Lessons from St. Joseph: A special class for a special year

This “Year of Saint Joseph” presents us with an opportunity to draw deeper into union with Joseph. To that end, I’d like to introduce you to a six-week course about Joseph that I’ll be teaching online this summer for anybody, anywhere in the world.

LISTEN: Daniel Campbell discusses Lessons from St. Joseph course on Ave Maria Radio’s Catholic Connection (skip ahead to 16:35-34:40)

Firstly, let me mention who we are and what we do. While most people affectionately know us as the “Biblical School,” we are more than that; we are the Lay Division at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary for the Archdiocese of Denver. This makes our seminary unique; not just for the formation of future clerics, but also a division dedicated to the formation of the laity. Our mission is to put people in contact and communion with Jesus, who alone leads us to the heart of the Father in the Spirit. We do this through various offerings that study God’s call to each and every person to have a personal relationship with Him in the Church that He established with the Precious Blood of Jesus. 

Our two flagship programs are the Denver Catholic Biblical School, a four-year study of the Sacred Scriptures, and the Denver Catholic Catechetical School, a two-year study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We also offer various other programs of study – year-long “Enrichment Courses” in different topics of the faith, short courses throughout the year, lecture series throughout the liturgical seasons, and day-long workshops. Wherever you’re at in your faith, we have something for everybody! That includes my summer class on St. Joseph, in which we will dive into his life to learn everything from the narrative story and theological significance of all of the passages in Scripture involving Joseph, to why he is the Patron of the Universal Church, to his moral life and what he teaches us about virtue, to his interior life and what he teaches us about prayer, and much more. 

I invite you to join the Lay Division in learning about the man that Mary called her beloved husband and Jesus his loving foster-father. However, as we anticipate the course starting in July, and in honor of this Year of St. Joseph, I offer you the following reflection on this most important saint. Read it, pray with it and allow yourself to grow in deeper devotion to St. Joseph the Great!

A father chosen by God

In choosing to redeem us, God could have chosen any number of means of doing so, but he chose to become man and die on the cross. Yet if God is to become man, then he must have a mother to come to us in the womb of. For this is not a hero sent from beyond, but a real man of flesh and blood. True God and true man, as we say. This is thus a mother whom God had, from all of eternity, planned the creation of. A mother for whom he determined the graces that he would give her so that she could fulfill her role in salvation history as the Mother of God. And if you held the prerogative to consider how to create your own Mother, then wouldn’t she be the most holy creature ever created? This is precisely how God created his mother, the immaculately conceived perpetual virgin that was assumed into heaven.

That God created his mother to be so leads to the next thought: what kind of man would you create to be her husband? To care for her needs? To protect her virginity, this mother who will remain a virgin before, during, and forever after the conception and birth of her Son? And if you’d chosen to be born of this mother in a dark, cold cave, then what sort of man would you create to rock you to sleep? And if a wicked king were to desire to kill you, and kill all of the two year old and younger children in your neighborhood, then what sort of man would you create to protect you? To carry your life in his arms to safety in Egypt? What sort of man could dare stand before God Incarnate and the Mother of God to lead the Holy Family in prayer? 

Just as it is obvious that Mary would be specially created by God, so it should be as obvious that St. Joseph was not an afterthought, but the man whom God had specially created for his unique role in salvation history. For of all of the ways that we may consider Joseph, of all of the things that he is the patron of, there is no greater description of his role in salvation history than spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster-father of Jesus. God gratuitously chose to redeem us and to do so by becoming man and dying on the cross. Yet the first step was to be conceived in the womb and born of a virgin who was wedded to the great Joseph.

Just as it is obvious that Mary would be specially created by God, so it should be as obvious that St. Joseph was not an afterthought, but the man whom God had specially created for his unique role in salvation history.

But why did Mary need a spouse and Jesus a foster-father to begin with? To answer, we refer to St. Thomas Aquinas that “grace perfects nature.” In other words, while Jesus and Mary are full of grace, this doesn’t negate their natural human needs – the need for a husband and father-figure to provide for material needs of food, drink, and shelter, to safeguard the child’s Messianic claims, which would’ve been dismissed were he conceived out of wedlock, or to protect the mother and child against the devil, which comes, for example, in the form of Herod and the Massacre of the Innocents. 

Furthermore, this husband and father-figure provides exalted testimony for us, as well: by cloaking Mary’s virginity, we see the virginal state honored, while through Joseph’s marriage to Mary, we likewise see matrimony honored. It was a marriage as true as any other, even if virginal, for the two spouses attained an inseparable union of souls and embraced the duties of spouses and parents by tending to one another and rearing the Christ child. Their union of souls and fulfillment of duties constitute the perfection of marriage.

Joseph is the spouse of Mary and foster-father of Jesus, which means that he is the head of the Holy Family. And as head of the Holy Family, Joseph is, therefore, the Patron of the Universal Church, the Holy Family being the prototype of the Church, itself the perpetuation of the Incarnation in time. This Patronage of the Universal Church was declared by Pope Pius IX in 1870 in his decree Quemadmodum Deus, a declaration that the Church is celebrating the 150th anniversary of with this current “Year of Saint Joseph.” 

The relevance of this for us is simple: if Joseph is the head of the Holy Family and Patron of the Universal Church, then we ought to take him as our patron, as well. And as St. Aquinas writes, “Some Saints are privileged to extend to us their patronage with particular efficacy in certain needs, but not in others; but our holy patron Saint Joseph has the power to assist us in all cases, in every necessity, in every undertaking.” Devotion to Joseph is as necessary today as ever, all the moreso given this year dedicated to his Patronage! 

Lessons from St. Joseph: Husband, Father, Saint

6-week online course taught live (no pre-recorded lectures!) by Daniel Campbell, Director of the Lay Division.

Class sessions are Tuesdays and Thursdays,
9:30-11:30 a.m. MDT and 6:30-8:30 p.m. MDT.

All four weekly sessions will cover the same curriculum. When registering, students will choose one day/time to be assigned to, but will have access to all four weekly class sessions. Students may attend as many sessions as they like.

Tuition is $100.

As a special promotion for the “Year of St. Joseph”, students will receive a $100 tuition credit toward enrollment in any 2021-2022 full-year Biblical School, Catechetical School, or Enrichment Course.

For more information and to register, click here!

July 13
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July 15
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August 26

School supported by the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”