It’s Holy Saturday. Jesus is dead; a boulder is in front of the tomb, and it is sealed. He is gone. So now what? What next?
On Holy Saturday, my thoughts are with the apostles. Although Jesus foretold of his death, I’m not sure that they actually believed him or that they imagined it would consist of the sacrifice on the Cross. But Holy Saturday is when the reality hits them. Just imagine the millions of questions that they must have had. I imagine that they were similar to the ones above. “Now what? What next?” Imagining the disciples left with these unsolved questions, I start to realize that I too have had some questions when the going got tough or when I faced challenges, like on a recent mission trip.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of accompanying 18 students from The Catholic University of America and two other staff members to the island nation of Jamaica for an alternative spring break cultural immersion trip. While in Jamaica, we visited several sites run by organizations like the Missionaries of Charity, the Missionaries of the Poor, and the St. Patrick’s Foundation. The most impactful day for me was the one I spent at Bethlehem House. Bethlehem House is a home for children with severe mental and physical disabilities. Of the eighty children who live there, only about twenty receive the occasional visit from their families. The rest of the children likely never see their families again. Most of them will also never be able to live on their own without significant medical assistance. The missionary in charge of the home asked if I would work with the older children, telling me that these children get the fewest visitors either by family members or by outside groups. “They need your love more than anyone else here,” he told me as he dropped me off in the room. It was just me, a caretaker (who only spoke Patois, a native language of Jamaica that is a mix of Scots and Creole) and the children.
For the first hour, I didn’t know what to do. I was dumbfounded, heartbroken, and depressed by their situation. I could barely even crack a smile, let alone laugh. I didn’t understand the joy that others had talked about working with this group of children. I was aimlessly walking around the room, wondering, “What next?”. As one hour turned into two, one of the children woke up from a nap. He shouted from across the room “Hey! Hey you!” I looked at him and he said, “Come here and pick me up!” Still dumbfounded, I walked over to his crib and picked him up. He quickly told me that his name was Ashanti. Ashanti was one of the few children who was able to have a full conversation. He had such severe scoliosis that he was paralyzed from the waist down and had a lump in his back. Ashanti also had an enlarged, misshapen head. After about five minutes of walking around and talking with me, he grabbed my beard and declared that I was his best friend. He smiled and let out the most infectious laugh I have ever heard! In that moment, I knew that I was not looking just at Ashanti’s face, but at the very face of Jesus laughing and expressing joy. I learned more about love in those five minutes then I had learned in years. The rest of my day at Bethlehem House was full of joy, even in the midst of such extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
In reflecting about that day, I think about the apostles on Holy Saturday who had locked themselves away in the Upper Room, unsure of what was next. They wondered and waited. But Easter did come, and their joy returned. The face of Jesus did appear again, just as it had for me in my experience with Ashanti. After Easter and with that joy, the apostles went out into the world proclaiming the Gospel. We too are called to encounter Christ in the joy of Easter and spread the Gospel message. More often than not, our days are like Holy Saturday. We experience days when all seems lost and hope seems foolish. But we must resist that temptation, resist the idea that hope will not return, that joy is lost forever. We know that Easter is coming and will always come. Joy will have its triumph. And it can be shared and experienced by all those we encounter. So on this Holy Saturday, let us be like the apostles and go out into this world after experiencing the joy that awaits us on Easter Sunday!
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"In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!" - Pope Francis (Homily for the Beginning of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome, March 19, 2013)
Blessings on this Solemnity of St. Joseph! As we celebrate this feast day of the Patron of the Universal Church, we also celebrate the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Petrine ministry of Pope Francis. He chose this day particularly for this event and later inserted an invocation of St. Joseph into all the Eucharistic Prayers, not simply Eucharistic Prayer I (Roman Canon). Pope Francis not only invites us to see St. Joseph as protector of the Universal Church, but also calls us all to be protectors who live with tenderness that shows the love of Christ. What does it mean to be a "protector"? In the same homily quoted above, he offers us an answer, which he witnesses as pope.
"In [St. Joseph], dear friends, we learn how to respond to God's call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation! The vocation of being a "protector", however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God's creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God's gifts!"
As one can see from the highlights above which link to an encyclical, two apostolic exhortations, and the bull of indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis outlined in his inaugural homily some of the themes of the teaching of his pontificate. His actions toward those on the peripheries witness as well to how we can both protect and show tenderness, "responding to God's call" as St. Joseph did. For as he said also in his homily, "only those who serve with love are able to protect!"
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
This weekend is the feast of St. Patrick—one of the most popular saints in the Archdiocese of Washington where I grew up and arguably in the entire United States. But two days later on March 19, coming much more quietly and with far less fanfare in American culture, slips in the Solemnity of St. Joseph.
It is easy to lose the Solemnity of St. Joseph in the rigors of Lenten observances or because it comes on the heels of the day-long party that seems to happen every year on St. Patrick’s Day. Perhaps we often overlook this feast because we know so little about who St. Joseph was and what his life was like. Nevertheless, St. Joseph remains an incredibly important figure, especially for parents.
Joseph is mentioned only a few times in the New Testament. We know from the Gospels that Joseph was a law-abiding and righteous man, and that he obeyed God’s will—especially when it was revealed to him directly by an angel. After these few mentions in the infancy narratives of Jesus, St. Joseph gently fades into the background and then disappears altogether from the Gospels. But the Church in her wisdom has made St. Joseph’s importance clear for those who are paying attention: he is mentioned in all four Eucharistic Prayers at Mass, as well as in the Divine Praises during Benediction at the end of Eucharistic adoration.
But what makes St. Joseph so special? From what we can glean from the Gospels, St. Joseph was an ordinary man of deep faith who was called to become the foster-father of Christ. He became the earthly guardian of the Messiah, responsible for his upbringing and tasked with protecting him in his early life. St. Joseph’s commitment to his vocation as the husband of Mary and the foster father of Christ was so strong that upon being warned about the murderous intentions of King Herod, he fled immediately—in the middle of the night!—to Egypt. He did whatever it took, even leaving his entire life behind him, in order to keep his family safe. The little we see of him in the New Testament shows us a devout man who always trusted in God and took care of his family.
St. Joseph, as the third member of the Holy Family, is the member who is the most like us—especially those of us who are parents. He was not born sinless, nor was he divine. He was a carpenter, a man of humble station who probably felt as though he had a monumentally important task thrust upon him. I think St. Joseph’s role in Christ’s life beautifully displays the role of a Christian parent in their child’s life. Parents are ordinary people who are tasked with the care and raising of new life. Like Joseph, we do not own our children or have sole claim over them; they are their own people, entrusted to our care and guidance until they grow old enough to do God’s will without our assistance. It is a difficult task, and at times overwhelming to ponder. And yet there is St. Joseph, who was tasked with raising the very Son of God. Joseph shows us that we do not need to be perfect in our roles, only willing to be guided by God as we place our trust in Him.
Just as I strive to be like Mary in my vocation as a wife and mother, I pray that my husband will be like Joseph. St. Joseph is the ultimate husband and father, a faithful man of quiet strength, protector of Mary’s virginity, and guide of Christ’s earthly childhood. Above all, St. Joseph shows us the beauty of a life lived in obedience to God’s will.
Questions for Reflection: How can you grow closer to St. Joseph throughout this Lenten season? What can you learn from St. Joseph’s example of obedience and trust?