Monday, March 18, 2013

A Holy Father

Joseph: "a righteous man" (Mt 1:19)
A napkin; a bow; a silent sign...
Have you ever been surprised by grace?  How about by the dignity of a gesture which secretly reveals both God's presence and the grandeur of the human person?  Last weekend, my family and I filled in for our friends who regularly serve dinner at the local homeless shelter.  A young man caught my attention early on because he asked if we would prepare two extra plates for his wife and daughter.  When they finally arrived, he came to get their food and then proceeded to meticulously--almost painstakingly--fold each napkin around the silverware.  He then carried the trays to his family and attentively waited on them.

Did you see the bow on Wednesday 3/13/13, when our Holy Father Francis emerged to greet the tens of thousands gathered at St. Peter's?  In a moment that deserves as much attention as it can possibly get, the "Servant of the Servants of God" bowed toward the throng and asked them to pray silently for him.  He then proceeded to offer his blessing as church bells pealed around the world.  Of course, this followed his request that everyone pray an "Our Father," a "Hail Mary," and a "Glory be..." for our pope-emeritus, beloved Benedict XVI.  The coverage of Pope Francis has been absolutely captivating, and he seems intent on carrying forward the new evangelization by leading with the evangelical counsels--poverty, chastity and obedience (CCC, n. 915).
How could the most famous saint--after the Blessed Mother, of course--have not a single line in all of the Gospels?  St. Joseph is a silent sign, a wordless witness, who somehow speaks to all people.  As the patron of the universal Church, St. Joseph is now hard to miss--the man has a statue in virtually every Catholic Church around the world.  But his quiet role of service as spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster-father of the Incarnate Word point to all those who humbly strive to do the will of our heavenly Father. 
As a sign, St. Joseph stands as the righteous man who shows us what it means to be a witness:  "Perhaps it may happen that to be a witness I must scream like an ambulance siren....But most of the time, a sign is silent.  Often it is sufficient to be present--constantly, obstinately, courageously present--and never leave one's post" (Cardinal Francis Xavier Van Thuan).
With Pope Francis being installed as the 265th successor of St. Peter on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, these holy fathers seem somehow to be acting in unison.  Indeed, their motto could be the same--"Lowly but chosen."  Let's offer an "Our Father," a "Hail Mary," and a "Glory be" in thanksgiving for the gift of our new Holy Father--and let's ask St. Joseph, chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and guardian of the Redeemer, to pray for us.  After all,  Pope Francis already seems focused on sending a message of solidarity to all those who humbly fold napkins for their holy families:
 "Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours" (Lk 6:20)!