In my brief sermon for the feast of Saint Joseph this past Thursday, I quoted a few words from an old hymn to the Saint that we learnt in our Catholic school. For the life of me I could not remember the title of it on the spot. I had to look it up after Mass. I found it in the old Saint Basil Hymnal, a collection of Catholic hymns published in the 1920s. As I mentioned in my little talk, the hymn’s not a specimen of high art, but it did manage to stick (at least partially) in memory all these years. I quoted the final words of the first stanza–inaccurately, as it turned out–“Sweet Spouse of our Lady, we lean safe on thee.” The text was composed by Father Faber, a writer of considerable talent, though this may not be the finest evidence of his talents. My quotation of this hymn text was meant to point to the towering figure of Saint Joseph as a pillar of strength. One ‘leans’ on someone who lends strength. Of the many ways we may profitably invoke Saint Joseph, his moral and spiritual strengths must not be overlooked.
The kind of power exemplified in Joseph is surely of a spiritual kind. Images of the Saint usually show him to be a man with a solid physical build. That’s appropriate enough since he was a carpenter, the head of the home and a caretaker for his beloved Bride and foster Son. His physical stature however corresponded to his many virtues. Scripture laconically speaks of him as “a just man,” that is, a man who kept the Law of God in its entirety. No accident that divine providence selected him to be the spouse of the holy Mother of Christ. The fullness of virtue which Joseph possessed made him well-suited as a husband for the Virgin Mother Mary and as the father-figure for the Son of God incarnate.
As I mentioned, again in my weekday sermonette, there is in the rectory a piece of sculpture that I have often admired (reproduced [temporarily] here). It’s a single block of marble out of which the artist (unknown) chiseled out the three figures of the Holy Family, with the infant Jesus in the arms of Mary, Joseph’s body bent over them in protective shelter. That’s how I think of Saint Joseph. Strong, manly, protective. The excellence of this art lies in its portrayal of Joseph as a human, guarding shield while, at the same time, indicating his loving gentleness in the way he cares for his family. That combination of virile tenderness and dutifulness makes Saint Joseph, to my mind, the ideal patron saint for every man. (Be not offended, dear ladies. His virtues are plentiful enough for you as well.)
The sore greatly smarting the Church (and the body of civil society as well) is receding masculinity, by which I don’t mean a lesser number of men in the world, nor the banishment of the muscleman or the playboy. These latter images abound and are more often caricatures of manly men than exemplars of them. It’s the responsible, dutiful, diligent and determined man of virtue that’s vanishing from families, society and from the Church. Whenever this happens we get a parody of manliness: violent aggression, destructiveness, cool detachment and unconcern for important matters: reactions due to the absence of true manly qualities. Readily available pornography is ruining the male psyche for its many users, disabling them from becoming good men. This ever-growing problem will probably mean more troubled marriages, more misery for families, fewer dedicated priests, and more troubled men and women in the time to come.
The hymn text which almost eluded my memory says, in part, “bleak sands are all round us.” The reference to the desert sands through which Saint Joseph led the Holy Family on their flight into Egypt was surely meant. The cultural desert sands of our time call out to Saint Joseph to be a patron for our fathers, our single men and our boys, to teach them how to become “just” in the eyes of God, virtuous men and boys. God gave the perfect exemplar of all the Christian virtues in this one great Saint. His time has come for this role particularly.
In honor of Blessed Joseph and in keeping with a long-standing parish tradition we will have the Italian (actually, it’s Sicilian) dinner in the gym after the noon Mass today. Meatless fare is the tradition. All are welcome to join in the festivities. There’s no specified cost, but donations help the parish.
Sunday, March 22, 2015
Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" (Assumption Grotto News, March 22, 2015):