Viva San Giuseppe!

March 19. Usually a chilly day in Buffalo. We’d be excused from school to attend the party hosted by my father’s eldest sister. Mama told us that Aunt Mary held two of these luncheon feasts: one for family and one for “the poor”.

Because the feast always occurred during Lent, the meal was meatless. I can remember passing up most of the dishes, as they were quite different from our normal fare. We were encouraged but never forced to eat the alien recipes. But the wonderful desserts were worth waiting for!

Extra tables were set up to accommodate the number of folks. In a place of honor, was a tall statue of St. Joseph, surrounded by vigil lights. The meal would be punctuated by random shouts of “Viva San Giuseppe!” initiated by an older cousin. Everyone joined in – even we younger ones who weren’t quite sure what the cheer meant but were thrilled to be there, an important part of the celebration. At the very end, each departing guest was given a brown paper bag containing a small loaf of home-made bread and one fresh orange. Maybe a cookie or two as well.

St. Joseph was held in high esteem by my family and others of Italian descent. I even used to think he must have been Italian too!

As I’ve grown older, my fondness and admiration for St. Joseph has deepened considerably, and it seems to me he’s highly under-rated. It’s probably because he’s never heard to say a word in the Gospels. But we know he’s listening, thinking, pondering, always devoted to doing the right thing, trusting and obedient to God’s will: the dilemma over his betrothed; the risks involved with accepting this pregnant woman to be his wife; the challenge of being chosen to protect her and the divine child. Joseph was constantly faced with the unknown, with a present and future where the only sure thing was danger. Travel had to have been fiercely difficult. Making treks to Bethlehem and then to Egypt was fraught with peril from natural conditions and most of all from robbers waiting to prey upon the innocent or the unwary.

Since the Gospels refer to Jesus and his “brother and sisters”, there are a lot of blank spaces that biblical scholars have tried to fill. Who were these siblings? Or was the relationship more like that of cousins? We are taught that Mary had only this one child. Did Joseph have other children from a previous marriage? If so, was there possibly some dysfunction, just as we find in the Old Testament concerning Joseph and his jealous brothers? I was shocked when I first found this passage in Mark:

He (Jesus) came home. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (3: 20-21)

Wild as this seems, it’s all too plausible. We’ve all seen families where there’s been one member who is not like the others, and therefore suspect. If there were other (half) siblings around, how would Joseph, as pater familias, have managed to keep the peace?

We also know that Jesus’ family was known to people in his home town, which is why they had a hard time being impressed by him and couldn’t accept his teachings.

All of these situations are so common in families, and yet so stunning to find in this special family. Yet, while we honor Mary so much – and rightfully so – it seems that Joseph’s role in his family may be under appreciated. JosephBoth parents were responsible for Jesus’ godliness, in every sense of the word. Joseph taught Jesus his trade and modeled for him the traditional beliefs and practices for men of their faith.

Another wonderful tradition connected with St. Joseph is to pray to him for a happy death. We reason that since he predeceased Mary and Jesus, they were at his bedside for his death, a grace we all wish for.

Shouldn’t St. Joseph be a special model for families today who so often are fatherless? And not necessarily because of the father’s death. Franciscan writer, Father Richard Rohr who has served as a prison chaplain, has found that so many of the incarcerated have grown up with a fierce and unfulfilled “father-hunger”. Today we see empty-headed sitcoms where the father is usually outwitted by a child of any age. When did it become popular and acceptable to diss the father in the family?

Because of his track record for guiding this sacred family, I frequently pray to St. Joseph for family and friends. I’ve experienced unfailing help in response to particular requests. Lately, I’ve also adopted the habit of saying a short prayer to St. Joseph as I turn on the ignition. Since he did so well in protecting his family on the road, I count on him to keep me safe and also to protect those who are on the road with me.

I’ve become especially keen on holding up  St. Joseph as a model of the strong but gentle father figure. He must have been so. God would not have wanted anything less for his precious Son.

Viva San Giuseppe!

News: Bad, Fake, Too Much?

Or perhaps . . .?

Our society seems to have fallen in love with news, and news of any kind. National TV = 24/7. Social & Local = Facebook, Twitter et al. We have this compulsion to know everything that’s going on anywhere in the world, and to share every bit of news that we’ve either heard from others or have experienced ourselves. Why is it so important to share every trifling item with an ever-growing audience? Why should I expect anyone to be interested in my trivia?

There are a few reasons why we are so attached to news.

  • ¨ We need the social connection. Our congenital loneliness welcomes companionship and attention, preferably on a constant feed.
  • ¨ We need to be valued, and having a “scoop” puts us in the limelight, if only for a minor event and if only for a moment or two.

Our insatiable appetite for news ensures that we doggedly keep watching or listening for it, even though it almost invariably upsets us. My repeated and basic question is, “How much news do I really need to be a good neighbor, parent, or citizen?”

I’ve been on the planet for a few years and even as a youngster I remember my teachers alerting us to the fact that we couldn’t believe everything we heard (e.g. rumors, gossip), nor should we believe everything in print (this now includes digital alerts). I still remember teachers telling us how to evaluate the trustworthiness of reports: how reliable is the source? Does it come from someone who routinely trashes others? From someone whose vocabulary doesn’t include those three precious words, “I don’t know”? From someone whose chief occupation lies in fluffy entertainment? From a sensationalist? Or from someone who is willing to die for his/her claims?

I can’t pretend to have the answers to how much news others need, only how much do I need. If the constant stream of robberies, murders, overdoses, and especially wars, violence, man-made destruction – if these pull me down to a place of almost constant fear and excessive grief, then maybe I don’t need so much. If these reports result in numbing my sensibilities, that’s a reason to ease up. I can’t afford to de-sensitize myself; I need to maintain the ability to compassionate with others.

If, on the other hand, these events move me to pray and to ponder how the Kingdom of God contrasts with the kingdom of this world, then I need to keep watching and praying, lest I fall into temptation, as Christ urged his apostles in the garden of Gethsemane.

For after all, we have been given news that is life-giving: the Good News that is a how-to for happiness on this earth – in spite of all its injustice, cruelty and woes.

Reading and pondering the Good News teaches me about the three stages of discipleship:

  • ¨ Servant: The Ten Commandments provide the basic fundamental rules about living justly with others. These prepared humanity for the coming of Christ.
  • ¨ Friend: The Beatitudes, introduced by Christ, deepen our level of knowledge to an awareness of the spirit of the law. These transfigure us.
  • ¨ Child and Heir: taking to heart Christ’s final Command to love others as he has loved us is the ultimate consummation of love that transforms us into the very image of God.

I use the phrase “taking to heart” rather than the word obeying. That is simply because, for many, obedience has gotten a bad rap. It can have the connotation of some kind of slavery to a demanding, tyrannical Boss who will punish us if we don’t follow his Rules. On the contrary, as Jesus showed us, the laws of God and the command of Christ lift us to the highest level of freedom which is our soul’s union with God. To take the command of Christ to heart means that we have allowed God to take complete possession of us, not as slave to master but as lover to lover.

Being lifted up to this transformative level is to experience, to a limited degree of course, what Jesus meant by entering the Kingdom of God, by having the Kingdom of God at hand, close to us, accessible. Now this is really Good News!

When Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus, he affirmed: My kingdom is not of this world . . . I came into the world to testify to the truth. In other words, we can’t find the truth in the values of this world.

Pilate scoffed and asked, without waiting for an answer: What is truth?

Happy are we, in the midst of all this bad news, to have been taught the truth of the Good News. We are more than the “people” of God: we are God’s children. As such, our destiny is to be holy as he is holy. We can say with Christ, our impeccable source and model: Take courage, little flock. I have overcome the world!