5th Sunday of Easter
St. Joseph Monastery
May 1, 2021
The Year of St. Joseph
First, let me say that I am delighted to return to St. Joseph Monastery to offer Mass with you and for you in this very beautiful setting. I am always happy as well for an opportunity to join with you in affirming the energetic and devoted leadership of Father Mike – thank you so much for your priestly dedication! I also greet Fr. Evan Ponton and parishioners from St. John’s in Severna Park, the sister-parish of St. Joseph’s Monastery, and I also greet Fr. James Proffitt, formerly the Pastor of St. John’s, and now Director of Clergy Personnel.
It is a special joy to return here to the Monastery in this Year of St. Joseph which his Holiness, Pope Francis, set in motion last December. Indeed, we celebrate this Holy Mass for the Fifth Sunday of Easter in the waning hours of May 1st, a day set aside to honor St. Joseph the Worker. If you don’t mind, I will attempt to straddle these two liturgical days! I would like to do just that by reflecting first on the intimacy of St. Joseph with Jesus and then by reflecting on the intimacy we should also have with the Risen Lord.
Joseph’s Intimacy with Jesus
Searching the Scriptures, we look in vain for any direct quotes from St. Joseph. Instead, he remains God’s strong and silent partner in the work of our redemption. For Scripture does indeed describe the role that God had mapped out for Joseph. Even as Mary became the Mother of Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, so too Joseph became the earthly guardian of Jesus, and he loved him like a father. Together with Mary, Joseph formed a home where the Child Jesus would grow in age, grace, and wisdom as he prepared for his mission as the Redeemer of the World.
The foregoing description, of course, does not do justice to the anguish and drama which Mary and Joseph experienced in fulfilling the respective roles in God’s plan. We recall the astonishment of Joseph when Mary was found to be with child and how he was reassured by an angel in a dream before taking Mary as his wife. We recall how Joseph and Mary were obliged to travel to Bethlehem for the census and how frantically Joseph searched for lodging as Mary was about to give birth to Jesus. What could Joseph have thought when he had to flee with his family to Egypt to escape the bloody designs of Herod, who saw the Child Jesus as a threat? What thoughts ran through Joseph’s mind as he and Mary searched for Jesus, only to find him in the Temple, at the age of approximately 12, teaching the teachers? Not unlike Mary, Joseph must have stored all these episodes in his heart, and as a man of quiet prayer and virtue, he mulled them over. Like all the holy ones of Israel, Joseph was filled with both wonderment and praise. Through all of this, we can only imagine how close Joseph drew to the Child whom God entrusted to his care.
Yet, even his wonderment, Joseph had to provide for his family. Scripture tells us that Joseph supported his family by working as a carpenter. As was customary in those days, Joseph taught Jesus his trade. Together, they worked at the carpenter’s bench fashioning everyday objects like tables and chairs and other items for households or for various livelihoods. By imparting his trade to Jesus and by Jesus’ own labors as a carpenter, a light was shone on the dignity of human work – both as a way of providing for one’s family and also as a way of enhancing creation, the creation God entrusted to us. As Joseph and Jesus worked together, their relationship deepened, just as the relationship of parents and children deepen when they do things together. (Today is a good day to ask St. Joseph to intercede for us and for our daily work, so that it may be a means of glorifying God, helping others, and providing for our needs, …even now, when the pandemic has interrupted and changed our daily work. Let us not forget frontline workers who continued providing services at their own risk. It is also a good day to ask St. Joseph’s intercession for the unemployed, and for the underemployed, for the underpaid and for workers who are discouraged.)
But let us also remain focused on the main point I wished to emphasize, and it is this: the close relationship of love, the intimacy, that existed between Joseph and Jesus.
Our Intimacy with Jesus
We may think that, due to his special role in Jesus’ life, Joseph had a relationship with Jesus that is beyond our reach. After all, who of us can say we operated a lathe alongside of Jesus? Yet, if we pay close attention to today’s Gospel, we will see that the Lord Jesus is inviting us to a relationship with him…a relationship so close and intimate that he compares it to the union of branches to a vine. As the II Vatican Council taught so well, every Christian in every walk of life is called to authentic holiness, that is, to an intimate relationship of love with the Risen Lord and with his Body, which is the Church, a relationship of love that bears good fruit.
We have already seen how Joseph attained intimacy with the Lord. But how do we attain intimacy with the Lord? Today’s Scripture readings teach that there are three paths to intimacy with the Lord. The first is to listen attentively to the Word of God when it is proclaimed and preached, but also to listen attentively to God’s Word in private, in the inner-room of our heart. When we take God’s Word to heart and apply it to our lives, then we give God permission to trim away our sins and other excesses that stand in the way our relationship with the Lord and with his Church. Often, suffering and deprivation are ways in which the Lord ‘prunes’ our hearts, and leads us to a deeper, more beautiful, intimate, and fruitful relationship with himself.
Second is our wholehearted participation in the sacramental life of the Church, especially our participation in Sunday Mass, our worthy reception of the Eucharist, and making frequent use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance. Through the Sacraments, outward signs that inwardly sanctify our souls, the life-blood of the Lord’s love transforms us, body, mind, and spirit. When we decline to share in the Church’s life of praise and worship or take the sacraments for granted, we risk cutting ourselves off from the Lord, and thus becoming a withered, dying branch.
Third is to keep the commandments, for as St. John says in today’s 2nd reading, “All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them.” In other words, taking God’s Word to heart and receiving the Sacraments worthily should animate and strengthen us such that we live according to the commandments, and indeed come to love others as Christ first loved us. For the intimate relationship of love the Lord seeks from us is not just a feeling, not just a fleeting emotion, but indeed a life of loving deeds, a life of service that attracts others to the hope that the Gospel offers.
One last thing. Joseph had a most intimate, familial relationship with Jesus. But the Gospels also make clear that Joseph never took that relationship for granted. Rather, he remained earnest, vigilant, and virtuous in his relationship with Jesus and with Mary. So too, today’s Gospel warns us not to become careless or presumptuous in our relationship with the Lord and with the Church. Our intimacy with the Lord is not automatic, any more than it was for Joseph, and so we must ensure that we remain earnest, vigilant, and virtuous in our pursuit of holiness, in our daily relationship of prayer to the Risen Lord.
Aided by the prayers of St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary, may we indeed abide in the Lord as fruitful branches on the vine and may God bless us and keep us always in his love!