Put Out into the Deep

St. Joseph: Our Model for Life and for Death

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

As you know, March 19 is the day we normally celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church. This year, because it falls on a Sunday in Lent, the feast day has been moved to the 20th of March.

It is interesting that St. John Paul II and Pope Francis both have a special devotion to St. Joseph. St. John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Redemptoris Custos, “On the Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church,” allows us to recognize the wealth of the Scriptural basis for understanding the role of St. Joseph in caring for the Savior. Joseph is the silent man of the Gospel, the man in a certain sense who is the back drop against which we understand the role of Mary, the Mother of the Savior; he who protects her from shame, he who protects the newborn infant, it is he who guards the mystery of God himself. St. John Paul II recognized St. Joseph as one who could mirror for us the service of fatherhood.

In our own culture, so many problems arise in families for those who seek their fathers who are lost to them in one way or another. This causes havoc in our society. The relationship of a person to his or her father is critical in forming our personalities, our understanding of authority and our ability to show care and love. Yes, others have their own roles, but fathers truly are unique. St. Joseph gives us an insight into the strong image of fatherhood that is so needed in our world today.

Pope Francis sees another side of St. Joseph, mirrored by his devotion to a statue which he keeps in his room; the sleeping St. Joseph. Joseph truly was one to whom God spoke to in dreams. He was told in a dream that he should not put Mary aside. He was told in another dream to flee to Egypt to protect Jesus and Mary. The relatively new image of Joseph asleep is something Pope Francis seems to enjoy.

On his trip to the Philippines, our Holy Father said, “I have a great love for St. Joseph because he is a man of silence and strength. On my table, I have an image of St. Joseph sleeping. Even when he is asleep he is taking care of the Church!”

Also, Pope Francis has added the commemoration of St. Joseph to all the Eucharistic prayers, whereas in the past his name was limited to the First Eucharist Prayer, which was instituted by Pope John XXIII.

St. Joseph was proclaimed Patron of the Universal Church by Pope Pius IX who declared him, “Patron of the Catholic Church.”

Pope Leo XIII put it this way, “The reasons why Saint Joseph must be considered the special patron of the Church, and the Church in turn draws exceeding hope from his care and patronage, chiefly arise from his having been the husband of Mary and the presumed father of Jesus … Joseph was in his day the lawful and natural guardian, head and defender of the Holy Family.”

The Church, the Bride of Christ, is always in need of a defender. In our own day and age, it seems that the Church is always on the defense. Hardly a day passes without some exaggerated calling attention to some defect or conflict within the Church. Hardly ever do we see news of good accomplishments in the Church, only because the Church stands for so much that our current culture wishes to change.

Not only is the Right to Life being attacked by the attitude of abortion on demand, but also the right to a natural death is becoming an issue which we must attend to in our area here in the State of New York. As we know, St. Joseph is also the patron of a happy death.

Every effort must be made to eliminate needless pain and suffering in the lives of those grappling with a terminal illness. Hospice programs like Calvary Hospital provide dignity for those who are dying. There is nothing dignified about suicide and the intentional ending of human life. That’s why we should all firmly oppose New York State Assembly Bill A2383, Medical Aid in Dying Act as well as the companion legislation New York State Senate Bill S3151. Two pieces of legislation introduced in the New York State Legislature, in addition to a lawsuit filed by an assisted suicide advocacy group, look to overturn New York’s ban on assisted suicide. Lifting the ban would provide a deadly, unnecessary option to patients who may fear pain, depression and abandonment. Instead we should seek to help people through pain relief, compassionate loving care, and the hospice environment. As Catholics we must stand firm in our belief that all lives are worth living and that only God can determine when it is time to return to his kingdom.

As we know, St. Joseph is also the patron of a happy death. Presumably Joseph died surrounded by Jesus and Mary. He was assisted to give his life back to God by the God Man, and Mary, the Mother of God. Would that each one of us at the end of our lives have that same assistance which is available to us as we choose a natural death, sometimes with suffering, but always with resignation. Assisted suicide in our society today is less necessary than ever. The availability of palliative care makes the end of life bearable, but also gives it true meaning. Ending a life for whatever reason cries in the face of the Creator Himself.

The Church will continually put out into the deep waters of protecting life. At this time in the State of New York, we fly to the patronage of St. Joseph. We are told “Go to Joseph” when we are in need of his intercession, that we might protect life from its natural beginning to its natural end.

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