An Inward Joy

While nuking my lunch in our break room microwave one week ago today I was blindsided by a generous helping of anti-Catholic slander and bigotry, served up in big heapin’ spoonfuls of hate. Oh, but it was glorious to behold the invective spewed in my direction. Rather than reacting the way I really wanted to and then face the prospect of spending the rest of my week in the HR office filling out paperwork and undergoing sensitivity training, I just rolled my eyes, sighed REALLY heavily, and walked out, pissed at myself for holding my tongue but kind of disoriented by it all as well. In time I recalled that this same group gathers every day to gripe about whatever is on the television at the moment: news, weather, fashion, etc. On this day it happened to be a news report about the papal conclave that was the cause of their bile.

st joseph and child jesusLast week my wife, our oldest son and I got to spend a little over two evening hours with one of my best friends, Fr. Hottovy, who happened to be in town for the night and stopped by to drop off a statue that he’s been holding for us ever since he purchased it at Lourdes in France while at World Youth Day two years ago. It is a beautiful rendering of St. Joseph holding the child Jesus that was blessed by Pope Benedict XVI that now resides atop our piano. We spent those hours catching up, talking about theological architecture, his recent return from a trip to the Holy Land, and a trip that he is planning for a group journey to Rome, Assisi, Sienna and Lourdes in another year or two that we perhaps may join.

We covered a myriad of things… books, prayer, culture…and that night I found myself pitying those sad bigots in the break room despite their superior, smug, smarmy projectile vomiting from earlier today. While not wealthy in the eyes of the world, I feel I am a richer man than they’ll ever be and yet I’d still gladly share that wealth with them. It took me awhile to get passed what I heard, but eventually I came to forgive them in my heart. I forgive them and chose to emulate the words of St. Paul when he said:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

*****

Today is the Solemnity of St. Joseph. From the Liturgy of the Hours we read:

Nothing is known of St Joseph except what is said of him in the Gospels. He was a carpenter; he accepted the will of God; and he supported Mary and brought up Jesus. From the human character of his son we can see that he was a good and responsible father. Although he is not officially a patron saint of anything in particular (though he is a patron of the Church as a whole), he is widely venerated as a patron of artisans who honourably do good work with the gifts God has given them, and of workers in general.

More than ever the world is in need of a model of fatherhood, and it has one in Joseph who

  • accepted the will of God
  • supported his spouse
  • brought up his child
  • was a good and responsible father
  • did good work with the gifts he was given by God

From a sermon by St. Bernadine of Siena:

He was chosen by the eternal Father as the trustworthy guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, namely, his divine Son and Mary, Joseph’s wife. He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying: “Good and faithful servant enter into the joy of your Lord.”

In him the Old Testament finds its fitting close. He brought the noble line of patriarchs and prophets to its promised fulfillment. What the divine goodness had offered as a promise to them, he held in his arms. Now we can see how the last summoning words of the Lord appropriately apply to Saint Joseph: “Enter into the joy of your Lord.” In fact, although the joy of eternal happiness enters into the soul of a man, the Lord preferred to say to Joseph: “Enter into joy.” His intention was that the words should have a hidden spiritual meaning for us. They convey not only that this holy man possesses an inward joy, but also that it surrounds him and engulfs him like an infinite abyss.

An inward joy. The thing about having an internal joy is that it cannot help but to be radiated outwards and into the world. That, I think, is part of what is meant when we are called to be “the light of Christ” in this increasingly dark world. There is definitely a joy that one has when immersed in the praise of God and the imitation of Christ. I plan to write more, much more, on the subject of joy in the next week or so as I wrap up the teaching of lectio divina to a group at my parish tomorrow night.

Whatever is true … honorable … just … pure … lovely … gracious … excellent … praiseworthy … think about these things. We are called to strive for them. Reach for them. Emulate them. Focus on them. This in turn clears the road for joy.

Father Hottovy, when he speaks of the church architecture and design renovation projects he is undertaking at various parishes in our diocese, presents this image of joy. I have seen and heard it in the words of a good friend who is using the book An Ignatian Introduction to Prayer to ignite his prayer life. And I have experienced joy each Wednesday night while listening to the members of our class share the insights they have received while practicing lectio divina each week.

I have never been able to wrap my brain around the ways and thoughts of men who instead of delighting in their children or their marriages lament about them. Ignore them. Abuse them physically and emotionally. The abdication of this responsibility has left its stamp all over our society no matter how much we try to sugarcoat it, and as men continue to be encouraged by the media culture and feminist groups to vacate the premises, nature has been all too willing to fill the vacuum they leave behind with all manner of poverty.

I recently obtained a copy of The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O’Connor by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell. In her introduction to the book, O’Donnell writes that one of Flannery’s favorite prayers was the “Prayer to St. Raphael”. Said O’Connor: “The prayer asks St. Raphael to guide us to the province of joy so that we may not be ignorant of the concerns of our true country.” (The Habit of Being, p. 132)

Joseph, a man without a single word attributed to him in Scripture, must have known joy. I suspect he was also a man acutely aware of the concerns of his true country. For if one is able to keep in mind what Paul wrote to the Philippians and keep at the forefront of our minds those good things, it is much easier to avoid falling into the claptrap of gossip and slander that one too often finds in this world. The complaints I hear about the Church generally boil down to one thing: it is that the moral teachings of Catholicism restrict some of the complainers’ worldly ambitions. The usual code word used by this group is “relevance.” The gripers worry that the church is becoming “irrelevant” to their lives. If only the church would agree with their views on whatever they felt necessary so that it would become “relevant” again.

We’ve seen what happens when we bow down to this group’s “concerns” for relevance. Their heritage lives on by the standard held up by men and women who, having been granted the liberty to do as they please, now demand religion to also applaud their moral choices. They want their churches, their priests, even the Holy Father himself, to approve and endorse what they do, or else they threaten him with irrelevance. In this manner God Himself becomes irrelevant unless He can be used to rubber stamp human desires. To this I say: been there, done that. The trail of broken hearts, homes and poverty of spirit and flesh is proof enough. It is an apple men have been too eager to eat. What’s odd to me is that some women’s groups continue to push men in this direction and fail to see the consequences in the eyes of their children…or looking back at them in their mirror.

Joy, in fact, surrounds us. I believe we will see this joy demonstrated time and time again during Pope Francis’ papacy if this photo and news report is any indication.

Pope Francis blesses a disabled man prior to his inaugural Mass, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 19, 2013. (AP photo)

Pope Francis blesses a disabled man prior to his inaugural Mass, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, March 19, 2013. (AP photo)

For nearly a half-hour before the Mass began, Francis toured the square in an open-air jeep, waving, shouting “Ciao!” to well-wishers and occasionally kissing babies handed up to him as if he had been doing this for years. At one point, as he neared a group of people in wheelchairs, he signaled for the jeep to stop, hopped off, and went to bless a man held up to the barricade by an aide.

“I like him because he loves the poor,” said 7-year-old Pietro Loretti, who attended the Mass from Barletta in southern Italy. Another child in the crowd, 9-year-old Benedetta Vergetti from Cervetri near Rome, also skipped school to attend.

“I like him because he’s sweet like my Dad.”

Little Benedetta is more blessed than she realizes. Her father, by being a dad, provided her a model of fatherhood that allows her to recognize the same attributes in our Holy Father. I wonder what sort of models those in my workplace break room have had in their lives.

I am hardly going to suggest to Pope Francis what he might pray. But given his choosing of a name most associated with a once rich man from Assisi who humbled himself in service of the Church and the poor (Francis is the confirmation name I chose when I became a Catholic twenty years ago) I suspect the sentiments of one of Flannery O’Connor’s favorite prayers are never far from his thoughts.

Prayer to Saint Raphael, Angel of Happy Meetings

O Raphael, lead us towards those we are waiting for,
those who are waiting for us!
Raphael, Angel of Happy Meetings,
lead us by the hand towards those we are looking for!
May all our movements, all their movements, be guided by your Light
and transfigured by your joy.

Angel guide of Tobias,
lay the request we now address to you at the feet of Him
on whose unveiled Face you are privileged to gaze.
Lonely and tired, crushed by the separations and sorrows
of earth, we feel the need of calling to you and of pleading
for the protection of your wings,
so that we may not be as strangers in the Province of Joy,
all ignorant of the concerns of our country.

Remember the weak, you who are strong—
you whose home lies beyond the region of thunder,
in a land that is always peaceful, always serene, and bright
with the resplendent glory of God.

Amen.

*****

March 19 – The Solemnity of St. Joseph

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