St. Joseph is normally so modest and unassuming that if we’re not careful we can pass him by without even noticing. Recently though he came very prominently to the attention of the monks of Pluscarden, when a near life sized statue appeared in our Chapter House. It took quite some time for the shock to wear off, when you came into Chapter, thinking of something else, only to bump into St. Joseph standing there directly in front of you.
There’s no mistaking who our St. Joseph is. On one arm he has the child Jesus, and on the other a lily, symbol of his purity. He’s a man in his prime: strong, masculine, fatherly. He’s defined by his unique relationship with Jesus; for Joseph is his foster father, and true spouse of his holy and Immaculate Mother. What most immediately strikes us about this statue, though, is surely Joseph’s humility. Even though St. Joseph is so big - big not just in our Chapter house, but big in God’s favour; big in the history of salvation; big among all the Saints; big also in his power of intercession - in spite of all that, St. Joseph’s eyes are cast downwards. He wants to remain in the background, behind the figure of his divine Son. He knows that his predestined role in salvation history is sheer gift and grace of God, granted to one who of himself is nothing. His eyes are cast down also, because St. Joseph is an interior man, a man of silence, a man habitually given to the prayer of adoration and of love.
As a matter of fact you can’t see any of that just now, because we are in Passiontide, and a large purple cloth covers the whole statue. But the cloth will go, and the hope is that St. Joseph will too, when he takes up his place of honour in the projected South Range building at Pluscarden. St. Joseph is ideally suited to be patron of that project. In the words of today’s Collect, St. Joseph looked after Jesus and Mary “with faithful care.” He got into the habit of that, so he can well be trusted now with the faithful care of anything or anyone. So he is patron of the Universal Church, and of fathers, and families, and workers, and teachers, and contemplatives, and the dying, and of countless parishes and schools and religious orders and charities, and of everyone who is honoured to bear the name of Joseph.
One very worthy and notable project which claims the patronage and faithful care of St. Joseph begins today. This is the “rosary around the coast” initiative. The idea is lay conceived, lay organised and lay-led; though it has the enthusiastic support and commendation of many Bishops and clergy. All around the country, at 3.00 p.m. on Sunday 29 April, groups of people will meet at set places on the coast to pray the rosary. They will do so specifically to pray for Faith, and Life, and Marriage, and Peace.
Faith first. Everyone knows that faith in our country is in headlong retreat. Numbers of people attending Church on Sundays, across all the denominations, go down and down. Many young people who are brought up to go to Mass fall away and do not return. And Christian morality also is in retreat. Once it was everywhere held in honour, at least in principle. Now it’s giving way before an aggressive and secular ideology which is explicitly anti-Christian . So many things that not long ago anyone would have thought an abomination, or a joke, are now established as beyond the range of criticism. We see the negative effects of this ideology on society everywhere around us. It creates many victims, above among the children. More fundamentally: because of it, souls which should be saved are being lost. Sometimes we are tempted to feel that this is the inevitable march of history, that there is nothing whatever to be done about it. But no. The brave people organising this rosary chain want to roll back the whole process; so that faith everywhere be re-kindled, and people be converted anew to Christ, and to his holy Church. And their means to this end will be the prayer of intercession, in manifest solidarity, and with great trust in Jesus, and in Mary, and in St. Joseph.
Faith, and life. People praying the rosary around the coast will pray for an end to abortion in this country. The 27th of April will be the 50th anniversary of the passing into Statute law of our Abortion Act, under which so many millions of innocent human lives have been destroyed. They will pray also that the lives of people who are terminally ill, or who are suicidal, will be respected, and supported, and not terminated by doctors in the name of a false mercy.
Marriage, also. Nowadays when you speak about that you have to specify that you mean real marriage. Real marriage involves an exclusive, life long and public commitment to each other of a man and a woman, whose union is in principle open to new life. Those praying the rosary will do and say nothing whatever to attack people who live in free cohabitation, or in a union with someone already previously married, or in a homosexual union. Still, whatever current legislation says, such unions are not marriage, and they cannot ever be blessed by the Church. We, meanwhile, just get on with praying that marriage be supported, and fostered, and encouraged in our country, because of itself it’s good, and blessed by God, and without it our nation will simply die.
The rosary will be prayed for peace also. Peace in this country in the first place; and peace in our society and in our families and in our hearts. But also an end to war throughout the world, and to terrorism, and to violent crime, and to hostility between States, or racial groups, or religions. Politically such a goal seems impossible, but nothing is impossible to God, so we pray for it anyway.
The “rosary around the coast” event will take place 40 days from today. The organisers ask participants to prepare for it very carefully, including by fasting, and works of charity, and confession, and frequent communion. Those who can’t get to the coast on the day are invited to pray by a river or stream. So at least some Pluscarden monks will pray the rosary then by our Black Burn, which flows into the River Lossie, which flows into the Moray Firth: around which people will be praying the rosary, in favour of all that is good and wholesome and pleasing to God in this land.