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Saint Joseph depicted in Our Lady & the English Martyrs, Cambridge

Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid!

It is tempting to think that in these peculiar times, somehow the mission and work of the Church is put on hold; that we are unable to go about our daily business. Many of us rightly feel sad that our churches are closed, and that the usual round of divine worship and pastoral activity has been forced to grind to an uncomfortable halt. Some may even feel resentment toward those who have made these decisions, whether priests and bishops, or politicians and those in civil authority. Tonight Saint Joseph comes into our midst to offer a different narrative.

Let me start by saying that we would be unable to go about our business, if we, the Church, were in fact a business at all. Many people will be rightly anxious at this time because their job appears to be at risk, or their homes vulnerable because of a sudden inability to pay their bills. This is not only understandable, it is also reasonable. It might appear odd to say this, given our predicament, but if that scenario sounds familiar to you, know that the Church is particularly close to you in these times; not through ordinary means, but nevertheless united in a profound and essential way. Indeed it is precisely because the Church is not a regular institution, not a business or an NGO, that she is able (uniquely able) to respond to a crisis like this in a manner that is different from others; offering something more, something that transcends human reassurances and care. And it is for that reason that the words of the angel to Saint Joseph in the gospel—do not be afraid—resound also to us through the worship of the Church on this feast.

And it really is through the worship of the Church that this character, this fundamental nature of what the Church is, comes through in this time of crisis. Today the liturgical calendar holds up for us Saint Joseph, patron of a universal Church at present in all-but-lockdown. This isn’t irony; it’s divine providence. God in His infinite goodness teaches, forms, and nourishes us through the life of the Church, and in a particular and special way through the sacred liturgy. The worship of the Church, then, even though we are separated from it by physical means is still (and will forever be) the totius vitæ Christianæ fons et culmen—the fount and culmination of the entire Christian life. Of course our participation in the liturgical rites of the Church—being able to attend Mass, in particular—is not nothing, and our hearts long to drink again from the running streams of God’s grace and life. But even in these odd and unsettling times it is the liturgical shape of our authentic Christianity that sustains and nourishes us along the path to our Easter home.

As the patron of the universal Church in these peculiar days, Saint Joseph shows us, the Church’s members, how to live this liturgical life even though we are separated from our usual public acts of worship. First, as the father of the household of both Christ and Our Blessed Lady. Saint Joseph shows us that this setting, the domestic church, is a reality; it is a real and genuine opportunity for encountering the true and living God. We may be dispensed, even restricted, from attending the Mass in our churches on Sundays. But we are still bound by divine law, by the precept of the third commandment: Remember to keep holy the Lord’s day. We would of course normally do this by coming to Mass. But in these days we have the opportunity to regain a true sense of the Christian ‘sabbath.’ We can truly abstain from unnecessary labors—and particularly if during these days we must work from home—and we can truly give priority to prayer, and to the things of God. In our family homes, in our domestic church, under the inspiration and intercession of Saint Joseph we can truly live an authentic domestic ecclesial life, strengthening ourselves in our time of trial, and preparing ourselves to better participate in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church when that opportunity (please God) returns.

Secondly, as is well known, Saint Joseph says nothing in the scriptures. He is silent; he has no recorded words. Today the universal Church of which Saint Joseph is patron is herself bound by a new kind of silence. Her public worship and witness is curtailed. Yet Saint Joseph’s silence is not without fidelity, nor without witness. Indeed it is through his silence that he becomes for us a model of fidelity to Christ. In the face of personal doubts and trials of his own, his obedience to the will of God imitates that perfect obedience shown by Christ—thy will be done—and by His blessed Mother—Let be done unto me according to thy word. This is surely a message of profound relevance for us, and for our time: to be silent—as in a sense the Church is forced to be—does not mean to cease to bear witness to Christ in and to the world. Indeed, through the heavenly assistance of Saint Joseph we are being called in our own day to witness, not through turning up, nor even through the normal ways of reaching out, but rather through personal fidelity to Christ and His Church; fidelity behind closed doors, in our homes, in the quiet spaces of our lives, unseen and unacknowledged; worship and fidelity not for our sake, not for the sake of being seen to do the right thing, but purely for the sake of the One Whom we adore, and through that for the sake of the entire world. We are reminded of the words of scripture put on the lips of the Church at the start of this holy and, as it turns out, unusual journey of Lent: your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

My friends: you do not need me to tell you that we are in testing times, but the God Who calls us to Himself does not leave us abandoned. On the contrary, through these trials He offers us the opportunity to reject growing stagnant or lukewarm, becoming absent not just in body, but also in heart. He rather invites us to renew and to reinvigorate our faith, to rekindle the sublime gift of divine charity implanted in us at baptism, and—with Saint Joseph as our patron and our guide—to come even closer to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus Christ, a Heart that calls us, bids us, wants us, to in perfect union with Him forever in the world to come. Who knows how long this ‘Lent’ will last? What we do know is that through its trials and temptations we are not left as orphans, but guided and led by God. The challenge for us is to adapt to this unlikely opportunity and, like Saint Joseph before us, bear silent but convincing witness to the beauty of a life lived in the household of God.