Third Sunday after Easter
Protector of Holy Church
For those of us blessed to have been born into a loving, caring family, we hold in our hearts many cherished memories of our childhood. We remember a place called “Home”, and all the happy times we enjoyed there. We remember when we first left home, perhaps to go off to college, or to fight overseas in the war, and we remember the wrenching ache in the pits of our stomach as we yearned to be back home, home with our mother and father, our brothers and sisters, home where we were loved and cared for by those we loved the best. Home, sweet home! And the older ones among us today, what would we give to be back home one more time!
The idea of home, then, is very dear to our heart. For those fortunate enough to live still at home, you parents and children, thank God for these wonderful days you still have, do all you can to help one another, to work together, to make your home a home after the heart of God, a truly Christian home. Do this and your home will be to you the dearest spot in this world—a paradise of happiness.
To help us turn our home into such a paradise on earth, God has given us the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Those loving patrons of family life, perfect examples each in their own way of how a mother, a father, a child should be. Holy Mary, God’s Blessed Mother, was a model of purity, charity, and godliness, caring for her divine Son with tender, loving affection. Her spouse, the good Saint Joseph, the provider, the protector, taking care of his spouse and the Child entrusted to him. And Our Lord himself, who the Gospel tells us, was obedient unto them. How could a home like theirs not have been anything but the most sublime and loving paradise on earth? An example for us all to follow.
Today is the Third Sunday after Easter, and the Sunday within the Octave of the Solemnity of St. Joseph. We have already celebrated the first and more ancient feast of St. Joseph on March 19th. But this date always falls during Lent, and so we are prevented by the somber atmosphere of fasting and penance from celebrating the feast with all the solemnity it deserves. And so the Church provides us, on the Wednesday during the second week after Easter, with a more fitting Solemnity of St. Joseph, complete with an octave, a full eight days where we can contemplate the virtues and example of this great saint, foster father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
On his first feastday on March 19th, we celebrate St. Joseph as the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We are reminded at that time of St. Joseph’s diligent protection of his Spouse and the young child entrusted to them both by God. Together, Mary and Joseph looked after the Christ Child, who loved his parents so much on earth that he gave them the highest rewards in heaven. But over and above that eternal recompense in heaven, he also rewarded them by allowing them to continue looking after him here on earth. “How so?” you may ask. Certainly, our Lord’s physical body no longer dwells amongst us in the same way it did when they lived together in Nazareth. But what about his mystical body, the Church? Remember how, from the Cross, our Lord gave his blessed Mother to St. John. “Son, behold thy Mother,” he told St. John, giving him the task of looking after his Blessed Mother through her old age. But when he turned to his Mother and said “Mother, behold thy son,” he was giving her the task not of looking after St. John specifically, but the whole Church he represented. He was giving her to us, so that we might flee to her protection, implore her help, and not be left forsaken. And he did no less for good Saint Joseph. His foster father had done such a good job of protecting the Holy Family that he was given another role to play in the history of our redemption, one that he continues to work at long after his death, even unto the present time. Through the decrees and liturgy of his Holy Church, God has made St. Joseph the supreme Patron and Protector of that Church. And it is in this aspect that we revere St. Joseph on this second of his feastdays, this great Solemnity and its Octave which we are currently celebrating.
And is it not truly right and fitting, that St. Joseph should be not only the head of the Holy Family, the head of the household, the head of the home, but that he should also be the head of that other great Family, the family to which we all belong, the family of the Church! This Church which is, or should be, our second home. Not just the entire family of the Roman Catholic Church, but even our own intimate little family here at St. Margaret Mary’s. I hope your memories of this home will one day fill you with the same happy memories, the remembrance that here you were cared for, here you were loved, here you were fed with the graces of the Sacraments, here you experienced that peace and joy of being in the presence of God in the tabernacle, and in your souls at Holy Communion. Prepare now for a future that will bring you such happy memories. Don’t waste your opportunities to make this second home your paradise on earth. Pray to St. Joseph, especially during this great Octave, that he will grant that prayer we say in the 26th Psalm: “One thing have I desired of the Lord, which I will require; even that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”
To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. To dwell in the state of sanctifying grace, a member of God’s holy Church, God’s holy Family. All the days of my life. And then what? Those “days of my life” and your lives, are slowly ticking away. In the midst of life we are in death. Slowly (or perhaps more quickly than we know) we are approaching that portal we call death. It is a portal, a gate, by which we leave our home here in this world, and go to our eternal home in the next. It is a portal that we fear, perhaps, because it is outside our experience, unknown. And God understands this fear, and has given us a helper for that day on which we take the step from this world to the next. And we should not be surprised that this helper, this Patron Saint of the Dying, is again, St. Joseph. He who according to tradition, died blissfully in the arms of Jesus and Mary. Who could ask for a more blessed death than that? St. Joseph is the Patron of the Universal Church. Universal—in other words, the three branches of the Church, he is the patron not just of the Church Militant, of the faithful here on earth, but also of the Church Suffering in Purgatory and the Church Triumphant in heaven. St. Joseph is there with us wherever we go, precisely because he is the Patron of the entire universal Church, Militant, Suffering and Triumphant. And so he provides for us and protects us in this life, he prays for us during our sojourn in Purgatory, and he rejoices with us when we reach our final destination. And he remains with us every step of the journey, just as he accompanied the Blessed Mother every step of the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, as he accompanied her and their Son during the Flight into Egypt, and later back to their home in Nazareth. He remains with us as we transition from Church Militant to Church Suffering, and from Church Suffering to Church Triumphant. He abides with us in our transitions from one home to another.
In the Church’s liturgical cycle, we are currently in one such period of transition. Our Blessed Lord has risen from the dead, and soon he will ascend into heaven. Listen to our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel: “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.” Because Our Lord wants us to look beyond the narrow boundaries of our own home here in this life. He bids us look beyond the grave; he points heavenward, and bids us think of our “eternal home.”
In spite of our Easter joy, we are now starting to feel a twinge of sadness in the knowledge that Christ must leave us. We are now counting down the days to the moment when he will rise up and be seen no more until the end of time, that moment when the paschal candle will be extinguished, and the light of the risen Saviour dimmed until his Second Coming. Our Lord himself must have experienced his own feeling of sadness when his foster father St. Joseph died. For at some point during Christ’s first hidden years before his public ministry, he must have died, or surely there would be some mention of him in the Gospels. Would our Lord have attended the wedding feast of Cana with his blessed Mother, but without St. Joseph? Surely not. At some point, Christ must have experienced the sorrow of bereavement, in spite of knowing full well that it was only to be for a relatively short time. Now it was his turn to ascend into heaven, and he wanted to prepare his disciples for that event, knowing full well the depth of sorrow that comes when our loved ones depart from us indefinitely.
There is a famous English hymn, which is typically sung at funerals, but which can be applied equally well to this time of year. Its first lines are taken from the Vespers of Eastertide: “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.” Let us make these words our own, as we seek to keep Our Blessed Lord with us as long as we can. Cling to the hem of his garment, and ask him to abide with us. But at the same time be consoled by his response: “And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man shall take from you.” Our heavenly home sweet home awaits.
This is where we should be looking during these forty days. Towards our eternal destiny. Every day during this season we say these words at the Office of Prime: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.” St. Joseph will help us if we ask him. He will help us through our life, through our death, our suffering and our triumph. Let’s keep the name of this our beloved Patron always on our lips, and the sight of our eternal home ever before our eyes. And when that final moment comes, when death’s dark shadow falls upon us, we shall place ourselves under St. Joseph’s protection, and dare to ask our blessed Saviour, in the words of that old hymn:
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.