What’s Mary without St. Joseph?

January 6, 2012

By and large, the Advent season and Christmastide are heavily Marian. I have no complaints about this. I’m a Marian devotee and rosary collector through and through. So I would like to think that her intercession, along with the grace of her Son, who happens to be God, that should be credited with my growing devotion to her most saintly spouse, St. Joseph. Ever since preaching on St. Joseph for my ordination sermon a few years ago, I can’t shake a burgeoning devotion to him.

Enter: the Feast of St. Andre Bissette, a brother of The Holy Cross (cheers to my favorite order), and a devotee of St. Joseph. St. Andre’s greatest virtues mirror that of his patron, Joseph– obedience and obscurity-especially in the face of burdens, pain, and frustration. When people asked St. Andre for help, the ‘miracle man of St. Royale’ never pointed to himself, but to Christ and to the intercession of St. Joseph. I suspect it would have been easy for Saint Andre to let the miracles and healings “raise him in the ranks” of the world. Not only credited with miracles and healings, St. Andre raised the funds and supervised the building of the Oratory of St. Joseph, the largest shrine to Joseph in the world. Not too shabby. Clearly he lacked no charisma or force of character. Which makes his self-imposed holy obscurity all the more impressive, but what else would we expect from a man devoted to St. Joseph?

St. Joseph’s story, or the very little of it contained in scripture, points not at all to him, but to his blessed wife and especially towards his foster Son. Joseph is a good man, not immaculately conceived and not the rose of Sharon. Joseph isn’t translated into heaven or assumed or even wheeled away in a golden chariot. There’s no proto-evangelium of James to tout Joseph’s awesome family. Nope. Joseph is a good man, in the Genesis 1 sense of the world good. If all generations call Mary blessed, they might equally call Joseph good. Joseph hears God’s call. Joseph does what God says. Rinse and repeat as long as is necessary to raise the Son of God. Pretty normal, excepting the part that he’s God’s foster-father, not just any foster-father.

Not many of us are called to be Marys, I suspect. Most people aren’t immaculately conceived. Most of us are ordinary, plain, and obscure. If it weren’t for twitter and blogs we couldn’t even delude ourselves into thinking the world really cared about our thoughts and opinions. Our greatest deeds rank on the lists of simple and ordinary goodnesses. We’re not the “ring bearers,” to use a nerdy Lord of the Rings reference. We are the gardeners in Hobbiton. But the ordinaries have a part to play too we bear of our holy friends. We can’t carry their special holy deeds for them, but we can carry them. Through our prayers with the prayers of the saints, we lift others up to claim their vocations in God. Through our care and compassion, we help our friends who labor to bring Christ into their lives. Through our love, we build a home for Christ and his servants in the spaces of our own lives. Not too shabby for a bunch of obscure simple folks.

Were it not for St. Joseph, a good man and for St. Andre, his devotee, it might be easy to look at superstars of the faith and say, “pin a rose on your nose,” before going our merry way. We may not all be the shining stars of faith like Mary or the great patriarchs and matriarchs in Hebrews 11, reflecting the brilliance of the Son with in your face virtue and grace. That’s the beauty of St. Joseph and the ordinary grace to which we are all called. Some of us embrace our God-given identity along with the St. Josephs and brother Andres of the world who live in the painfully obscure light of God with all the obedience and goodness God helps us muster.

After all, Mary wouldn’t have got very far without St. Joseph.
St. André and St. Joseph, pray for us.

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