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A model of persevering faith, courage, hope

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

March 23, 2022

Editor’s Note: The Following is Bishop Terry R. LaValley’s homily for the Solemnity of St. Joseph, delivered at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse.

Well, the Year of St. Joseph has come to a close. I want to thank the members of this community who have contributed greatly by your prayers and by the spiritual insights you’ve offered in our North Country Catholic. Thank you for your support of our diocesan efforts to enhance our devotion to St. Joseph during the Holy Year dedicated to him, albeit somewhat muted due to the pandemic.

We’ve been urged to “look to Joseph” for guidance and support in all our difficulties and in the challenges we face. We appreciate Joseph’s total giving of self in fulfilling the call from God to be the husband of Mary despite the questions he must have considered and the obstacles he had to face.

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” Don’t be afraid?? How can this be? It doesn’t make sense. I had no relations with her. What will my family, friends, neighbors think? Where will we live? When? Now? Right now? Joseph’s strong faith simply wouldn’t allow him to become paralyzed by not having all the answers to the important questions that must have surfaced in his heart and mind.

“Do not be afraid.” The ability to provide for loved ones is a real fear among our people today. During this pandemic haven’t we learned to value even more the fragility of livelihood. We’ve seen the lines of cars with families waiting to receive food. We know of joblessness, poverty, loneliness, lack of timely health care.

People are anxious, afraid that basic needs may not be met in the future, particularly considering severe inflation and escalating energy costs. We’ve seen truly heroic acts of charity and generosity during the pandemic. I’ve seen it with the recent tragic fire when almost one hundred residents had to flee their homes at a housing unit in Ogdensburg. In my visits to the residents staying at Wadhams, I could feel their fear and uncertainty about their very livelihood. Fear is real!

Sisters, you know well Joseph’s story of strong faith and determination to do God’s will, even when he didn’t have the answers to vital questions. Joseph placed his heart and all his abilities at the service of his God and his family. Let us not become paralyzed by the difficulties we encounter at this time in our lives, in the life of this religious community, in the life of the Church and, indeed let us not become paralyzed given the condition of our world where there are no clear solutions on the radar screen. We simply cannot become immobilized because things are changing and we might feel helpless because no ready-made answers are available to us.

When Joseph found out his betrothed was with child, his first thought was of protecting Mary from shame. After the angel of the Lord appeared to him and spoke to him of the destiny of Mary’s child, Joseph responded obediently, taking “his wife into his home” and caring for both mother and child. Each one of us must discover within our own hearts the truth of how we would and do react to the mysterious ways of God.

The reactions of those closest to the Incarnation on that Christmas Day so long ago illustrate that the way of faith, obedience and humility leads to life and inner peace.

Even through Joseph’s fears, God’s will, His plan was at work. Joseph teaches us that faith in God includes believing that He can work even through our fears, our frailties, and our unanswered questions. He also teaches us that amid the tempests of life, we must never be afraid to let the Lord steer our course. At times, we either are immobilized and do nothing, or we feel that we must be in complete control. We forget that God always sees the bigger picture and He is always with us.

Today I might experience a fear that is seemingly beyond my control: threat of nuclear war, high cost of gasoline, resettlement challenges in the Ukraine’s neighboring nations—their ability to receive refugees and its impact on the nation, inflation, Communist expansionism – these are all real fears harbored by many among us.

We feel helpless.

There is also a fear where I can maybe have some impact and make a difference: COVID, People returning to Church, the faith of our youth, vocations in the Church, Religious communities’ future heritage and legacy. A reality check tells us that we cannot, we must not hold on to the mantra: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Holding on to that mentality for dear life, threatens to strangle, to squeeze the vibrancy, the life right out of our changing parishes and religious communities.

Three times in the first two chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph receives instructions from an angel in a dream. Can you imagine trusting that God’s will has just been revealed to you in a dream? That Joseph had such clarity is an indication that he was a profoundly spiritual man. He had the humility and quietude in his heart to discern God’s will. He possessed the humility and quiet to become a courageous father who made the totality of his life one of sacrifice to the mystery of the incarnation and its redemptive purpose.

The man who helped to raise Jesus walks with us on this journey of faith. Joseph’s steadfast trust in God and his patience with God’s plan prepared him for events that he did not foresee or understand. St. Joseph is a model of persevering faith, courage, and hope. With prayers of trusting abandonment, we confidently look to this carpenter who took the Child and His Mother on the perilous journey to Egypt and back. And so, if I could, I’d like to conclude with a prayer I prayed throughout the Year of St. Joseph and continue to find helpful when fear lurks its ugly head in my life.

Joseph, you were a man who carried into the dark of anxious sleep the haunting mystery of deep, unsettled doubt. But yet, within, and all untouched, your citadel of trust was calm, serene and still and flamed your unstarred night into the answering of dawn in God’s unchanging will. O carpenter of faith, build our inwardness into a city lamped with trust; and when we, too, must face the nights and tread the desert’s way, let us, like you, take Mother and Child into the Egypt of each day. AMEN.

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