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St. Joseph: Artisan of Peace.

Every year, the Catholic Church celebrates the World Day of Peace on January 1. In his message for the celebration of 2021, the 54th World Day of Peace, Pope Francis invites Christians “to cultivate a culture of care as a path to peace.” The Holy Father proposes the culture of care as the antidote to the “culture of indifference, waste and confrontation so prevalent in our time.” The year 2020 has taught us how important it is to care for one another and for creation in our efforts to build a more fraternal society.

Anyone familiar with the teaching of Pope Francis will recognize this theme of the war against the culture of indifference as central to his ministry. He frequently talks about “the globalization of indifference.” Francis proposes an alternative with his famous “culture of encounter” and to which he seems to be adding the “culture of care.” When we encounter people, we should care for and about them. The Pope seems to draw a link between indifference and conflict. Indifference breeds, feeds, and leads to conflict.

The prophet Isaiah refers to the messiah as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). This is confirmed at his birth which news the shepherds received with great joy and proclaimed the eternal truth: Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of goodwill.” The Church also honors Mary as the Queen of Peace. Given the relationship between Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, one wonders whether Joseph could be referred in any loose sense as the King of Peace? It would seem within the context of the Kingship of Christ, this might be a stretch. And so, to continue with Pope Francis’ postulation of a father’s heart, St. Joseph could be more appropriately described as a father of peace or more appropriately, a peaceful father.

Against the backdrop of Pope Francis’ call for a culture of care, St. Joseph provides a great example. He was not an absentee husband and father. The home is supposed to be the most peaceful place one can imagine. The home is supposed to be a sanctuary. Our homes are temples not because of their gorgeous designs and exquisite beauty but because of the quality of the people with whom we share that space. Home is sacred space shared with intimate persons. Unfortunately, many homes have been transformed to boxing rings and increasingly broken homes and broken families are becoming the norm. This is partly because of indifference.

The affinity between home and hearth(fireplace) is not just accidental but also intrinsic. Home is where we find light, warmth and love. When we turn it to a heathen it is partly because it has lost its warmth. Cold and indifference impede the heat from the hearth.

Indifference is born of a culture that does not care and that is not thoughtful. It is a culture that escapes and avoids the calculus of how one’s actions or inactions affect/impact the other. It is important to note that in relationships it is not enough to be right. The bible presents us with examples of indifference. Abel’s question: Am I my brother’s keeper? Readily comes to mind.

One of Pope Francis’ passage that brings home the issue of indifference is that of the parable of the Good Samaritan. In his seminal work on relationships, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis writes:

Jesus tells the story of a man assaulted by thieves and lying injured on the wayside. Several persons passed him by, but failed to stop. These were people holding important social positions, yet lacking in real concern for the common good. They would not waste a couple of minutes caring for the injured man, or even in calling for help. Only one person stopped, approached the man and cared for him personally, even spending his own money to provide for his needs. He also gave him something that in our frenetic world we cling to tightly: he gave him his time. Certainly, he had his own plans for that day, his own needs, commitments and desires. Yet he was able to put all that aside when confronted with someone in need. Without even knowing the injured man, he saw him as deserving of his time and attention. Which of these persons do you identify with?

Life presents daily opportunities for us to encounter people and provide care. It is about paying attention to the presence of the others around us and attending to their needs. And for this we can look to the example of St. Joseph.

In Matthew’s gospel we find how St Joseph enunciates the culture of care when he found out that Mary was pregnant. The evangelist tells us that St. Joseph did not want to bring her to shame and decided to divorce her quietly. (Matt. 1:19). Joseph cared more about Mary’s good name and did not want to bring her any shame. He was not indifferent to Mary’s feelings and reputation.

As a father, St Joseph was not indifferent to his son and we find an instance of this with the story of the Journey to Jerusalem where Christ went missing and Joseph and Mary only found out after traveling back to Galilee. (Luke 2:39-45) We are told not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. Christ brought glory to Joseph but also upset the life and agenda of Joseph. Soon after the birth of Christ, St. Joseph had to escape to Egypt for the safety and security of Christ.

St. Joseph invites us to be artisans of peace by being attentive to the needs of our brothers and sisters. How attentive are husbands to the needs and cries of their wives? Joseph used the reason of the heart to attend to Mary’s needs.

How about children? How attentive are parents to the needs of their children? How much time do parents spend with their children? Are parents not being indifferent to their children when they put them on autopilot and spend hours at work moving from one job to the other and end up not recognizing who these children have turned out to be?

Based on our different circumstances in life, lets examine ourselves and see how indifferent we are to those around us. With the father’s heart like St. Joseph’s let us seek to be attentive. There is a tendency to limit care to gifts. We buy gifts for others as a sign of love but we are inattentive to the little details of their lives that make the difference. There is no greater and better gift than presence.

January 2021: “With a Father’s heart!”

It is with the words “With a father’s heart” that Pope Francis opens his Apostolic letter celebrating the anniversary of the proclamation of St Joseph, as Patron of the Universal Church. The pope seems to be answering a question which he does not tell us. His answer begs the question of why he chooses this description of a heart which answer we get in the concluding paragraph of the letter’s introduction. “For as Jesus says, out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:14).” Yet there is a great paradox, that throughout the gospels, Joseph is silent and gradually fizzles out from the scene. He seems to embrace the spirituality of John the Baptist: Christ must increase while I decrease. (Jn.3:30-35) The silence of Joseph speaks volumes and ascertains the expression that actions speak louder than words.

Anecdotally men have been said to love with their heads and women to love with their hearts. And in popular marriage parlance, the man is said to be the head and the woman is the heart of the family. Hence, when Pope Francis refers to Joseph as having a father’s heart, there is a certain paradox worth pausing to consider.  

One cannot lose sight of the fact that the Pope issued this letter on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception when the Church celebrates the fact that Mary was born without original sin. This brings to bold relief the fact that Joseph is no stranger to our human experience. But even more so, is the fact that Joseph is not unaffected by his union with Mary. She who is the handmaid of the Lord graces Joseph’s life too. Wherever we find Mary, Joseph is also present. To love Mary, is to love not just her Son but also and of course her husband. Therefore, when we invoke the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we should also and always analogously albeit, consider the heart of Joseph.

When the evangelist Luke recounts that Mary treasured these things and stored them in her heart (Lk. 2:19), the same could also be said of Joseph. This narrative is within the nativity scene which begins with Joseph bringing his wife Mary to be counted for the census that had been decreed. Joseph’s heart is rich and full of similar experiences. That heart is full and is overflowing.

No doubt Pope Francis describes Joseph’s heart from different vantage points. It is the fatherhood of Joseph that provides the launchpad from where he soars to the heavens. The word “father” is used at least 34 times throughout the text and indicates quite frankly where Pope Francis wants to lay emphasis namely fatherhood.

“Children today often seem orphans, lacking fathers,” writes Pope Francis highlighting what has become known as the crisis of fatherhood. “Fathers are not born but made. A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world.”

It is as though the Pope is saying it is not enough to be called father but beyond this what kind of father are you. What kind of a heart do you have? To Pope Francis, St Joseph is the father par excellence as evident in the seven-fold adjectival descriptions he makes of St Joseph namely, “a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father, a creatively courageous father and a father in the shadows.” These are qualities that flow from the heart of Joseph whom the Pope proposes for imitation. Within the context of the Year of St. Joseph, we have randomly selected each of these for a month-long meditation around which we will design weekly reflections.

This project is in alignment with the Pope’s goal for us to “increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal.”

Like Christ, St Joseph even in his silence is inviting us to learn from him for his gentle and lowly in heart. And Matthew presents the challenge in a much more forthcoming way when he notes that: But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart and they defile for the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. (Mtt.15:18-19). To cultivate a father’s heart, we are exhorted to turn to St Joseph’s heart.

During this month of January, let us seek out the heart of Joseph, a great treasury of love overflowing with blessings and grace. Just as Christ is an adopted son of Joseph, so too are we followers of Christ, adopted children of Joseph. Are you a father? What kind of heart do you have? Are you missing a father? Have you been abused by a father? Turn to the father of all fathers! Are you an absentee father? Seek the heart of Joseph to intercede for you.  

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