Monday, March 20, 2017

Foster Father of the Footwasher

Guido Reni [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What if glorious St. Joseph, universal patron of Holy Mother Church, became "first" by making himself last?

From the beginning, Joseph's role in the Holy Family was not to be served, but to serve the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Christ Child.  Given this, doesn't it make sense that, as a boy, Jesus would have learned to do the will of his heavenly Father by imitating the other-centered witness of his foster father?

Joseph doesn't need to speak in the Gospels to share what must have been his personal motto: God first, others next, and self last.  A "righteous man," dislocated from the central spot in the Holy Family, finds himself emptied of ego, liberated with Love for the Other in whose presence he lives.

St. Joseph's feast day providentially falls during Lent each year. After all, Joseph is the prototype of what we strive for during this holy season--Prayer-amid-daily-life, Virtue-through-daily-chores, and Humility-in-relationship-with-family-and-friends.

As we journey through Lent again this year, hoping to draw ever closer to the Passover that Jesus will accomplish in Jerusalem, let's pray that St. Joseph will help open our eyes to the Paschal Mystery. He did not witness it firsthand, but may have glimpsed its foreshadowing in Jesus' hidden life.  He may have also given some inspiring example to his divine Son along the way.

Beginning with his Incarnation and culminating in his Passion, death and Resurrection, Jesus' mission is to reveal the divine reality of self-emptying Trinitarian Love. But what if the small school of love in the home of the Holy Family laid the foundation upon which Jesus public ministry and witness would build? Doesn't it make sense that Jesus, in the fullness of his humanity, reflected and then perfectly lived what he watched in his hidden life in Nazareth?

I like to imagine the following conclusion to the mysterious scene of the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple. After they returned home astonished, while "his mother kept all these things in her heart" (Lk 3:51), perhaps Joseph and Mary discussed the messages of the Angel years before: The child to be born "will be great and will be called Son of the Most High...and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:32-33), and their Jesus was destined to "save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:21). Perhaps Jesus watched Joseph fetch a basin of water to wash the weary feet of the Queen Mother, the chosen Spouse of the Spirit.

It would have been the least that he could do for her--a moment of tender service, in the face of yet another reminder of the Mystery in their presence. Perhaps it was a different gesture of intimacy, of course, but Jesus certainly noticed how Joseph and Mary responded to his stunning comment about needing to be "in his Father's house."

The Lenten celebration of St. Joseph reminds us of how much the Lord himself must have followed the example of his foster father: "And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man" (Lk 3:52), all the way through his Last Supper, to his last effort to win the hearts of his people at Calvary.