Ironically, the Church Liturgy today interrupts our Lenten fasting with this great Feast and Solemnity of St Joseph, the husband of Mary. We’re grateful for the brief reprieve it brings with it to our Lenten fasting!! Yet I think we can actually tie the two themes together when we consider St Joseph, with all his humanity, as the Just Man, the righteous one—the man of virtue. During the Eucharistic Prayer today we’ll honor St Joseph, “this just man, given by [God] as spouse to the Virgin Mother of Christ, and set as a wise and faithful steward over God’s household, to watch like a father over God’s only begotten son.”
Let’s think for a moment about this image of virtue—especially of self-mastery. In his Theology of the Body, Pope Saint John Paul II suggested that, while this self-mastery opposes the frailty and self-indulgence of the flesh, “that is not entirely complete.” Virtue is “not only—nor even mainly—the ability abstain [from something]… This sort of function can be defined as negative’. But [the Holy Father continues] there exists also another function of self-mastery (which we can call ‘positive’): and it is the ability to orient [my] respective reactions, both as to their content and to their character.”
The many “no’s” and renunciations that were asked of him—seen in the fuller context—were all simply building blocks to one life-long “yes” to those he loved. He had to channel each occasion towards his life’s purpose. The “yes” to that mission took time to build—brick by brick. Throughout Joseph’s life in Nazareth, he had prepared himself—or rather, life had offered him abundant opportunities, which he had not squandered. Years of hard labor growing up in a poor village; daily chores and tasks; working for food—maybe at times going hungry during years of famine… Everything he endured was a training opportunity. Over time, he’d learned how to “orient his reactions” and feelings, passions and even needs, towards the greater cause that God had entrusted to him. That’s really the key to growing in this self-conquest. And, once attained, that virtue enabled St Joseph to give himself fully to his mission as steward and guardian of the family God entrusted to him.
Pope Saint John Paul II put it this way: “In order to reach mastery over one’s [passions & desires], the person must devote himself to a progressive education in self-control of the will, of sentiments, of emotions, which must be developed from the simplest gestures, [small acts of self-discipline] in which it is relatively easy to put the inner decision into practice.” Every action becomes a conscious decision: what am I doing? Why? Or, what am I suffering, and why? What’s it for? Am I acting, right now, as the person God called me to be? Why am I going to work today? Why am I giving up chocolate for Lent? Why am I abstaining from something that no one else worries about? Why am I on a diet—from food, or maybe from shopping? Right now, in this decision, or in this thought or desire that I’m consenting to…, am I gaining control over my will? Or am I ceding control of my will to a fleeting desire or passing feeling? Is this decision faithful to my identity in the mission God will put in my hands? As Pope Saint John Paul II said, it all starts with “the simplest gestures,” performed in light of my goal and destiny in God’s mind.
Christian formation used to have a saying in Latin: “Age quod agis”—Do what you are doing—and only that. In other words, focus on the now, give yourself 100% to this one small “brick” of whatever decision or activity you’re facing. Concentrate on the task at hand: what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, how, and for what (and offered up for whom)… Don’t be half there and (in your thoughts) half somewhere else. Keep in mind that this decision or action, whatever it is, has the immediate fruit of something you’re creating right now; but it is also bears an ultimate fruit, forging (or undermining) the character that will be the “you” of tomorrow.
I thought it was Mother Theresa, but at least one wise author put it succinctly: “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
To Download a PDF Version of this Homily, Click Here: Solemnity of St. Joseph 2017
Fr. Stephen Dardis was ordained a priest in 2012 for the Legionaries of Christ, with a Bachelors in Theology and a Licentiate in Philosophy. He currently serves as Associate Pastor for Our Lady of Lourdes Church in New Orleans, Louisiana.