Archbishop Michael Neary was Archbishop of Tuam until 9th November. This homily was preached on Saturday 6th November on the occasion of the blessing of the statue of Saint Joseph at Knock Shrine.
We all encounter tough and difficult times when our faith is really tested. Saint Joseph was no exception. We look at how he adjusted to the many setbacks that confronted him and how he coped. He was a man of faith, strong, silent, patient and prudent. He was attentive to the promptings of God and then acted on them. For Joseph things may seem serene and calm and yet life must have been full of confusion.
From the scriptures we learn that Joseph was “a just man”, he responded with compassion and empathy to Mary’s situation. This man of faith was faithful to his relationship with Mary, faithful to his relationship with the God who told him to take Mary as his wife. Joseph’s faith overcame his fear and enabled him to take Mary as his wife and in this way Joseph placed himself at the service of the entire plan of salvation.
Joseph’s sense of duty and faith enabled him to fulfil his civic responsibility. Being of the line of David he travelled with Mary to register in the census in Bethlehem, a distance of about 80 miles, south through the hill country of Judea, through the difficult terrains. Saint Joseph, through his total faith in God, was receptive to the promptings of the Lord at all times and responded in a positive manner.
It is to Joseph that God speaks in a dream alerting him to the treachery of Herod. Joseph in the middle of the night embarks on a journey at the command of God to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Joseph responds in faith to this message from God and in his fatherly protective role took the child and his mother to Egypt, a distance of 400 miles.
Joseph enables us to appreciate how the person of faith sees the bigger picture and does not get lost in the minute details. Joseph because of his faith was able to cope with whatever life placed before him. He knows with a certainty beyond human reason that the voice of God had spoken to him and he responded with generous faith and action.
Likewise in our own situations faith enables us to read the signs. We may not have dreams through which God speaks to us in the form of an angel but God still speaks to us directly, to our minds and our hearts. The question is whether or not we are listening. The goodness, gentleness and generosity of people of faith is frequently overlooked in a competitive culture. Faith brings calm to situations which could be explosive because the person of faith is at peace with God and provides a new perspective and a new insight into complex situations. This is particularly obvious in the case of Saint Joseph. Faith is protective in his case. It provides inner strength and gentleness of character. It is respectful of the freedom of others. Joseph, the man of faith enabled Jesus to pursue his own ministry of preaching and healing.
In the scriptures Joseph is presented as a quiet and dependable man. The Gospels do not record a single word that Joseph spoke. Living his life as a faithful and loving husband of Mary and foster-father of Jesus, he did what the Lord asked of him. Even today, the pandemic and the consequent lockdown has enabled us to become more appreciative of the quiet lives of people that perhaps we were inclined to take for granted. Like Saint Joseph there are many people who live far from the spotlight, who do their work conscientiously, who are people of faith and whose faith inspires and motivates their work, their dedication, their call to duty and their family responsibilities. They are the ‘ordinary’ people who enable others to do their work and support them in that work.
Devotion to Joseph can lead to a deeper faith and a closer relationship to Jesus and to Mary. Pope Francis emphasised that “faith makes us open to the quiet presence of God at every moment of our lives, in every person and in every situation”. He recognised that Saint Joseph knew this in his heart and this faith allowed him, and will allow us, to move forward although the way may not be clear. Like many today, especially those who might be struggling with the questions of life itself, Joseph had to face some challenging situation. Yet faith sustained and supported him when the scene seemed to be changing and the changes were communicated to him by God. Joseph was able to respond in a positive manner.
As the Patron of the Church this quiet man of faith reminds us that the Church will not fail as it is confronted by the changes and challenges in our culture today and like Saint Joseph it will continue to be a faithful vehicle of God’s plan of salvation.
We pray to Saint Joseph who is the Patron of the Church, to strengthen our faith which will enable us to respond to God’s call in uncertain and challenging times.