Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting about the Liturgy of the Hours for the monthly recollection at the Carmelite Institute of Spirituality in Stanwood. Yesterday, March 19, was also the solemnity of Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and, as the adoptive father of Jesus the Christ, the day is something of the Catholic equivalent of Fathers’ Day. It was an appropriate day to be with the Carmelite community given that the founder of the Discalced Carmelites, St. Teresa of Avila, advocated a special devotion to St. Joseph. The (in)famous tradition of burying a statue of St. Joseph even stems therefrom as Teresa is reputed to have buried a statue of St. Joseph on the ground she had chosen for her new Carmel and, once the land was donated to the nascent order, she had a chapel to St. Joseph erected on the exact location. During yesterday’s morning celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist to open the day of recollection I was struck by an insight shared by Fr. James Zakowicz, OCD in his homily. We often hear that Saint Joseph was silent as no known words of sacred scripture are attributed to this carpenter from Nazareth. Yet his very name means, “to bring increase,” like his Old Testament type, this beloved son of Israel increases the house of Israel by his own going down. As we heard yesterday, though, it is not quite true that we have no recorded words of Saint Joseph. We learn from the Gospel of the day that Joseph is entrusted by the angel with the naming the son of his betrothed, Mary (Matthew 1:21). Joseph alone is therefore the first to speak the name “Jesus,” meaning “YHWH helps,” not only giving the Lord his name but also claiming Jesus as his own, naming the child as a member of his own household of the line of David, and therefore declaring that from Israel, as God promised, that “God saves!” So was Joseph silent? Hardly. In fact he had already spoken the only word, the one word, the name (itself echoing the Old Testament type of the son of Nun) by which victory is won and the walls of the enemy, death, are laid low. Therefore nothing else more need be or could be said. The ineffable had been given a name, something which only could be known by revelation (like Moses’ encounter with YHWH on Mt Sinai/Horeb), and therefore the only response is to fall silent before such a profound mystery as the incarnation.
Today, coincidentally, marked the celebration of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord during which we heard as our second reading that central reading from Philippians (2:9-10), wherein Saint Paul tells us it was God the Father who “bestowed on [the Son] the name which is above every name…Jesus!” So Joseph’s fatherhood of Jesus is not merely functional—taking care of Mary’s child though this is certainly something Joseph did—but a true fatherhood, imparting Jesus’ identity by making known in a public way what had laid hidden since the foundations of the world. Joseph’s fatherhood is therefore a true participation in that divine fatherhood from whom Jesus is born. By naming Jesus Joseph prefigured the saving efficacy of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The unfolding of this Paschal Mystery began, as we remember in today’s liturgy, with Jesus’ triumphant entry in Jerusalem. Jesus, meek and humble like his father, as he stood on the cusp of being born to eternal life, rode into his glory, that is to give glory to his Father, on a donkey this time in a public way into this heavenly father’s city. Three decades before, on the cusp of being born (that is making the word-become-flesh known to the world), Jesus rode a donkey privately, almost clandestinely, as Joseph lead him into Bethlehem, his earthly father’s ancestral town. Saint Joseph was not silent but simply declared by that only word known to be spoken by him, “Jesus,” to be a father to our Lord Jesus Christ, a true father and true spouse. St Joseph, patron of fathers, pray for us! A blessed Holy Week and sacred Paschal Triduum to all!