Solemnity of St. Joseph
We are about to be inundated with a barrage of words, not me, I assure you. For me, this homily is fairly short. Rather …
At this celebration honoring St. Joseph, our deacon brothers will state their final intentions before being ordained as priests.
In this context we are soon to hear over twenty thousand words spoken, each set of which will end in an oath. Wordiness is the order of the day and so you may wonder what my paltry comments might add or detract from the performance we are set to witness. I wonder that to, but I have a question.
What will these promises contain? Well, in point of fact, nothing we have not already heard, heard once from them and heard from our soon-to-be deacons just as week ago.
The lives of our deacons and soon-to-be priests are, indeed confounded by wordiness, very uniquely so.
Perhaps they need the words they are going to express to us shortly to explain themselves. Perhaps they need to explain themselves in words, yet, God knows these men.
He knew them before they were born. Before their first gasping, their first mewing, his designing finger traced providence in the sand of their souls. He saw the grasping babe and he said something, he pronounced it very good. He schemed. He planned. He envisioned.
He knew them in their toddling years. They struggled to stand as if they could ever stand on their own. He placed his omnipotent hand in the small of their infant backs. He looked with the Father’s love on them, a big brother’s pride. He prodded, pushed, he plied. He cajoled, he encouraged, with words and gestures. He let go and fretted. He watched them walk, run, walk away, run away. They guarded their childhood games as they dressed up in the rags of independence. They tried to hide, and he pretended to seek, but only pretended, because he knew them. Even without words, he knew them.
He knew them as they learned to sin, experimented with the little league vices of bullying, petty theft, the lie, and then, more. Words of derision, accusation, ridicule, mocking laughter, they learned to use words to inflict pain in the most painful places, twisting the blade of self-image in to the hilt.
He knew them in their confusion as they struggled wordlessly with relationships, with vocation, family.
He knows them in their doubt in those moments of shear panic when they can hardly remember where they have been, hardly recognize themselves in the mirror, and believe without utterance that God is dead.
He knows them in their selfishness, their grasping, their groping through the treasure troves of self-promotion, gripping tightly to the handles of a loquacious golden cup called ego.
He knows them in their compulsiveness, their complacentness, their neediness, their laziness, their restlessness. their carelessness.
These men are about to barrage us with words, but we must always remember that the Word made flesh knows and knew them.
That was the same knowing God that approached Joseph through the angel.
Saint Joseph is a man whose aspirations and dreams were turned completely to the love of God and his nascent Church. In that he offers these men today and us a path to follow, a way of achieving our goal of being completely at the disposal of God’s designs, God’s wishes.
Tonight our brother deacons present themselves for promises, promises they have already made last year, promises, in a sense that were made from their birth. Promises that they will break or keep as their lives unfold into a manically wordy future.
How will the promises they proclaim tonight mirror the promise of the man whose life we celebrate on this solemnity of St. Joseph?
The love of Joseph was an unquestioning love, a love that could only have come from a complete embrace of the grace of God.
Will these men offer an unquestioning love to God and to his Church, will the remnant of original sin that still clings to them be wiped away in lives devoted to service, to tireless service lived as much in soup kitchens, food pantries and parking lots as in the sanctuary? Like Joseph will their hands be made for callouses and not just chalices?
The love of Joseph was so profound and intimate it offered to the child Jesus the basic needs of bodily and spiritual care.
Can these men remember what is needed most in this life? Will they recall in times of doubt and stress that God has called them to be his unashamed witnesses to a world drowning in its own anomie? Will they be willing to be present at the hospital, in the nursing home? Will they offer nights given up in prayer for the needs of God’s people when there is no one to witness their so-called heroism?
The love of Joseph was a self-less love, a love that put the needs of the body of Christ before his own needs and in that as well he offers them an important example.
Are they ready for such brazen, such heroic self-negation, promising as they do tonight to serve no master by Christ the Lord and him in the broken, often helpless people of his Church? Will they still be there once those new vestments lie in tatters to be burned because they have been used too often? Will they be there through the third re-gilding of that precious chalice and perhaps the third re-gilding of their ordination? Will they be there still after they have gone through rehabilitation for some addiction? Will they be there when the bishop asks them to go to the furthest corner of the diocese and minister faithfully without regret? I know they will.
Joseph is strong
Will they be strong, strong in weakness, strong in compassion, strong in gentleness? Can they offer good role models of fatherhood to those who are without them, to the abused and neglected? Can they be good fathers to addicts and to abusers? Can they give that model of paternity to those who are robbed of strength by lives lived with too many expectations and not enough native ability?
Joseph is tender
Can they offer the tender care of the savior to those reaching out, hungering as they are for dignity and bread? Can they cry thorugh the night with broken hearts for those so desperate that they try to take their own lives? Can they weep at the deathbed of a child with parents who are so bereft they cannot even stand up? Can they be there for the widow and the orphan, be there past the time of common mourning, on into the years of overwhelming loneliness?
Joseph is nurturing.
Are they willing to hold the hands of the dying and nurture them into life? Are they able to care for others and never think of themselves. Are they willing to see themselves in light of God’s plan and his plan alone, forfeiting all of their own designs to become a mere speck in the kaleidoscope of the divine life? Can they both give and be the bread of life for a world that has yet to realize that it is starving to death?
Brothers and sisters, if they can accomplish these realities, if they can make these principles living practices rather than dead precepts, then the words spoken, the promises made by these deacons tonight will be a time of renewal for all of us, for our parishes, our dioceses, our religious communities, and for this seminary and school of theology.
They cannot accomplish these lofty goals alone. They do not need to. They have each other. They have their families and those who love and support them. They have their communities of faith and their dioceses. Please God, they have us, the Church militant, and they have the Church triumphant, the saints, in particular, St. Joseph. What I find most interesting about St. Joseph is that in the entire course of the Gospel accounts, in their complete understanding of him, he never speaks a word.