Homily for the Feast of St. Joseph 20 March 2017
Everyone here surely knows that the Pluscarden community has a plan to re-build our South Range. The aim in the first place is to provide better hospitality for our lady guests. What everyone may not know is that, according to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this whole project has been entrusted to the Patronage of St. Joseph.
Why St. Joseph? I think we will always under-estimate the greatness of St. Joseph. How can we sufficiently honour this man whom the Incarnate Son of God called Father? What shall we say of the dignity, the holiness, the power of him, who was chosen, predestined to be the beloved spouse of the Immaculate Mother of God? What shall we say of the man who was constituted head of the Holy Family; of the Saint who is now called Patron of the Universal Church? Great indeed is St. Joseph in the eyes of God! And great also is the blessing received by those who are given to understand this: those ready to give St. Joseph their devotion, their trust, their concerns, their requests! Yet in his own eyes this Son of David was not great, but very small, or indeed nothing at all. The humility of St. Joseph is appropriately reflected in his silence. No word of his has been recorded for us in Holy Scripture; nor do we know any details about his life, after the childhood of Jesus. Yet what we know is quite enough, and more than enough, to justify both today’s celebration, and our proposed South Range dedication.
When St. Teresa of Avila was planning her Carmelite Reform, she needed to buy a house. She had no money at all, and knew no one either willing or able to donate it. So she dedicated the proposed project to St. Joseph, and entrusted the purchase of the house its future to him. Her trust in St. Joseph was not misplaced. Yet in Teresa’s mind it was always conditional. St. Joseph would only intervene on her behalf if her project was according to God’s holy will, and truly pleasing to him. And so it is with us. We have no idea at present whether or not our project will ever come to fruition. The money to pay for it, as far as I know, doesn’t yet exist. If our plan is according to God’s will, and truly pleasing to him, then the money will come, and we entrust to St. Joseph all the donors of that, and also the management of the funds. For we need to be sure that, as St. Benedict puts it, everything is done in the fear of God; and the house of God is administered by wise men wisely (cf. Holy Rule 53:22).
Still, why call this house, if it’s ever built, St. Joseph’s?
At the bottom of our drive are iron gates on which is boldly set the word PAX. It’s a Benedictine motto. Peace unfortunately is in short supply in our world today, and the need for it seems to become ever more urgent. And St. Joseph was a man of peace. So we ask that our proposed new house be truly a place of peace, under his patronage, and following his example; that those who come to it find peace, and dwell together in peace. Then may all guests and monks alike receive the blessing pronounced by Jesus on peacemakers: for, he said, they shall be called children of God (Mt 5:9).
A necessary aspect of peace is protection. This role St. Joseph fulfilled in the Holy Family, and he continues to fulfil it now. Through the protection of St. Joseph, then, we ask that no one may be harmed at Pluscarden, no one scandalised, no one given bad example, no one put off or saddened by negative witness, or un-Christian behaviour. And should there be any hostile assault from outside, may there be no lasting damage to property; far less any harm, whether physical or spiritual, to anyone staying here.
We want all who come here to find peace; we want them to be protected; but most of all we want them to find God; we want them to meet Jesus Christ; we want them to be confirmed, strengthened, built up, encouraged in their faith. It is for this above all that we invoke St. Joseph. He lived with, knew, loved, served, devoted himself to Jesus and Mary, and he is ready to help any one of us to do the same. According to our Jerusalem Bible translation, in today’s Gospel we heard that St. Joseph was “a man of honour” (Mt 1:19). The Greek text is much stronger, much more loaded than that. It says Joseph was a “just man”. No higher praise could be given to a figure in the religion of Israel. Joseph was just according to the law. He walked with God. He listened to God’s word; he was obedient, faithful, good. And this Old Testament righteousness was blessed, consummated, fulfilled by the righteousness conferred on St. Joseph through the grace of Jesus Christ.
So the just man St. Joseph, always perfectly united with Jesus and Mary, is rightly invoked as a master of the interior life, a teacher of prayer, a sure guide in the ways of holiness. St. Joseph teaches us prayer in all its aspects. He himself sang the Psalms as we do, and he prayed with the assembly of Israel the vocal prayer we learn from holy Scripture. Joseph, the man of silence, also teaches us interior prayer: the prayer of contemplation; the prayer of love: love received, and love given back. This is the prayer which is filled with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, from whose free working all obstacles have been removed. Joseph also teaches us how respond, with energy, to authentic inspirations from God. When the Angel spoke to him, Joseph acted. He put aside all fear; he forgot his natural hesitations; he trusted, and was strong.
If St. Joseph’s wing at Pluscarden is ever built, we pray that it may truly be welcoming and hospitable to all who seek truly God, all who desire God, all who want to pray. Through the intercession of St. Joseph, may the hearts of all who come here be open to guidance by the Angels. May all our guests find here the message of eternal life. May their hearts be touched by grace, prompted to conversion, kindled with heavenly desire. So may all who come here leave the better for their visit, returning home to give thanks and praise to God, to whom be glory for ever, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.