Alphonsian thoughts on Saint Joseph

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(From Alphonsian Academy blog)

A characteristic of the personality of St. Alphonsus emerges by studying his works, both moral and pastoral or spiritual, namely empathy. As a scholar and pastor, he knew how to “be with the people” and “get his hands dirty with the mud of the street[1]. This gift allowed him, on the one hand, to scrutinize the hearts of people, to understand their limitations and potentialities, and on the other hand, to understand the Mystery of God and the people involved in the Redemption, Mary and Joseph in particular. Certainly, the recourse to Joseph in Alphonses’ works is not as systematic as that to Mary. Still, he nurtured a passionate devotion to the guardian of the Redeemer: “The sole example of Jesus Christ, who on this earth wished to honor and subject himself to Saint Joseph, should inflame everyone to be very devoted to this great saint”[2].

What must Joseph have felt, called to a unique mission: to take care of the Word of God incarnate and of the woman chosen to be his mother? If the conversations between Joseph and Mary on the journey to Bethlehem must have been sweet, bitter must have been the mortification that he as a man must have felt in not finding a warm and safe place to give birth to her. What consolation Mary’s invitation to admire the infant God must have given to his heart. And he who: “makes the seraphim burn with love”[3] must have warmed Joseph’s heart. Promptly obedient when forced to leave for a foreign land. Travel at that time was not easy. Mountains and deserts, rough roads to cross must have created displeasure for good Joseph. Discomfort for the beloved and the child, fear of the soldiers, fear for the absence of food, shelter, suffering for life as “immigrants”: “Could not the tender and loving heart of Joseph not feel the pain”[4]. Once the storm had passed, when he returned to his homeland, a new bitterness mixed with a sense of guilt: he lost Jesus for three days and did not keep such a treasure. There is no worse punishment for a soul that loves God than the fear of having disgusted Him[5].

Joseph, as a devout Jew, knew the scriptures. He had understood the painful chalice that awaited Jesus. What father, thinking of such a mission, on which Isaiah’s indications were clear, would not have shed rivers of tears?

According to Alphonsus, Jesus was present at the moment of Joseph’s death and affirmed: “How could death be bitter to him while he died in the arms of life?[6]

The glory that God gives in heaven to the saints corresponds to the holiness of life on earth. The Gospel (cf. Mt 1:19) indicates Joseph’s holiness in a single expression: “a righteous man,” and such is he who possesses all the virtues. God promises rewards for those who give him even a glass of water (cf. Mt 10:42). Considering what Joseph gave him, we can only imagine what glory God has reserved for him in heaven!

Sometimes the “greats” of Scripture, clothed in an aura of mystery, risk appearing distant. A reading like this one suggested by Alfonso, which certainly “eludes scientific evidence,” makes us reflect on these people’s fragile and vulnerable humanity. Pope Francis also described Joseph as beloved, tender, obedient, welcoming, courageously creative, hardworking, “shadow,” but still father, that is, a man who gave himself without measure[7].

It is interesting to reflect on St. Joseph’s human dimension, to feel him close, to want to imitate him, to find in him the inspiration and courage to renew even the small “yes” that each believer is called to offer to God every day.

Filomena Sacco

(The original in Italian)

 

Footnotes:

  1. Come ultimamente ha esortato Papa Francesco nell’Esortazione Apostolica Evangeli gaudium, n. 45.
  2. Sant’Alfonso Maria de Liguori, Settenario di meditazioni in onore di San Giuseppe per li sette giorni precedenti alla sua festa, in Opere Ascetiche, vol. X, Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, Roma 1968, 327.
  3. Ibid., 332.
  4. Ibid., 335.
  5. Cf. Ibid., 337 -338.
  6. Ibid., 344.
  7. Francesco, Patris corde. Lettera apostolica in occasione del 150° anniversario della dichiarazione di San Giuseppe quale patrono della chiesa universale, (8.12.2020) in http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco-lettera-ap_20201208_patris-corde.html.
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