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The protection of St. Joseph

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

March 21, 2018

Bishop LaValley homily for the Feast of St. Joseph at the SSJ Motherhouse

“He remained behind…but His parents did not know it…”
“Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” (cf. Luke 2:41-51)

Could we spend a few minutes this morning reflecting on Joseph, as protector?  Sisters of St. Joseph

Pope Francis wrote that St. Joseph is “a protector because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by His will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping.”  That protection was very much at risk in the familiar scene in the temple from today’s Gospel passage from Luke.  It would seem to have been almost a protection break-down.   They lost their son!   Joseph, were he entrusted to protect the Christ Child in this 21st century, would have needed to issue an Amber Alert.  The young 12-year old was missing!

Sisters of St. Joseph, you reflect Joseph’s great concern for Jesus, in your concern and sensitivity for one another.  It would seem to me that, in a unique way, you who live the vowed religious life in community under the patronage of St. Joseph, are entrusted to the safekeeping, yes, even protection, of one another.

That safekeeping has many dimensions, all require sensitivity and concern for the other person.  For instance, protecting one’s good name.  There’s a breakdown in such protection, for example, when we use words that tear down or even gossip (a favorite peeve of the Holy Father), and any non-verbal judgmental communication we might express, even while our hands are piously folded. 

It’s no secret, we are all guilty of such laxity in protecting the good name of another. The toxic effects of put-downs can subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, undermine efforts to strengthen unity in the Body of Christ.
It would seem to me that another responsibility you bear is to safeguard the physical well-being of another.  I know of your devoted attentiveness to sisters who are hurting - those who drive others to doctor’s appointments, spending time at the bedside of a sister who is ailing, either in the hospital or here at the Motherhouse.

Oftentimes it means real sacrifice on your part, but your desire to serve your sister when her body or mind needs special care and attention, is a sharing from your own spiritual wellness. 

Again, here you reflect Joseph’s concern for Jesus’ well-being.

A third dimension of protection, as I see it: you also have the responsibility of doing your part in safeguarding one another’s faith. By that, I mean providing a joy-filled, affirming place to call home where every person has the opportunity to live and grow in holiness, helping to protect one another’s vocation, call to holiness. 

Of course, that’s best accomplished by responding to God’s personal call to be holy yourselves - live like you believe and the fallout ripples into this community with astounding grace-filled implications.

Naturally, this will lead to a fourth dimension of protection, the safeguarding of the charism, the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Watertown.

How do the Sisters of St. Joseph, how do you, allow yourself to be moved, carried, by God’s Spirit Who is constantly at work in our world, indeed, at work in this beloved community of sisters?   God’s Spirit is alive and well in this community!  But it doesn’t just happen.

It seems to me that the best way to safeguard your charism is to surrender yourself, to allow yourself to be molded, changed, transformed, by God’s life-given Spirit.  If I stay stuck, comfortable where I’m at, God’s Spirit will not force Himself on me.

Making myself vulnerable, abandoning myself to the Spirit takes a whole lot of trust and faith.  But isn’t that precisely what keeps mission moving forward?  Isn’t that the story of Abraham and the Old Testament prophets, the story of Joseph and Mary?  “Let it be done unto me according to your word.” Dear Sisters, because like Joseph, you hear God’s voice and desire to be guided by His will, your legacy of faith and love continues.

Back in 2013, Pope Francis wrote that “In the Gospels, St. Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love.  We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!” 

Again, look to Joseph and find great tenderness, a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others.  Aren’t these valuable, no - essential, elements of community living?  

There’s a powerful tendency in human nature to drift from God-reliance to self-reliance. Self-reliance turns a deaf ear and hardens one’s heart.   Joseph, the devout Jew, changed what he had planned for the pregnant Mary (divorce her quietly).  He heard God’s voice and responded to what was revealed to him in the dream.  His journey would rely on God’s will, not his.

Each of us is fragile, each of us must be treated tenderly.  While we know the Lord looks over us, particularly as a consecrated community, we can still lose Jesus.  We can be about our personal journeys, joining the great caravan of life, tending to worldly concerns, getting so caught up in doing our own will, that we lose Jesus.  Yup, we can lose Him even within hallowed walls such as these.

Like Joseph, because you hear God’s voice and desire to do His will, you ask for His grace:  to protect one another’s good name; to safeguard the physical well-being of your sisters; to safeguard one another’s faith and vocation; and to protect, safeguard your charism, staying focused on the mission. 

Do it all with the tenderness and care of a vulnerable heart determined never to lose Jesus.  Good St. Joseph, protect us all.  Happy Feast Day, Sisters and Associates!

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