who, if they are true to their character as willed by God, are a people of small means, of hard work, of only a few words, of loyalty of heart and simple sincerity?

[To be continued tomorrow]

Oh blessed St. Joseph, virginal husband of Mary, pray for us!

For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena

As I have written before, I took Joseph as my confirmation name and have a personal devotion to him. His feast day, March 19, is nine days away, counting from today, and so this seemed a perfect time to say my first novena. (We converts don’t know a novena from novella. This is a big deal for me.) I am using this text from the EWTN web site, and am praying for a private intention, but I would encourage anyone in special need to follow along with me. As St. Teresa of Avila knew, Joseph is a powerful saint.

As a complement to this novena, each day I will post an excerpt from a homily for the Feast of St. Joseph, written by Karl Rahner, S.J. I found the homily in a book loaned me by Father Barnes (another good father). The book is Saint Joseph and the Third Millennium, edited by Michael D. Griffin, OCD. I commend it to your attention.

Here is the beginning of Karl Rahner’s homily:

The Catholic Church today [March 19] celebrates the feast of her patron, her heavenly protector. We can understand such a feast only if we believe in the communion of saints, if we know by faith that God is not a God of the dead, but a God of the living, if we confess that whoever has died in God’s grace lives with God and precisely for that reason is close to us, and if we are convinced that these citizens of heaven intercede for their brothers and sisters on earth in the eternal liturgy of heaven.

The meaning of such a feast can be grasped only if we believe that after death all the events of this earthly life are not simply gone and past, over and done with forever, but that they are preparatory steps that belong to us for eternity, that belong to us as our living future. For our mortality does not change to eternity in an instant; rather, it is slowly transformed into life.

[To be continued tomorrow]

Oh blessed St. Joseph, pray for us!

Because of The Stations of the Cross

One of the dreams my wife and I have is to go on a tour of the Holy Land. We want to make a pilgrimage there and see the sights and holy places where the greatest story ever told took place. That is a trip we are really looking forward to.

There are many sites outside of the Holy Land to make a pilgrimage to as well. Lourdes, Fatima, and Guadalupe come to mind. So many places, so little time, and dare I say it, so little cash. But there is a way to go to the Holy Land this week right in your local parish. [Read more...]

Because He Didn’t Promise Us A Rose Garden

Come Easter Vigil, I will have been a Catholic for two full years. It seems like it has been longer than that,  and shorter at the same time. Perhaps because I feel so at home, it feels like I have been a Catholic forever. But then the saying goes, Time flies when you’re having fun, and it feels like I just got on this ride.

Notice, I said that I feel at home, but I don’t always feel comfortable. How could I? Bearing crosses and confronting your true self and your sins is tough work. It takes humility, which hasn’t been a popular virtue in the world since the very beginning and doesn’t come naturally to me. Add to this being constantly tripped up by temptations and how is this comfortable? [Read more...]

Thanks to Thomas à Kempis for These Thoughts on Confession

Seemingly, there aren’t enough words to describe the graces we obtain from the Sacrament of Confession. And the number of opinions on this Sacrament are legion, if our poll results and the comments they have prompted are any indication. Webster and I haven’t fully plumbed the depths of this Sacrament yet. For example, we haven’t mentioned Divine Mercy Sunday or the fact that the Sacrament of Confession plays a large role in the diary of Sister Faustina.

And the fact of the matter is no saint on record has ever said,

Look at me! I soar above the heights of the world with the Lord. I have no need of the Sacrament of Confession. Yippee! 

If anything, the importance and necessity of this Sacrament are solidified and bolstered by the saints. St. Teresa of Avila, practitioner of contemplative prayer, writes at length on the importance of this Sacrament and the duty we have of finding a good confessor.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not anywhere near the level of perfection that she obtained while she was here on earth.  If Big Terry says Confession is  important, I listen up.

Although not an official saint, Thomas à Kempis discusses the importance of this Sacrament in The Imitation of Christ. Take a look at these thoughts Thomas wrote down regarding the Eucharistic celebration coupled with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  He is writing here in the character of Our Lord. Notice how similar these phrases are to the ones Sister Faustina reports in her diary (bold highlights are mine),

Do Not Lightly Forego Holy Communion

The Voice of Christ,

You must often return to the source of grace and divine mercy, to the fountain of goodness and perfect purity, if you wish to be free from passion and vice, if you desire to be made stronger and more watchful against all the temptations and deceits of the devil.

The enemy, knowing the great good and the healing power of Holy Communion, tries as much as he can by every manner and means to hinder and keep away the faithful and the devout. Indeed, there are some who suffer the worst assaults of Satan when disposing themselves to prepare for Holy Communion. As it is written in Job, this wicked spirit comes among the sons of God to trouble them by his wonted malice, to make them unduly fearful and perplexed, that thus he may lessen their devotion or attack their faith to such an extent that they perhaps either forego Communion altogether or receive with little fervor.

No attention, however, must be paid to his cunning wiles, no matter how base and horrible—all his suggestions must be cast back upon his head. The wretch is to be despised and scorned. Holy Communion must not be passed by because of any assaults from him or because of the commotion he may arouse.

Oftentimes, also, too great solicitude for devotion and anxiety about confession hinder a person. Do as wise men do. Cast off anxiety and scruple, for it impedes the grace of God and destroys devotion of the mind.

Do not remain away from Holy Communion because of a small trouble or vexation but go at once to confession and willingly forgive all others their offenses. If you have offended anyone, humbly seek pardon and God will readily forgive you.

What good is it to delay confession for a long time or to put off Holy Communion? Cleanse yourself at once, spit out the poison quickly. Make haste to apply the remedy and you will find it better than if you had waited a long time. If you put it off today because of one thing, perhaps tomorrow a greater will occur to you, and thus you will stay away from Communion for a long time and become even more unfit.

Shake off this heaviness and sloth as quickly as you can, for there is no gain in much anxiety, in enduring long hours of trouble, and in depriving yourself of the divine Mysteries because of these daily disturbances. Yes, it is very hurtful to defer Holy Communion long, for it usually brings on a lazy spiritual sleep.

How sad that some dissolute and lax persons are willing to postpone confession and likewise wish to defer Holy Communion, lest they be forced to keep a stricter watch over themselves! Alas, how little love and devotion have they who so easily put off Holy Communion! How happy and acceptable to God is he who so lives, and keeps his conscience so pure, as to be ready and well disposed to communicate, even every day if he were permitted, and if he could do so unnoticed.

If, now and then, a man abstains by the grace of humility or for a legitimate reason, his reverence is commendable, but if laziness takes hold of him, he must arouse himself and do everything in his power, for the Lord will quicken his desire because of the good intention to which He particularly looks. When he is indeed unable to come, he will always have the good will and pious intention to communicate and thus he will not lose the fruit of the Sacrament.

Any devout person may at any hour on any day receive Christ in spiritual communion profitably and without hindrance. Yet on certain days and times appointed he ought to receive with affectionate reverence the Body of his Redeemer in this Sacrament, seeking the praise and honor of God rather than his own consolation.

For as often as he devoutly calls to mind the mystery and passion of the Incarnate Christ, and is inflamed with love for Him, he communicates mystically and is invisibly refreshed.
He who prepares himself only when festivals approach or custom demands, will often find himself unprepared. Blessed is he who offers himself a sacrifice to the Lord as often as he celebrates or communicates.

Be neither too slow nor too fast in celebrating but follow the good custom common to those among whom you are. You ought not to cause others inconvenience or trouble, but observe the accepted rule as laid down by superiors, and look to the benefit of others rather than to your own devotion or inclination.

Several of you have commented about the short lines at the confessional and long lines for Communion. Many complained about priests not motivated to hear their confessions. I’m not saying I don’t believe what I’m reading. Not every parish has uniform hours for this sacrament or uniformly motivated priests to hear them. But this hasn’t been my experience. Keep in mind, I’m a recent RCIA convert. Confession opportunities are plentiful, but especially during Lent. I intend to make full use of them and I hope you will as well.

Semper Fidelis

Because Blake Could Paint Such A Portrait With Words

I’m sure you recognize the Divine Mercy image. Seen in a vision by Sister Faustina in 1931 she was disappointed in the original painting of what she had described.  She thought it would be impossible for any painter to depict Jesus as beautifully as she had seen him.

Long before Sister Faustina’s vision in the 20th Century, the English poet William Blake painted the following image with words instead of paint. [Read more...]

Because of J. D. Salinger, Unlikely as It Seems

J.D. Salinger died yesterday at the age of 91 and, full disclosure, I’ve never read The Catcher in the Rye. Nor have I bothered getting detailed autobiographical information on Mr. Salinger. I can only say that his work had an effect on my prayer life, thus proving once again, to me anyway, that God continues to work through the secular in unexpected ways. [Read more...]

Because We Are A Bible-Believing Church

Back on New Year’s Day, as we were making our way through the crowds on the streets of Pasadena, California, trying to get to the vantage point we had staked out for the Tournament of Roses Parade, I was handed several pamphlets and a small booklet by Christians holding such signs as “God Loves You” and “God Will Punish Sinners.”

The pamphlet contained select sayings of Our Lord with pictures. For example, Jesus as the Good Shepherd and Jesus Before Pilate. The small booklet contained the Gospel according to John as well as some commentary. I gladly accepted the materials and warmly thanked the person who gave them to me. I wasn’t going to read them right then, but I figured I would look them over after the parade and the merrymaking subsided.

When we were back in our lodgings and the kids were put to bed, I took out the tract and the booklet and knew right then that I would need to write this post. You see, at the end of the pamphlet and the booklet, I was advised that by simply reading either the pamphlet or John’s Gospel, and saying a prayer to our Lord promising that I believed in Him, I was now saved. In addition I was also exhorted to do the following:

Read the Bible every day and join a Bible believing church.

Keeping in mind my erstwhile fencing partner’s remarks yesterday, let me say that a spirit of competitiveness is not what I intend to convey by this post. Instead, I am writing this post in the spirit of a command given by our first Pope, St. Peter:

Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

I’m all for handing out tracts and pamphlets to people on the Christian faith at parades and concerts. Because, as Webster states in his post this morning, you never know how long it will take a seed to germinate once it’s planted. As such, I’m all for sending people to a “Bible believing” church, especially when we’re talking about the original Bible-believing Church. The Church that believed in the Bible so much that it carefully and methodically compiled the Canon of scriptures that all Christian denominations use to this day. Yes, I mean the Roman Catholic Church.

That Church is a Gospel-believing Church too, and was so long before there was a New Testament written down anywhere. That’s because there was no definitive New Testament to be read until 405 AD. Surprised? Surely you realize that when Our Lord said “believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:34) he wasn’t exhorting us to run to the nearest Barnes & Nobles to pick up a copy of His latest book. Our Lord never left any written word behind because he was too busy saving the world on a tight time schedule.

It turns out that there was a lot of discussion and debate about which books would be included in the Canon of the New Testament, just as there was with the Old Testament. And of course, in the case of the New Testament, the books had to be written. So what were all these early Christians doing when they were believing in the Gospel? Looks like they were repenting, being baptized, and holding “fast to traditions” as St. Paul instructed us to do (2Thessalonians 2:15).

After reading the pamplets, I read my Bible (the LOTH and the Daily Readings) and went to Mass at the nearest Catholic Church I could find. I invite you to do the same.

Semper Fidelis.


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