This week we celebrate the feast days of two great saints who could not be more different from one another: St. Patrick and St. Joseph. Yet both of these saints are revered with incredible gusto by many people. For example, I recently witnessed a friendly interchange between some friends about the connection of St. Patrick with the Irish and St. Joseph with the Italians. What is ironic is that St. Patrick was not Irish, but was rather a Roman by birth, (friendly disputes arise as to what modern day country might actually claim him); and St. Joseph wasn't even remotely connected with the Romans, Italy, or anything particularly Italian. He was a Palestinian Jew who lived his entire life in Israel, less the few years he and his family lived in Egypt. What is true, however, is that the well-feted St. Patrick did spend almost his entire ministry in Ireland teaching and casting out the pagans. And St. Joseph is beloved by many; though Italians have a particular reverence for him in his role as foster father of Jesus, they are surely not the only people who revere him. He is the patron of fathers and he is associated with protecting families.
The two saints are very different in their personalities, roles, and in their subsequent ministries. St. Patrick began his association with Ireland when he was kidnapped and taken there as a boy. He was enslaved, but eventually God revealed to him that he could escape. He managed to find his way to a ship which returned him to his home, then studied for the priesthood and was ordained. He chose to return to Ireland and was made bishop. He spent a tireless career preaching, evangelizing, and driving out the powerful pagan lords from their strongholds. The story of St. Patrick climbing the mountain which now bears his name, Croagh Patrick, to light and maintain the fire while he prayed is very famous. It attests to the powerful force which St. Patrick was, and to how he was willing to fight paganism in order to bring the people to Christ. He devoted his entire life to this end and is revered by the Irish (and ‘honorary Irish’ like me) with great celebration and delight.
St. Joseph was very different in temperament and in his role, yet equally beloved. He was chosen by God to be the spouse of Mary because God knew he was a righteous and devout Jewish man. God knew that Joseph was prayerful, wise, kept the Law, and that he loved Mary deeply. Even when he thought she had been unfaithful to him when she became pregnant during their betrothal, he did not want harm or disgrace to touch her, so he was willing to protect her by quietly sending her away to somewhere safe. He believed the angel who told him that Mary was indeed pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit, carrying the long awaited Messiah who also happened to be God's own Son. Joseph knew his role would be to bring the child up, difficult as that may be, while standing in the background, unknown, yet essential to the well-being and growth of this Child.
St. Joseph protected Mary before the birth, and then afterward he continued his role as protector when he had to help them escape the wrath of the jealous and mad King Herod, who sought to kill the child. They fled, but not on the beaten paths, according to one source,* because they had to hide from Herod's soldiers, and therefore had to go into dangerous territory in order to avoid detection. They settled for short periods of time before moving on, and then were said to have lived a number of years in one town, though reviled as non-Egyptians and outsiders; Jews were not welcomed. (This might account for Jesus' extreme sensitivity toward aliens, foreigners, and outcasts during His ministry.) Joseph must have really struggled to provide for his family while being mistrusted and marginalized by the locals.
Nonetheless, St. Joseph managed to get them to Egypt, provide for them while there, and dutifully get them back to Nazareth. He kept them safe, which is why I like to think of him as a patron for travelers and for sojourners in foreign lands. He provided a safe home for his precious Child and beloved wife, laboring as a carpenter while being the human role model of fatherhood for Jesus. Joseph taught Jesus the art of carpentry, but he also would have taught Him all that fathers taught their sons at that time about the Law, the culture, and also of gentleness, mercy and compassion, justice and love. Joseph knew the Scriptures and he knew God through his prayer: there is no doubt he was an able role model and teacher for his son.
It is important to note that the church honors both of these saints: though St. Joseph is less known and St. Patrick's story is more widespread, Joseph is the saint to whom we owe the most. If not for him (and his spouse, Mary) we would not have had the Messiah come into the world. If Joseph had not accepted Mary into his heart and home, Jesus could not have been born, since unwed pregnant women were put to death as terrible sinners. Jesus had to have an earthly father in order to survive in that culture. And Jesus had to have a man worthy of the task to help keep Him safe and to raise Him into manhood. We do not know when Joseph died, but we do know he accomplished the task God gave to him. And we can be assured he did it well, content to exist in the background while Mary and Jesus are in the foreground. We need to call upon him to intercede for us. He may have lived a hidden life, but his prayer and intercession are very powerful.
There is much we can learn from both St. Patrick and St. Joseph no matter what our ethnic background may be. From St. Joseph we learn to trust God and to persevere even in the midst of great attack and challenge. We learn humility, maybe above all, from him. He was willing to be overshadowed by his wife, since she was Jesus' mother and he was in a supporting role. We can tell that He taught Jesus well in His knowing the Scriptures, being respectful and obedient to His parents and in His relationship toward His true Father. The Child was indeed the shadow of the father, both of his earthly father and His Heavenly Father. Joseph's love of God was so great that he was willing to accept what may have been the most thankless job in salvation history: doing so much, with so little of his story handed down.
From St. Patrick we learn that we can overcome great obstacles, even being enslaved by something, or in his case, someone. We learn that we can trust the inner voice of the Holy Spirit who guides us to truth and safety. We learn to have courage to dare to escape that which binds us, and then to face it again after patiently training to do so. We learn that with God at our side we can stand up to even the most formidable enemies. And we learn that we can be powerful, yet merciful, gentle, loving, and compassionate: we can teach by our words and by our actions. Mostly what we learn from these two very different men is that leading a life of prayer and faithfulness to God may lead us where we originally would not have chosen to go, but that in following God's call comes great joy.
So let us celebrate St. Patrick on the 17th with some revelry and joy, and let us celebrate St. Joseph on the 19th with a special meal with family or friends. Wear the Green and enjoy the treats from a St. Joseph altar! But in our merry-making and remembering our ancestry both ethnically and spiritually, let us not forget the reason for it all: Jesus. These saints did what they did in heroic service to their Lord and Savior. Above all they loved Him. And so, too, must we, following in their footsteps and example.
Sláinte and Buona salute!!!
May we be inspired by the saints to imitate Christ in whatever way we are called! May we call upon the intercession of St. Joseph to guide us when we are traveling or when we are in peril at times on our spiritual journey! May we call upon the intercession of St. Patrick when we are in need of spiritual strength to stand up to temptations against our faith! May we imitate St. Joseph in humility and in fidelity to God! May we imitate St. Patrick in boldness in our faith and joy in service! And may these Saints lead us to Jesus that we may find our own unique path to holiness! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus celebrating the joy of His love! Peace! Pace! Síochána!
©Michele L. Catanese
The photos are mine. The top photo was taken in County Galway, Ireland. In the trio of photos, left to right, is the church at Ballintubber which the sign in the middle picture shows was established by St. Patrick in 441AD. The picture on the right is of the Dingle Peninsula.
Next is the icon St. Joseph and the Holy Child by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/gallery-views/holy-men-icons/product/50-st-joseph-and-the-holy-child
The next photo is mine, of an olivewood carving of the Flight into Egypt which was carved in Israel and given to me as a gift.
The next icon is St. Joseph Shadow of the Father, also by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/gallery-views/holy-men-icons/product/51-st-joseph-shadow-of-the-father
The last icon of St. Patrick and is from a delightful page which invites us to test our knowledge of Ireland: http://denverlibrary.org/blog/its-all-irish-test-your-knowledge-st-patricks-day. You can have some fun with that if you wish!
Heart Speaks to Heart