Homily of Archbishop Michael Neary
at the conclusion of the
Triduum in honour of Saint Joseph
International Eucharistic and Marian Shrine, Knock
21 March 2021
Fatherhood makes humanity different
For many in our society today fatherhood has become quite problematic. As a result it may be difficult to present God as a Father to those who have no experience of a father or to those who have had sad experiences of their father. The first experiences of a young child are of extreme dependency and vulnerability. Children require stability, attention and love. In many ways it is actually fatherhood that makes humanity different from most species. In other species it is the females who look after the young, while a few weeks after birth many males don’t even recognise their young. Particularly tragic then is the loss of fatherhood as a growing concern in our culture. Many children are growing up without a meaningful relationship with their fathers.
Joseph: at the service of the entire plan of salvation
There is a great necessity today to recover the sense of fatherhood. In his apostolic letter on St. Joseph entitled “With a Father’s Heart”, Pope Francis focuses on Fatherhood by taking the example of St. Joseph. As we read the story of the infancy of Jesus in St. Matthew’s and St. Luke’s Gospel, we see the way in which St. Joseph is presented as a man of creative courage. We can only imagine the confusion and questions in St. Joseph’s mind when he learned that Mary was expecting a baby. But just as with his namesake in the Old Testament, God spoke to Joseph in a dream and allayed his fears “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit”. (Matthew 1:20). Quoting St. John Chrysostom, Pope Francis says that Joseph “placed himself at the service of the entire plan of salvation”. Scripture does not recount a single word of his; silent and humble, he always stands aside letting Mary and Jesus go ahead of him.
Joseph: a responsible citizen, husband and father
Joseph was a man of civic responsibility. Of the line of David, he travelled with Mary to Bethlehem to register in the census a distance of about 80 miles. We can only imagine the anxiety for himself and Mary who was due to give birth to Jesus. The visit of the Magi and the Shepherds to adore the new born baby must have impressed upon Joseph the special significance of this baby. When God speaks to Joseph again in a dream alerting him to the schemes of Herod, Joseph undertook the lengthy journey to Egypt in order to ensure the safety of Jesus. On the death of Herod Joseph is again directed in a dream to take the child and his mother and “go to the land of Israel”.
Joseph: icon of God’s Fatherhood
On the return journey Joseph again in a dream received a further message from God informing him that Herod’s son, Archelaus, was ruling in Judea, so Joseph brought Mary and Jesus to Galilee and they settled in Nazareth. In their home we can imagine the way that Joseph holds Jesus’ hand as he took his first faltering steps. We know the way that fathers like to bring their sons along to their workplace and Jesus would have enjoyed observing the way that Joseph was going about his work as a carpenter, meeting the locals who came to avail of the skills of the local handy man. In Joseph Jesus would have experienced the protective and tender love of God the Father.
Joseph: at peace with God
We all know people who are totally reliable, reluctant to be in the limelight, and yet will always be available to lend a listening ear or supportive shoulder. The goodness, gentleness and generosity of these people are frequently overlooked in a very competitive culture. They bring calm to situations which could be explosive. Because they are at peace with God they frequently provide new insights into situations which could otherwise be complex and complicated.
Joseph: respectful, protective, supportive
In Joseph we see an ideal combination of inner strength and gentleness of character. In a world where women are subjected to violence, we see in Joseph somebody who is respectful, protective and supportive in his role as the legal father of Jesus and the husband of Mary. At times events in life may leave us annoyed, angry, frustrated and rebellious. In his relationship with God, Joseph readjusts his plans to coincide with the broader picture of the salvation that God is bringing about.
Joseph: Patron of the Catholic Church
Not surprisingly Pope Pius IX declared Joseph as the Patron of the Catholic Church. As a Church we are living through challenging times as we cope with confusion, division and the absence of hope among many people. Yet there is much genuine goodness as people appreciate role models and search for God. As one who lived through confusing events, coped with uncertainty, listened and responded to the promptings of the Lord, Joseph, though silent speaks very significantly to our world today.
Joseph: Protector of the Church
There are not many apparitions of Joseph. Two of them occur in Marian Shrines, one in Knock, the other in Fatima. The great protestant theologian Karl Barth, acknowledging his devotion to St. Joseph, stated: “He took care of the child Jesus and he takes care of the Church today”.