The first of several reflections on St. Joseph by Father Raymond de Souza for your Holy Week contemplations.
Father Raymond J. de Souza
In his apostolic letter for the beginning of the Year of St. Joseph, Pope Francis cites Polish author Jan Dobraczyński. The Holy Father explains that his novel, The Shadow of the Father, “uses the evocative image of a shadow to define Joseph. In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” (Patris Corde 7)
Nevertheless, Joseph is not present in the Lord’s public life. Yet we might find St. Joseph during Holy Week, if we allow ourselves to imagine where his “shadow” may have fell upon Jesus in those most sacred days.
Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant. One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side. So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant. He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, “Master, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.” So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. (John 13:21-26)
The Gospel for Tuesday of Holy Week brings to the fore some of the key players of the Passion – Judas, who betrays Jesus; Peter, who first defends, but then denies Jesus; and John, who stands with the Blessed Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross.
The Apostle John refers to himself as the “beloved disciple.” It is mark of modesty – he does not use his own name – and also a profession of his identity. He is loved with a special love.
St. John was the virginal apostle, the one especially beloved by Jesus. Here we see him reclining close to the heart of Jesus. In a few days he will witness that same heart lanced open. Jesus from the cross will entrust Mary to the care of the virgin John, as she was earlier entrusted the care of the virginal Joseph.
It is true that the biblical witness is silent on the background of St. Joseph. It is possible that he was married before and had children before he was widowed. But it seems more fitting that Joseph was virginal himself, dedicated wholly to his first and only wife, Mary ever-virgin. God does not limit Himself to only that which is necessary, but does instead that which is most fitting.
St. John Henry Newman says of St. Joseph: “He was the true and worthy Spouse of Mary, supplying in a visible manner the place of Mary's Invisible Spouse, the Holy Ghost... He was the Cherub, placed to guard the new terrestrial Paradise from the intrusion of every foe.... He is Holy Joseph, because his office, of being spouse and protector of Mary, specially demanded sanctity. He is Holy Joseph, because no other Saint but he lived in such and so long intimacy and familiarity with the source of all holiness, Jesus, God Incarnate, and Mary, the holiest of creatures.”
That sublime intimacy and familiarity was lived in a trinity of virginity in Nazareth. Now, at the Cross, Jesus, Mary and St. John are another such trinity.
Jesus explains the link in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). The Christian tradition holds that St. John saw more deeply into the mystery of God than the other evangelists because of his undivided heart, his pure heart, his virginal heart entirely dedicated to the Lord. The “beloved disciple” could see God more clearly.
The purity of St. Joseph made him fitting to see God in his own household. The purity of St. John made him fitting to have the Blessed Virgin in his household.
On the Cross Jesus sees to the care of the Blessed Mother. Much more than Joseph’s shadow is seen here; it is his mission that continues.
May St. Joseph and St. John help us to see God!