Preached at St. Catherine of Sweden Parish on March 19, 2014 on the Feast of St. Joseph at the 7:00PM Mass
I should probably say to everyone here tonight, “Merry Christmas!” After the winter that we have had this year it certainly still seems appropriate. Today’s gospel reading also makes it seem like Christmas because it takes us back to the Nativity story of our Lord Jesus Christ. But it’s not Christmas, it’s Lent. We can tell because there is no joy and so many people are sad. During Lent many of us punish ourselves by giving up things that make us happy and that can certainly make us sad. I love lots of sugar, especially in my tea, and one year I gave it up for Lent and I was miserable. Lent seemed like it was forty weeks long that year! I couldn’t wait for Lent to be over. I’ll never do that again! Also during Lent we do serious religious things like participating in the Stations of the Cross or attending Mass on Wednesday nights, things we normally don’t do the rest of the year, when we could be at home relaxing watching Survivor, American Idol, or Duck Dynasty.
But Lent is not meant to be a time of punishment or sadness, it is meant to be a journey that leads us to joy. The prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and all of the other religious things that we do during Lent help us to draw us closer to God and closer to the people we are meant to be, and that is where we are ultimately going to find our joy. It is perfect that the Feast of St. Joseph occurs during Lent, because St. Joseph is certainly a man of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving who is the perfect guide for our journey through Lent.
I am sure that St. Joseph had many thoughts about what his life and family were going to be like. I am sure that none of his dreams involved raising the Son of God, or that his family would face many difficulties and struggles, like being poor or having no place for Mary to give birth to Jesus or that they would have to leave everything behind to flee into the desert to Egypt to avoid the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. Things were tough for them and yet they became the Holy Family, not because their lives went perfectly and not because they did not have problems or issues to deal with, but because they recognized the Almighty Father’s presence in their lives and maintained a close relationship with Him.
During Lent we are asked to pray and that is how we recognize God’s presence in our own lives and how we grow in faith, love, and trust of God. Lent provides us with quiet time away from our busy lives so that we can build our relationship with God. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, just quality time listening to Him as He speaks to us in the quiet of our hearts. He will help us through our difficulties and struggles and he will make us holy. St. Joseph lived his entire life in a close relationship with God and so he is an excellent guide for us to become people of prayer, so that we can recognize God’s presence in our lives and help our relationship with Him grow in faith, love, and trust in God.
When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant with Jesus, he had every right under the law to have her stoned under the circumstances. But Joseph was a good man and decided to divorce her quietly. But God asked Joseph to be a better man; he asked Joseph to take Mary as his wife. How difficult it must have been for Joseph in that situation. Yet the story of salvation and our redemption came about not only because Mary said “yes” to God, but also because Joseph was able, with the help of the Almighty Father, to let go of any anger, bitterness, hatred, jealousy, or any other negative feelings and emotions he was feeling toward Mary and the situation that he was facing, and he took Mary as his wife.
During Lent we are asked to fast and normally we give up food, but we should give up or let go of whatever is separating us from God and from being better people. Maybe that means giving up cake, ice cream, or Duck Dynasty, for others it may mean giving up serious addictions like drugs, alcohol, or pornography. For most of us it means eliminating negative behaviors or emotions such as anger, bitterness, hatred, jealousy, or anything thing else that is preventing us from living lives of love, mercy, and forgiveness. St. Joseph lived a life of letting go and so he is an excellent guide to help us become people of fasting, to lead us to God, so that we can get rid of all the things in our lives that are preventing us from becoming better people.
An interesting part of the story of Joseph is the fact of how different his call is from most of the other callings in Scripture. When Abraham was called to be the father of a great nation, he told God, “I am too old.” When Jeremiah was called to be a prophet, he told God, “Dude, I am too young.” When Moses was called to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he told God, “Don’t look at me! You’ve got the wrong guy!” But when Joseph is called to be the father of the Son of God, he says nothing. In fact in all of Scripture there are no words recorded of anything that Joseph ever said. He asked no questions, he did not argue or complain, he simply quietly gave of himself by following the will of God and his plan for his life.
During Lent we are asked to give alms, and when we think about almsgiving, we think about giving money or donations to charity. But almsgiving is much better practiced when we give of ourselves in response to God’s unique and individual call for us. We are each called by God to serve others, it might be in a nursing home, a hospital, a prison, or it may simple be a visit with a lonely friend, an ill or dying loved one, or an estranged family member, but each of us is being called by God to affect the lives of others in some way. St. Joseph obediently gave of himself to do God’s will and help bring Christ into the world and so he is an excellent guide to help us become people of almsgiving, people who do God’s will by giving of themselves to be Christ and bring Christ to others.
St. Joseph is certainly a man of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and because of that he is our perfect guide and companion for helping us in our journey through Lent. He helps us to encounter God; he helps us to become better people, people of love, mercy, and forgiveness; and he helps us to follow God’s will, to be Christ and to bring Christ to others. Through his guidance and intercession may we be led to joy this Lent. Rejoice and be glad that we have St. Joseph leading us to the joy of Easter.