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Humble St. Joseph

The month of March inspires us to think about spring and Easter. Perhaps we pay no attention to the fact that March is also the month of St Joseph. True to his reputation as the forgotten saint, he is once again relegated to the background. In this column, I would like to share my thoughts on this great saint, a favorite of mine. 

In his Apostolic Letter, “Patris Corde,” Pope Francis writes these words about the importance of St Joseph in the history and tradition of the Church:

Thanks to his role in salvation history, Saint Joseph has always been venerated as a father by the Christian people. This is shown by the countless churches dedicated to him worldwide, the numerous religious Institutes, Confraternities and ecclesial groups inspired by his spirituality and bearing his name, and the many traditional expressions of piety in his honor. Innumerable holy men and women were passionately devoted to him. Among them was Teresa of Avila, who chose him as her advocate and intercessor, had frequent recourse to him and received whatever graces she asked of him. Encouraged by her own experience, Teresa persuaded others to cultivate devotion to Joseph.

St Joseph offers us a great lesson in humility. He is like the earth (‘humus,’ the Greek word from which the word ‘humble’ is derived) that is taken for granted and yet always gives life. St Joseph knew how to stay in the background, to be taken for granted, and yet to give and give without grumbling. He did not play the victim. In these days when so many of us want to be a celebrity, when many crave their own fifteen minutes in the limelight, his example of serving without seeking recognition and reward is a challenge to every disciple. Once the conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra was asked, “Which is the most difficult instrument to play?” He replied: “The second flute. Everyone wants to play the first flute. They don’t realize that without the second flute there is no harmony.” Joseph teaches us the value of being in the background, of playing a supporting role.

His humility also purified his love. Because of his humility, he was able to deal wisely with a difficult situation that he did not understand. Confused by Mary’s pregnancy, he thought that he could not proceed with his wedding plans. At the same time, he could not bring himself to hurt her. He decided to send her away quietly without causing her any pain or shame. God rewarded his humility and goodness, and bestowed clarity on Joseph. He married Mary, and his place in God’s history of salvation was assured. Today he is one of the greatest saints on the Church’s calendar, and he teaches us humility, the secret of holiness.

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 and 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!

Happy feast of St Joseph!

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