Traveling and meeting people from different parts of the world have been some of my special blessings in life. Growing up in the fourth largest city in India, I never imagined that I would spend the major part of my adult life in another land. I never thought that people on three continents would become family to me. As I look back, travel has enabled me to realize these blessings.
Five years ago as I was having my breakfast one morning, I was watching the Today show on NBC. They were holding one of their outdoor concerts on Rockefeller Plaza. An all-boy-band, One Direction, was performing for a huge crowd of screaming girls. Some of the girls were teens, others were in their twenties and some were even in their forties. They were all adoring fans who delighted basking in their idols’ presence. When Matt Lauer asked One Direction what they were planning for the next five to ten years, they replied that they were enjoying all the adulation and praise right at that moment. They admitted that they loved the limelight. The boy band was on top of their game and they wanted to stay there.
One Direction is not alone in this. Everyone loves the limelight. We all want our fifteen minutes of celebrity. We want to be recognized, to be praised and to be rewarded for everything we do. I am sure you remember the days when there was only one movie awards show – the Oscars? Now we have four because we have to show our appreciation to more individuals.
In recent years there has been a mushrooming of reality TV shows. People who should be forbidden to sing even in the shower get on national TV to show off their pitiful musical skills. They embarrass themselves and their families by their deplorable singing and yet they want that attention though negative it may be. People are willing to gulp down exotic foods in an attempt to show their survival skills in the wild. Others are prepared to race around the globe not merely to win a substantial monetary award but also to be on the national consciousness.
Unfortunately the same trend has crept into ecclesiastical circles in recent years. During the Pre-Vatican II years the church culture was awash with titles and awards, and awarding titles to loyal clergymen and faithful Catholics was the leadership’s way of solidifying its hold. After the council the titles went out the window. However in the last few years the trend is reversed as more and more dioceses are once again creating monsignors and awarding special recognition to some.
In stark contrast to this backdrop of our insatiable appetite for recognition and praise, stands a saint who is humble and obscure. Even though he was chosen by the Holy Trinity to play a very significant role in the history of salvation, he continues to vanish into the shadows. I am referring to St Joseph, the foster father of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the chaste spouse of the Virgin Mother of God. Most Catholics, even today, hardly notice his feast or even his important place in the Church. His feast falls on March 19 which date is always during Lent. This year it was celebrated last Monday, March 20th, because the feast fell on a Sunday. Once again poor Joseph was pushed aside and I know he does not mind.
St Bernardine of Siena, a great devotee of St Joseph, wrote these words about the foster father of Jesus:
A comparison can be made between Joseph and the whole Church of Christ. Joseph was the specially chosen man through whom and under whom Christ entered the world fittingly and in an appropriate way. So, if the whole Church is in the debt of the Virgin Mary, since, through her, it was able to receive the Christ, surely after her, it also owes Joseph special thanks and veneration.
St Joseph was given all the responsibilities of taking care of Jesus but none of the privileges. He was asked to do the work but was not assured of any reward. He appears six times in the gospels with Mary but not once does he open his mouth. He spent his life playing a supporting role and did not occupy the main stage even once. He was content to do what God had asked him. For that he is considered a great saint and an important example for us to emulate.
I am sure you remember the gospel reading that we heard on Ash Wednesday. Jesus told His followers that in doing good, the right hand should not know what the left is doing. We should pray, give alms and fast in secret so that the Father who sees everything done in secret will reward us. If we seek the praise of people and their recognition, we will have already received our reward. St Joseph epitomizes faithful adherence to this gospel injunction. He responded fully to the evangelical call to live for God’s recognition only.
From time to time, all of us feel that we are not sufficiently appreciated or recognized. Parents can justifiably feel that way. In those moments when we are tempted to feel sorry for ourselves, let us think of St Joseph. Most of us may never write a bestseller or direct an Oscar-winning movie. We may never win an Olympic gold medal or people all over the world may never sing our praises. But if we can make a difference in the lives of some, even one person, God will reward us in the end. In the final analysis, only that matters.
Let us pray to St Joseph that he may intercede for us at all times. May he obtain for us humble hearts that long for God’s recognition and His reward for the good that we do!
If you have been to Rome, you probably have visited the catacombs. They are a very special place to visit because inside those underground cemeteries you can literally touch our early Christian history. The dark narrow trails that take us around the tombs of the martyrs who were killed in the Roman Circus carry us back to the first four centuries of our faith. Every time I visit the catacombs I come away feeling energized as a Christian. Most of those catacombs are situated along an old Roman road known as the Via Appia Antica (Old Appian Way). There is an old legend associated with that road and I would like to share it with you as we are fully into this Season of Lent.
When Nero started persecuting the Church around 60 AD, in the Eternal City there lived a small Christian community whose head was Peter. As many Christians were being killed, the community was fearful that it would be destroyed. In trying to preserve it, the Christians persuaded Peter to save himself for the sake of the Church. As Peter was fleeing the city on the Old Appian Way, he saw Jesus coming towards him carrying the Cross. Peter was puzzled and asked Jesus, “Where are you going, Lord?” In reply, Jesus said, “I am going to Rome to suffer and die once again.” Peter realized then that Jesus was dying again along with His Christians. Convinced that he could not then run away, Peter went back to Rome and was arrested by the Romans. He asked to be crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to be crucified like the Master as he had denied Him three times. That is what happened to Peter. As he was being led away to be crucified, Peter probably remembered the words the Lord spoke to him after the resurrection. St John the Evangelist records those words for us in the final chapter of his gospel. Here are those memorable words:
Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go. (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.)
The story of Peter is very relevant for us as we continue our Lenten season. By willingly dying for his Lord, Peter finally fulfilled Jesus’ call to follow Him. Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” During this Lent, we are also called upon to take up the cross and follow after Jesus.
In the gospels Jesus tells His disciples over and over again that He has to go to Jerusalem where He would be crucified and would die, but would rise again on the third day. The gospels indicate many times that “Jesus set is face towards Jerusalem.” He came into the world to fulfill the Father’s plan and he would do that by dying on the cross. Early in His public ministry, when Peter would try to prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem, Jesus would chide him for thinking like a human being.
Our Lenten journey invites us to imitate the relentless march of Jesus towards Jerusalem. We must take up our crosses and follow Him up the steep slope of Calvary. I encourage each and every one of us to dedicate time to meditate on the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord. Whatever we do – our prayer, our penance, and our almsgiving – let us ensure that we do it as an expression of our desire to follow the Lord on His painful journey. Let us join the parish for our Stations of the Cross that will take place every Friday of Lent. If we can, let us attend a weekday Mass and offer the sacrifice of Calvary once again. Let is unite our everyday sufferings – be they small or big – with the suffering of Jesus and make them redemptive. Let us transform the inevitable sacrifices of our state in life – being a mom or a dad, a spouse or a friend, a child or a sibling – into a fragrant oblation that will be pleasing to the Lord. Let us set aside time that we can spend in front of our Eucharistic Lord in the Adoration Chapel.
Let us then begin our journey. Yes, we walk towards the top of Mount Calvary where we will witness the ultimate sacrifice of the Master. But we will also journey with Him into the empty tomb where we will be filled with the hope and joy of the resurrection. With the Apostle Thomas let us then enthusiastically say, “Let us go with Him and die with Him!”
Let us not forget St Joseph whose feast falls this year on Monday, March 20th. In all our needs, both physical and spiritual, let us turn to him. He will take care of us just as he took care of Jesus and Mary.
I offer my daily prayer that all of us will have a fruitful Lenten season. Please keep the parish in your prayers. Invoking God’s abundant blessings on your Lenten sacrifice.
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...