Monday, January 25, 2010

St. Joseph - A Model for Priests?

St. Joseph was not a priest and so it might at first seem strange to place him before you as a model for the priesthood. But if you consider the nature of Joseph’s fatherhood then you’ll see that he is a perfect model for the priest, (although obviously the most perfect model is Jesus Christ himself, the High-priest from whom all priests get their priesthood. In fact, in the Catholic faith, there is only one priest – Jesus Christ – priests merely participate in his priesthood).

To explain St. Joseph as the model for priests I would like to tell you about a young boy in the school here in my parish and the answer he gave me about priests. One boy in the class asked why priests are called ‘Father’. And so I asked if anyone in the class of 10 year olds knew the answer. One boy raised his hand and said the following:

Our natural fathers give us life, they feed us, rear us, and under their care we grow up into men. The priest is like a spiritual father, he feeds us with God and teaches us about God and makes our souls grow and that’s why we call him Father.”

That young boy had simply expressed the spiritual paternity of the priesthood. Priests are called to be fathers of a community, the church. They are to feed that portion of the family of God which he has given to their care. They are unworthy of that family. They are unworthy of the bride, the Church, which they are called to serve and build up. The Church is a bride way beyond their worth and their natural abilities. And the children of that bride, the flock of God in a parish, are children that the priest did not beget, they are God’s children and yet he has placed them under the guardianship of the priest, under his care. The priest is to nourish them in God’s name, feed them with the word of God and with the strength of the sacraments, he is to protect them from all that would harm them and he is called to love them as God their heavenly Father loves them; to mediate his love to them through his ministry.

And it is in this spiritual fatherhood that priests can look to Joseph as their model. He too was called by God to take a bride he is unworthy to have. He too is given the responsibility of a child of God, the only-begotten Son of God himself, and he finds himself ill-equipped for that task. Under Joseph’s fatherly care the Son of God would experience the Father’s love in a human way and he will rejoice in it. But, though this call is way beyond what Joseph, or any man, can hope to fulfil, Joseph faithfully and trustingly steps forward to take up the Lord’s invitation. It is a huge challenge, but Joseph knows that the Lord does not call the qualified, he qualifies those he calls.

All that I have said is said so as to encourage you to grow in devotion to St. Joseph so that you can grow in your journey as Christian men, accompanied by one who knows the struggles that we men face in being the men the Lord desires us to be. Go to Joseph and you will not be disappointed. Depend on his care for you and your state in life as Jesus and Mary depended upon him. Turning to Joseph in our needs does not, will not and cannot take away from our love and devotion to Jesus and Mary. It will increase it, as St. Joseph will teach us how to love and cherish them in a new and deeper way. We will be taught by one who had and still has great intimacy and influence with the Lord and his Mother.

I will finish with a call to greater devotion to St. Joseph issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1889:
The special motives for which St. Joseph has been proclaimed Patron of the Church, and from which the Church looks for singular benefit from his patronage and protection, are that Joseph was the Husband of Mary and that he was the reputed Father of Jesus Christ. From these sources have sprung his dignity, his holiness, his glory… Thus in giving Joseph the Blessed Virgin as spouse, God appointed him to be not only her life's companion, the witness of her virginity, the protector of her honour, but also, by virtue of the marital bond, a participator in her sublime dignity. And Joseph shines among all mankind by the most august dignity, since by divine will, he was the guardian of the Son of God and was reputed as His father among men. Hence it came about that the Word of God was humbly subject to Joseph, that He obeyed him, and that He rendered to him all those offices that children are bound to render to their parents… And for such reasons the Blessed Patriarch, Joseph looks upon the multitude of Christians who make up the Church as confided specially to his trust - this limitless family spread over the earth, over which, because he is the spouse of Mary and the Father of Jesus Christ he holds, as it were, a paternal authority. It is, then, natural and worthy that as St. Joseph ministered to all the needs of the family at Nazareth and surrounded it with his protection, he should now cover it with the cloak of his heavenly patronage and defend the Church of Jesus Christ.
May St. Joseph assist you as you discern your call to the priesthood.
In the Hearts of Jesus and Mary,
Fr. B

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