St. Joseph is the great exemplar of Lenten virtues

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Father Roger J. Landry is the national chaplain for Catholic Voices USA and a priest of the Diocese of Fall River.

Like most Christians throughout the first 1,400 years of the Church, many today can treat St. Joseph as an afterthought or some kind of ancient “player-to-be-named-later” in a package deal for the young virgin to whom he was espoused. His role as “foster father” of Jesus can often be regarded as an expendable accessory.

As Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies show us, however, St. Joseph was the penultimate piece in a divine cascade stretching all the way back to King David, Abraham and even Adam, and it was through him that Jesus, under Jewish law and mentality, would be a descendent of David. If we were to ask Jesus and Mary, I’m convinced that they would want us to grow to love Joseph just as they did.

We are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pope Pius IX’s naming St. Joseph as the patron of the universal Church. It’s a special sesquicentennial that should influence everything the Church does this year, especially the way we prepare for and celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19.

And insofar as March 19 always falls within the 40 days of Lent, it is important to learn how to grow in devotion to St. Joseph during the Lenten season. St. Joseph is a great exemplar for us of Lenten virtues that we do well to ponder and emulate.

He first teaches us about the silence needed in Lent. The state of the desert is meant to be one of exterior and interior silence, when we remove ourselves from the distractions that crowd our lives with so much noise that we can’t hear God and so much clutter that we can’t see him. St. Joseph is a man of silence, who didn’t speak a word in sacred Scripture. Silence is a form of asceticism. It’s not so much an emptying but an active listening to the God who in silence speaks. In 2005, Pope Benedict stated that in a world like ours, which does not foster quiet and recollection, we all need to be “infected” with St. Joseph’s silence so that we can hear God’s voice.

Second, St. Joseph teaches us about the obedience Lent cultivates. On Palm Sunday, St. Paul tells us, “Have the save mindset that is in Christ Jesus, who … humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a Cross” (Philippians 2:5-8). Lent is about learning to obey as Christ obeyed. St. Joseph shows us the way. We see his prompt obedience in his response to God who spoke to him in dreams not to be afraid to receive Mary into his home, to arise and flee with Jesus and Mary to Egypt, and to return with them to Galilee. It would have been easy for Joseph, even in a pre-Freudian age, to deconstruct these dreams according to the standard of his conscious desires. Each dream was asking him to do something life-changing… In each of these circumstances, however, Joseph obeyed immediately. He teaches us how to have Christ’s obedient mindset.

Third, he was obedient precisely because he was faithful. He believed in what God was telling him through the angel and therefore did what God was commanding. Pope Benedict said in 2009, “Throughout all of history, Joseph is the man who gives God the greatest display of trust, even in the face of such astonishing news.” During this season in which we are called to repent and believe in the Gospel, Joseph is, like Abraham, a true father in faith who shows us what believing the Good News looks like.

Fourth, he shows us how to be a “just man” (Matthew 1:19). To be just means to be “righteous” or in right relationship with God, in short, to be holy. Lent is a season of training in holiness and Joseph shows us what holiness is. It’s to “ad-just” ourselves to God’s will, something that he constantly did and teaches us to do.

Fifth, he is a man of humility. Lent is a season in which we humble ourselves and learn “to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8). Our penitence and penances are humble signs of our need for God and our almsgiving is meant to form us, like Christ, not to be served but to serve and give our life for others (Matthew 20:28). St. Joseph learned humility not only through putting himself totally at the service of God’s plans for Jesus and Mary, but even in the way he exercised his leadership in the holy family. Joseph, not the Immaculate Virgin or the Word-made-flesh, would have, in accordance with Jewish tradition, led the prayers in the home in the morning, evening and on principal religious feasts. He would have been the one who trained the One through whom all things were made to be a carpenter. The lesser one was placed over the Greater. Such activity can only overwhelm one with humility.

Sixth, he is a man of chaste love. The devil’s supreme temptation is to corrupt love, since we were created in the image of God who is love, and are called to love God with all we’ve got and others as Christ does. One cannot be holy without chastity, which helps to keep love pure. That’s why St. Paul, as soon as he writes, “This is God’s will for you, your sanctification,” adds, “Therefore, avoid all unchastity” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Holiness is the perfection of love; chastity keeps love unselfish. In a promiscuous and pornographic age, one that cannot understand Christ’s celibacy, the chaste celibacy of priests and religious in his image, and the call to chaste continence for those outside of marriage and chaste love of those within, St. Joseph is a model and intercessor who shows our culture how to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.

Seventh, he teaches us how to prepare well for death. On Ash Wednesday, we were reminded that we are dust and unto dust we shall return. As we prepare to enter liturgically into Christ’s death, we are meant to prepare for our own, by losing our lives in order to save them (Matthew 16:25). St. Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death because, Christian piety has always believed, he died in Jesus’ and Mary’s arms, entrusting them to God the Father’s providence and receiving from them prayers and comfort. He shows us not just how to die in their arms but to live in them, as they seek to accompany us, as they did him, through death into eternity.

This Lenten season, and 2020 as a whole, is a time for us to place ourselves anew under Joseph’s protection and patronage, in imitation of Jesus and Mary.

COMING UP: Catholic schools plan to reopen for in-school learning this fall

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Having endured a rather challenging last few months of the school year, parents of Catholic school students can now rest easy with the knowledge that Catholic schools will be open this fall.

In a letter issued May 29, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Denver Catholic Schools Superintendent Elias Moo announced plans to reopen Catholic schools for in-school learning for the 2020-21 school year. At the forefront of these plans is the health and safety of students and faculty.

“We will carry out in-person instruction with increased health protocols and processes to ensure that our schools are going above and beyond to protect the health of every member of our Catholic school community, especially our most high-risk members,” said Archbishop Aquila and Moo in their letter. “We are confident our schools’ protocols and processes will keep our school environments as healthy and as safe as possible for all members of our communities.”

To help ensure healthy school environments are maintained, a task force composed of school leaders, nurse practitioners, doctors and a virologist has been assembled. This group is working with schools to identify the best health measures and policies in preparation for the coming school year.

For those parents who may not feel comfortable sending their children to school for any in-school learning, the archdiocese and Office of Catholic Schools are also formulating a virtual distance-learning option. Families who are interested will still be able to receive instruction in core content areas while remaining connected to their local school community. More details on this option will be available at the end of June.

Recognizing the unique challenges parents have faced over these past few months as schools have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Archbishop Aquila and Moo expressed sincere gratitude for their increased efforts in making distance learning a success.

“None of this would have been possible without the incredible efforts made by our parents to play an even bigger role in their children’s education,” they said. “While balancing your own work, caring for your families and other day-to-day responsibilities, you have stepped up to make sure we had a productive finish to the school year.”

Given the fluidity of the COVID-19 pandemic, Archbishop Aquila and Moo said that Catholic schools will continue to abide by mandated health protocols while working to keep Catholic schools operating for the good of the communities they serve.

“Our Catholic schools are a critical part of the educational ecosystem and fabric of our state, and we remain committed to working in a spirit of cooperation with our local and state officials when possible as we all seek to advance the common good of our communities,” they concluded.

As plans for reopening Denver’s Catholic schools are continually developed, parents are invited to participate in a survey to help school leadership consider the needs of the community so they can open schools in the safest possible manner. The survey can be accessed by visiting denvercatholicschools.com.