Blossom Like the Lily

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A few weeks ago, while in prayer, I found myself reflecting on the word “bloom” and wondered what God might be trying to reveal to me through it. Its meaning was layered: to bloom where I’m planted instead of waiting for circumstances to change, to become more fully who God created me to be, to open up in vulnerability instead of staying closed in upon myself. I had the sense that God wanted me to meditate on how I could bloom more fully alongside the spring blossoms that would soon appear. I never imagined that I would be asked to bloom amid the shadows of quarantine.

This week, my favorite magnolia tree has begun to blossom. Its beauty seems incongruent with our current experience—that it is opening its buds as we are all retreating inside. But it is a reminder that life goes on even amid uncertainty, that beautiful things are growing in the midst of all this, that hope still blooms beneath cloudy skies.

Joseph_mit_Kind_18_JhAccording to legend, St. Joseph was chosen from among the unwed men of the House of David to be the husband of Mary because his staff blossomed like a lily—a sign from God that this man would be the protector of the Son of God. This is why St. Joseph is often depicted with lilies, echoing Hosea 14:5, “The just man shall blossom like the lily.” St. Joseph was a man who bloomed under pressure. He, like us, experienced times of great anxiety, but he was calm under crisis and always guided the Holy Family to safety.

Consider the emptiness that Mary and Joseph must have experienced in the disappearance of the child Jesus. Right now, separated from access to Jesus in the Eucharist, we are experiencing a taste of that vacancy. St. Joseph is a great protector for us to invoke in these times. He assures us that we, too, will find Jesus, that Jesus has never truly been lost.

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St. Joseph lived within the confines of a humble, hidden life, taking on a supporting role that, while ordinary on the surface, was anything but insignificant. Not a single word he uttered is recorded in the Bible, but his actions speak louder than words ever could. It is fitting that on his feast day, we all find ourselves pressed into a hidden life, a humble silence, retreating into a quieter, simpler family life.

St. Joseph, mirror of patience, glory of home life, pillar of families, solace of the wretched, hope of the sick, patron of the dying, terror of demons, protector of Holy Church, pray for us!

Justice in the Smallest Things

For the last few weeks the word “justice” has been following me around. I’ve seen it in Bible verses, heard it at Mass, met parish members whose work focuses on it—the word is everywhere. We often see or hear it in mainstream media and conversations, but do we really know what it means to be “just”?

In today’s first reading, we are given glimpses of what it means to be just in a biblical sense. In Jeremiah 23:5–6, it says, “See, days are coming…when I will raise up a righteous branch for David; As king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security. This is the name to be given him: ‘The LORD our justice.’” Although there’s much to be said about the verses, I believe the highlights of those verses are that those that are just do the following: 1. Act wisely & execute fairly; 2. Provide safety to others who wouldn’t have so otherwise; 3. Have a connection with our Lord.

While you might be thinking, yeah, that’s great and all, but what does a king or a chapter from the from the Old Testament have to do with me? Well, a lot. If you reside or work in New York City, or any metropolitan area, you’re bound to come across unjust circumstances and societal issues. Homelessness. Hunger. Poverty. Things that are beyond the average citizen’s control. Yet, despite that, I believe everyone is called to be just in their daily interactions with others. We are called to act wisely and fairly. We are called to provide safety and comfort to those without. We are called to connect with our Creator. It is through our connection with God that we are able to employ just, or fair, practices. God continuously has mercy on us, and we’re called to do the same with others, no matter what stage of life they’re in.

Being just might look differently for everyone, but in practical terms it could mean having patience during rush hour, serving a homeless individual with the dignity and respect he/she deserves, welcoming a new member of your parish with open arms, or even giving your employee another opportunity at work. During this time of Advent, as we prepare our hearts to receive our Lord, I ask that you meditate on what it means to be just and how you can apply today’s readings to your daily life.

If you need an example of what that might look like, St. Joseph is a marvelous example of someone who acted with righteousness and wisdom. When Mary discovered that she “was… with child through the holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18), she had only been betrothed to Joseph, and they hadn’t yet moved in together. In her time, adultery was a grave sin punishable by death, so being pregnant without any “logical” explanation as to how it occurred would have given Joseph enough justification to punish her publicly. Despite that, Joseph decided against punishing her because he was “unwilling to expose her to shame” and “decided to divorce her quietly” instead. This action in itself was radical and uncommon at the time, which gives us insight into the kind of character Joseph had. Instead of publicly humiliating her, at best, or stoning her, at worst, he decided to quietly settle his affairs with Mary so that their divorce wouldn’t make her an outcast or target of the community.

How often can we say this about ourselves? Do we purposefully and intentionally try to cause as little harm as possible to others during our daily interactions? Or do we sometimes act from a place of hurt and anger, thereby perpetuating the cycle? God calls us to treat others as He treats us, from a place of justice and mercy.

Joseph, however, didn’t just stop there, as we all know. He eventually accepted Mary into his home after an angel appeared to him in a dream:

“He did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Matt. 1:24).

Although we can only guess what occurred then, it would be enough to speculate that Joseph might not have fully understood what was going on. He might not have understood why God was calling him to accept this woman, with whom he’d had no relations, into his home and take her as his wife. Yet he did so anyway. Just like Joseph, God calls us to follow Him through the uncertainty and discomfort. Through the sacrifices. Through the difficult decisions one must make in order to act justly. Despite how overwhelming all of this might sound, take comfort in knowing that our God gives us all the grace and strength we need. Through Him, we can obtain the wisdom and grace we need to bring a little more justice into this world we live in.

Ite Ad Joseph!

Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

I recently finished the first book in the novel Kristin Lavransdatter. Laverns (father of the main character) strives to be a good father to his daughters, to love them and teach them to God, the Church, their family, and their neighbors, especially the poor. I am amazed that the struggles of fatherhood do not look that different whether you have daughters in 21st-century America or 14th-century Norway. Over the past year and a half I have wrestled with, prayed through, and pondered the questions: what does it mean to be a good father? Am I a good father? How can I become a better father? And often a simple answer comes: Be like St. Joseph – Sleep more and talk less! (I need help with both – just ask my wife)

But this answer – although both humorous and true – only skims the surface. More than his affinity for rest and silence, in St. Joseph we find a friend who was patient, humble, just, merciful, and attentive and obedient to the will of the Lord. He – like all of us – encountered difficult and unexpected situations in his life, and followed the Lord onto uncomfortable, even painful paths on which he would otherwise not dare to trod. He wants to accompany us on the difficult roads of this life, to protect and guide us as he protected and guided Jesus and Mary.

I do not know if Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati had a devotion to St. Joseph, and cannot confess intimate familiarity with his writings. Based on his attraction to his friend Laura and his love for the faith, I imagine that he would have had both a love and respect for St. Joseph, and a deep desire for fatherhood. This desire was frustrated by his parents and his illness/death – yet neither of these roadblocks kept Bl. Frassati from following the Lord and knowing joy even in the sufferings.

What would St. Joseph’s path been had the Father not chosen Him to father His Son? Would He still be a saint? How would he have responded to the challenges of life? And Bl. Frassati – what other great deeds would he have done had he not gone Home at such a young age? As Erin said last week, these final days of Lent can be the hardest. So today during your prayer, turn to St. Joseph and Bl. Frassati, and ask them to pray for you to be open to the will of the Father in your life, to allow Him to lead you into – and out of – the valleys of tears, trusting that He is near, and He is bringing you closer to His love through it all.

Pax et bonum,
Andy