Saint Joseph, foster father of Jesus has too easily been forgotten by many people. You might remember him if you grew up in an Italian parish where someone hosted a St. Joseph's Table once a year with all the trimmings and Italian delicacies. Or, you might need help in selling or purchasing property, so you get the statue of the older bearded guy holding a lily in one hand and the baby Jesus in the other. Joseph seems to get the short shrift when it comes to popular devotion in the Church.
In fact, after roughly 1,000 years of Eucharistic Prayers his name was only recently added to the Canon of the Mass.
This imbalance was the furthest thing from the mind of St. Teresa of Avila when she initiated the Reform and drew her sisters to the new Convent........St. Joseph's. It was Teresa's intent that Joseph would be the guardian, protector, guide and silent witness to the Reform of what love and care can be. Teresa urged all of Carmel to “Ite ad Ioseph”: GO to Joseph! It was in seeking his assistance she dedicated her nuns, and later the friars.
Joseph is an Icon of Carmel. By “Icon” we mean that his life, his response to God, his protection and nurture of Jesus (as pointed out in the brief passages of Scripture which mention him) all reflect both beliefs and faith in the God of Israel. His “Icon” which shines upon us Carmelites is a mirror, a window of faithfulness and protection. This is the reason Saint Teresa turned to him and asks us to turn, too.
Scripture has further lessons regarding Joseph, and us too as followers of Jesus, attempting to live out our Baptismal promises in this Order. Joseph was at Bethlehem at the place of Jesus birth. In the same way Joseph of Arimathea was at Jesus' burial. Joseph, in Hebrew, means: God will increase, or God will add. Both of the Josephs, in the beginning and at the end, added to the birth and the death of the Incarnate Word. Also, it can be noted Joseph, the earthly father and protector of Jesus was listed in Scripture as a “Tekton” which in the Greek of the first century could be either a worker of wood, or worker of stone. God provided two Josephs in order to have wood of the stable and the rock of the carved tomb.
Lastly, Joseph was a person of faith. Scripture portrays both a person of compassion and a just man. A comparison of the visits by the same angel to both Zachariah and Joseph shows the difference in the faith stance of these two men, both important to the Gospel story. The one who was a priest lacked the faith of the one who was just a craftsman. Joseph placed faith before fear. He didn't know what was ahead, but knew Who was ahead and it seemed that's all that mattered.
Joseph points us towards our vocation as Carmelites in the world. We need not to be loud and showy. We need not be anything but who we are. God through His Son loves us, and loves us eternally more than we can ever give Him credit!
One wonders what Joseph thought as he bundled up his son and wife for the trip to Egypt. Maybe he thought about an earlier Joseph and how he became the “Second in the land”. That could have happened, but I like to think Joseph grabbed his bundles, got his wife and child together and started thinking about what he was going to do once they got out of Herod's territory to provide and protect his family.®
Dr. Jim Bryan, T.O.Carm., is an author, painter, and spiritual director, married to his college sweetheart, an isolate TOC living in North Central Wisconsin. His interests include Incarnational Theology, pastoral care and working on his small 'man-astery' affectionately named: "Wisconsin-wadi"
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