Greetings my brother and sisters,
Happy Fourth of July to you all! As we celebrate this national holiday let us pray that our nation may become more and more a place of love, peace and respect for all human life. The recent action of the Supreme Court to reverse the Roe v Wade decision is an opportunity to have such growth in our nation: to seek to overcome our problems and difficulties not with violence and hate but with peace and love which come from our merciful and loving God, who is calling us to be imitators of him.
This month we will bring to a close our look at the latest additions to the titles in the Litany of our Patron, St. Joseph, by considering the last additional title, patron of the poor. This title is particularly applicable to St. Joseph because he was poor himself. The offering that he and Mary make at the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple, two turtle doves, was precisely the offering allowed to those who were poor and could not afford the more expensive animal to sacrifice. Of course, the inability to find lodging in Bethlehem and the meager materials they were able to find to care for the newborn infant also demonstrate this poverty. We might even ask: if a patron is supposed to provide assistance, how can someone who is poor provide assistance to the poor?
The answer actually gives us a chance to reflect on how the poor actually can be helped more. Certainly, providing material assistance is important and at times the most immediate, practical need for those who are without resources. While difficult for the poor to assist the poor in this way, it is not impossible as the story of the poor widow who gave her last two coins in the Temple treasury, which Jesus so much admired, demonstrates this possibility. And, no doubt, St. Joseph is at times called upon in such circumstances by the poor today and he certainly intercedes for them.
However, more important than material assistance for the poor is the spiritual assistance they (and really all of us!) need in order to accept their position and not despair. St. Joseph did not despair of his position among the poor and in the challenges he faced in his poverty. It must have been quite a daunting proposition he faced having to go to Egypt at a moment’s notice. Where to find the funds for such a trip? Where to find work once there? Such worries and concerns can often lead to despair unless one has the faith and trust in God and God’s providence that Joseph had. And, he can inspire and intercede for those who might be tempted to such despair, as well as inspiring them by his example of trustful acceptance of God’s will. This anxiety can often be experienced in our vocational discernment and we can also feel very “poor” in our ability to discern and answer our call. St. Joseph knows this struggle as well and he can help us to remain calm and open as we move through the anxiety and encounter the God who is calling.
Joseph can also inspire and be an example to the poor of making an effort to overcome dire circumstances by our own effort and work. While trusting in God, Joseph does not sit on his hands and wait for God to do for him. He uses what he has at hand, meager as it might be, and seeks ways to utilize them to the best of his abilities and strengths. As Pope Francis put it in Patris Corde, he is creatively courageous and this is a quality that for certain can serve well the poor of the world. Here too, we can see an aid for vocational discernment. Nobody else can hear and answer my call: I have to do the leg work, so to speak! God will call and he wants me to make the effort to answer. May St. Joseph help us to answer with the same creative courage he displayed in answering his call.
Finally, Joseph, while he was poor while on this earth, is most certainly rich in heaven and he is ready to share those riches with those who invoke his favor. The riches of heaven are not, of course, silver and gold, but mercy, love, justice, forgiveness, peace…the list goes on. All of us are often “poor” in these things. St. Joseph stands ready to share his riches with us from heaven if we but ask and then open ourselves to receive them. Let us not fear to ask him to send down this treasure from heaven, he who knows so much the struggles and difficulties this life can present.
St. Joseph, Patron of the poor, pray for us.
Fr. Brian, OSJ