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HOMILY OF THE HOLY FATHER POPE FRANCIS
Saint Peter’s Square
Tuesday, 19 March 2013
Solemnity of Saint Joseph
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I thank the Lord that I can celebrate this Holy Mass for the inauguration of my Petrine ministry on the solemnity of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the patron of the universal Church. It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the name-day of my venerable predecessor: we are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude.
I offer a warm greeting to my brother cardinals and bishops, the priests, deacons, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful. I thank the representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial Communities, as well as the representatives of the Jewish community and the other religious communities, for their presence. My cordial greetings go to the Heads of State and Government, the members of the official Delegations from many countries throughout the world, and the Diplomatic Corps.
In the Gospel we heard that “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife” (Mt 1:24). These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: “Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model” (Redemptoris Custos, 1).
How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.
How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own. This is what God asked of David, as we heard in the first reading. God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit. 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. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!
The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!
Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically, in every period of history there are “Herods” who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women.
Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be “protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!
Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint 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!
Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!
In the second reading, Saint Paul speaks of Abraham, who, “hoping against hope, believed” (Rom 4:18). Hoping against hope! Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope! For believers, for us Christians, like Abraham, like Saint Joseph, the hope that we bring is set against the horizon of God, which has opened up before us in Christ. It is a hope built on the rock which is God.
To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!
I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me! Amen.
Two friends of mine were recently married, according to the “extraordinary form” of the Roman Rite, better known as the Tridentine Rite. It was the first nuptial mass of its kind in Rome since Pope Benedict XVI published Summorum Pontificum and established a personal parish in the Eternal City for the followers of the pre-Vatican II liturgies.
This is one of the unanticipated gifts of being in Rome, being able to time travel and see what the various sacraments and rites were like for the four centuries before Vatican II went digging around the scriptural and patristic sources to bring back the older traditions while simultaneously brining everything “up to date”.
It was a beautiful day. The weather was perfect, the liturgical chant was beautifully sung, the bride was radiant, the bridesmaids beautiful, and the reception was a masterpiece of hospitality and conviviality. The liturgy was observed at church of Santissima Trinita dei Peligrini, and the reception was hosted in the gardens of the Passionist Retreat of John and Paul, home of the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas. About 70 guests were present, some from as far as Vancouver, BC or Johannesburg, South Africa.
The people I met were wonderful, and though I did not get as much time to get to know the wedding party – between their hard work preparing for the wedding, and their deserved socializing afterwards – I had some great conversations and met some fascinating people.
It was, overall, one of the most beautiful wedding weekends to which I have been invited.
It is therefore all the more to the credit of the bride and groom, and their assembled guests, that they did not let the one black mark on the day ruin the rest: It was the worst wedding homily I have ever heard. I can honestly say it nearly had me in tears.
(I debated whether to write about this or not – hopefully my choice to do so is not interpreted as disrespect to my friends who were married, but serves as a lesson for those of us in preaching ministries!)
The priest began by comparing marriage to investing in the stock market – risks and rewards. I do not find financial analogies to personal relationships generally helpful, but he might have been able to move on to something meaningful. Instead, the meandering sermon – decidedly not a genuine homily – stumbled from one faux pas to another.
The proper epistle for the nuptial mass in the Tridentine form is the passage from Ephesians that admonishes “wives be submissive to your husbands, husband love your wife.” This was the starting point for an anecdote that seemed to be titled “how not to preach on this passage”. He made his point, but probably not the way he intended:
“Let me tell you about the wrong way to read this passage. I was at a parish in the diocese of Rochester [New York] when this was the reading of the day. Now for those of you not from the U.S., or not in the ecclesiastical scene, Rochester is one of the five worst dioceses in the country. …”
Anybody want to bet he was thinking of Seattle among the other four? Rochester’s bishop usually gets critiqued for, among other ‘liberal tendencies’, his support of lay people in ministry. Hmm… strike one against a crowd of lay students at pontifical universities preparing for ministry.
“… the priest could have talked about the proper attitude of husbands and wives, but instead started talking about the ‘context’ and ‘historical criticism’ of the text! As if what scripture said then and what it says now are ‘historically conditioned’ and must be understood differently! Of course, this priest was a Jesuit, and you cannot expect anything orthodox from them!”
So… actual scripture study and the Jesuits in one blow. Poor Biblicum students.
“… Now, I am not saying that wives should be slaves to their husbands, like the Muslims believe….”
And our resident imam, friend and housemate of the bride, sitting right in front of me. Ouch.
“… there is something the Muslims get right. Their women wear a veil. Here too, we see a veil. It marks what is set aside, what is restricted. The tabernacle is veiled, to show that only the priest can enter it, just like the bride is veiled …”
Thankfully, he did not explicitly complete that thought, but the parallel was not lost. A little uncomfortable, but not quite offensive like the previous statements.
Then the meandering somehow landed on Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, on which it stayed for a while. I honestly cannot remember what the point of that was, I was trying too hard to keep a straight face by focusing on the image of the Holy Trinity above the altar. The whole thing went on for about 20 minutes, though i felt like an eternity.
As someone intimately connected with the wedding mentioned afterwards, “there was nothing about love, nothing really about marriage… what the hell was he thinking!?”
At least the pastor, during the “admonishment on the responsibilities of the married state” at the exchange of vows before the mass, spoke of “procreation and the upbringing of offspring”. Maybe not how I would have put it, but more apropos than purely partisan preaching!