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: Five Colorado places named after Catholic saints

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On Aug. 1, Colorado will have made it way over the hill at a ripe 144 years old. Better known as Colorado Day, the day commemorates the founding of our great Centennial State in 1876.

The Catholic Church has a rich history in Colorado, and believe it or not, various regions, geographic landmarks and places in the state are named after Catholic saints. The San Juan Mountain Range, the San Miguel River and the San Luis Valley are but a few examples.

In honor of Colorado Day, here are five places within “Colorful Colorado” that take their namesake from a Catholic saint. You probably already know a couple of them, but the other three are real “diamonds in the rough” that are worth making the trek; in fact, two of them were built and founded before Colorado was even Colorado.

Mother Cabrini Shrine, Golden, CO

 

One of Colorado’s most popular pilgrimage sites, it’s hard not to be enamored by Mother Cabrini Shrine. Originally founded as a girls’ summer camp by St. Frances Cabrini in 1910, the shrine overlooks the I-70 corridor heading into the mountains and is as charming as it is relaxing. In addition to the praying in the chapel, visitors can stay in the old Stone House that was built in 1914 or one of the various retreat houses that have been added over the years. Aside from being a wonderful space to pray, Mother Cabrini Shrine doubles as a sort of natural Stairmaster to get those steps in with the 373-step staircase leading up to the shrine, affectionately known as the Stairway of Prayer.

St. Catherine of Siena Chapel, Allenspark, CO

Photo by Andrew Wright

Better known as the Chapel on the Rock, this functioning Catholic chapel is perhaps one of Colorado’s most iconic landmarks. As the story goes, in the early 20th century, a man by the name of William McPhee owned the land where the chapel stands, known as Camp St. Malo. McPhee was a parishioner of the Cathedral in Denver, and he often allowed the parish to take kids hiking and camping on his property. During one of those trips, several campers saw a meteorite or shooting star that had appeared to hit the earth. They went looking for it and came upon the Rock that now stands as the foundation of St. Catherine of Siena Chapel. Completed in 1936, the chapel’s official namesake is fitting, as both it and St. Catherine of Siena share a common thread of mystical experiences facilitated by the Lord. It has had many visitors over the years, but perhaps none so famous as St. John Paul II who, ever the outdoorsman, just had to make a stop while in Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale, CO

 

Photo courtesy of the Abbey of St. Walburga

Located in the picturesque Virginia Dale, a small community just south of the Wyoming border, the Abbey of St. Walburga is a place where the voice of the Lord lives in the mountains, plains and rivers surrounding it. Named for the patroness of the Benedictine nuns, the abbey was founded in 1935 when three sisters from the Abbey of St. Walburg in Eichstätt, Bavaria were sent to a remote farm in what was Boulder. There, they built a strong foundation for the future of the abbey through hard work, poverty and an immovable trust in God’s providence. Today, the Benedictine nuns of Walburga humbly carry out the good works of the Benedictine order and carry on the legacy started nearly a millennium ago in 1035, when the original Walburg abbey in Eichstätt was founded.

San Luis, CO

Photo by Jeremy Elliot

Moving into the southern most regions of the State of Colorado, the Catholic roots of the region become much more evident. The oldest town in Colorado, San Luis, was founded in 1851 on the Feast of St. Louis, and predates the official founding of Colorado as a state by 25 years. The town is located along the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, which translates to “Blood of Christ.” One of the main attractions of the small town of just over 600 is a shrine at the town’s local Catholic parish. The Shrine of the Stations of the Cross was built by the parishioners of Sangre de Cristo Parish and the beautiful stations were designed and sculpted by native San Luis sculptor Huberto Maesta.

Capilla de Viejo San Acacio, Costilla County, CO

Photo from Wikicommons

Just to the west of the town of San Luis lies one of Colorado’s oldest gems. The Chapel of Old St. Acacius, or Capilla de Viejo San Acacio as it’s known to the locals, is the oldest non-Native American religious site in Colorado that’s still active today. While the building of the church cannot be dated precisely, it was likely completed sometime in the 1860s. The namesake of the church comes from St. Acacius of Byzantium, a third century martyr. Near the church is the small village of San Acacio, which a local tradition holds got its name after one of the earliest San Luis Valley settlements, originally called Culebra Abajo, was attacked by a band of Ute in 1853. As the Ute attackers approached, the villagers asked for the intercession of St Acacius, a popular saint among their people. The Ute suddenly halted and fled before they reached the town, scared off by a vision of well-armed warriors defending it. In gratitude for this salvation, the village was renamed San Acacio, and the villagers built a mission church in honor of the saint.