In this sixth week of the Easter season the parents of Jesus come to mind. This may seem a bit odd, but if we are attentive to this new month our thoughts will automatically include Joseph and Mary because May is wrapped in their presence: it begins with the feast of St. Joseph the Worker (May1) and ends with the Feast of the Annunciation (May 31). Not only that, May has long been considered the month of Mary. Therefore with this month held securely in the arms of Joseph and Mary we need to focus our attention on them both. It is significant that soon the Easter season is coming to an end while simultaneously Mary and Joseph are intertwined with it. They were Jesus’ first earthly family, from which His second family, the Church, could eventually be born. They guided Jesus as He grew into adulthood, teaching Him and keeping Him safe so that He could fulfill the mission for which He came into the world. Indeed, Jesus was held securely in the arms of Joseph and Mary.
Joseph’s presence (liturgically) is somewhat hidden this year since May 1 fell on Sunday and as a result we ‘lost’ the feast dedicated to his role as worker. Since it is an optional memorial, (he does have another, more significant feast day in March), and because a Sunday liturgy always supersedes another memorial, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker was omitted. All that being said, it does seem appropriate to connect St. Joseph to the end of the Easter season because Joseph was imperative to the life of Jesus, and thus to the mysteries of our faith, chosen by God to ensure that Jesus could grow into adulthood just as any other man. However, Joseph was not merely a figurehead to serve as a convenience for Jesus and Mary. To think that would reduce him to a role rather than to see him as the wonderful saint that he is. Joseph was chosen by God because he was a righteous, holy man who served God selflessly having great love and devotion for Him. Indeed Joseph is known for his humble work, providing for his family and protecting them on some rather perilous travels. Joseph worked not just at carpentry, but he labored at helping Jesus become a man. Though he is not recorded as saying anything in the Scriptures, we do know that he was one of the first teachers of Jesus, as role model in the faith and as a parent. We simply cannot underplay the importance of Joseph: even though God is truly the Father of Jesus, without Joseph, Jesus would not have grown into the Jewish culture with the understanding which comes through experience. Humble St. Joseph indeed held Jesus securely in his arms.
I see St. Joseph as the patron saint of the obscure, the overlooked, the humble, and the exceedingly patient. He is one of the greatest saints, while seemingly content with being the least known. Though Joseph seems ‘overshadowed’ in May which is thought of as Mary’s month, Bishop Jacques Perrier, (bishop of Lourdes from 1997-2012), wisely said, “The Virgin Mary should not be separated from Saint Joseph.” * And similarly they should not be separated from our thoughts during the Easter season. Among other mysteries essential to our faith, Easter reminds us that the Church is a family, headed by God and populated by His children. Jesus died and rose to save us all, but also to unite us as one body. All children need the guidance of parents and so God has shared the parents of Jesus with us. In that light we now turn to Mary.
Mary was also one of the first teachers of Jesus. After she was widowed she continued to influence Him as a mother would, having the wisdom to know when to let go, encouraging Him when He needed to begin His ministry. She gracefully and lovingly became as a follower, yet when Jesus left the world He entrusted the Church to her, saying from the Cross, “Behold, your son,” referring to the apostle John who was representative of those who would soon become the Church. In the first chapters of Acts we see that Mary was at the center of the apostles, a position that they automatically gave to her. Tradition tells us that throughout the rest of her life she interceded in prayer for the church, living away from Jerusalem for the most part. After her death she was immediately brought body and soul into Heaven and then was given the title ‘Queen of Heaven,’ not like another god to be worshiped, but as the one closest to Jesus who we revere because of her purity, love, and grace. Mary is venerated under many titles as she continues interceding for the church. She is truly a caring mother to us all, spending her time in Heaven striking out against the work of evil, laboring to foster peace, helping men and women to be directed toward her Son, even appearing in the hope of guiding us on the right path. Her message is always one of peace and mercy, and her desire is to help us grow in holiness. Therefore it is fitting that we set aside the month of May to both honor her and to prayerfully ask her intercession.
Mary is the Mother of the Church, but she is also the Mother of All Nations. My favorite image of her is an icon written by Fr. William Hart McNichols and it seems appropriate to gaze upon it now. In the icon Mary’s arms encircle the earth, around which are twelve tongues of fire representing the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus and the wholeness of the Church, the entire Body of Christ. But she is not just holding part of the earth, as if that was even possible; all of the earth is held close to her heart. In holding the earth so lovingly and tenderly she is also cradling the earth in protection. She not only loves the people on the earth, but she also loves all that God has created. The beauty of the earth is enhanced in Fr. Bill’s icon by Mary’s incomparable beauty. It is as if she invokes the Holy Spirit, the Advocate spoken of by Jesus, to let the fire of His love burn brightly on the earth. Her saffron robes speak of the peace she desires for us. It is as if she echoes the words of her Son: “The Advocate will teach you everything and remind you of all I have told you.” (John 14:26) Mary stands upon the heavens, or perhaps in the heavens. She is not God, but rather she is reflecting His grandeur so that we will be moved by it to value more dearly that which He has made.
To be clear, in the early 1950’s Mary did appear in Amsterdam under the title ‘Mother of All Nations’ to a woman named Ida Peerdeman. (The apparitions which occurred were given the approval of the bishop there. Cardinal Ratzinger, eventually Pope Benedict XVI, declared that what Mary taught through Ida should be declared dogma one day.)** It is fitting to think of Mary in this way because her role has always been motherly: first as the mother of Jesus, then as mother of the Church. So it seems natural to think of her as mother of those beyond the Church, too. Is it not appropriate to reach out to those who are outside the family in order to invite them in? This inviting in is called ‘evangelization.’ Mary has always led people to her Son. Therefore she is desirous of holding the entire world securely in her arms. She intercedes, but she also comes from time to time to help, guide, and remind us of all that Jesus has taught.
In this month of May, as we come to the end of Easter and approach the feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost, let us also be reminded of St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary as our parents, to whom Jesus was entrusted, and to whom we are also given. From the beginning of time God has wanted us to be intimately close to Him and will stop at nothing to ensure our safety. In the Easter season we joyfully celebrate His great love and mercy given through the gift of salvation, but we also rejoice in the great gift of the earthly parents of Jesus who now reside in heaven, sent often (both seen and unseen), to continue to labor with the Holy Spirit in the work of bringing us safely home to God. St. Joseph the Worker and Mary our Intercessor, Immaculate Queen of Heaven, call us to the work of growing in sanctity, praying and sacrificing for the well-being of our fragile world, and imitating them in inviting others into the family known as the Body of Christ. We are all invited to rest securely in the arms of Joseph and Mary, where as one Church we live in Easter joy.
May we allow Joseph and Mary to lead us to Jesus! May we have Easter joy in knowing we are one family as the Church, the Body of Christ! May we reach out to those in every city and nation, those within our church family and those outside, as we have been taught by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! May we be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit to discern where we are needed to labor with Him! And may we have the peace of resting securely in the arms of Joseph and Mary, our spiritual parents, as in turn we all are held in the merciful, peaceful arms of God! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus. Alleluia! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* This quote is from a blog called A Moment With Mary. The quote can be found at
** This comes from a page about The Lady of All Nations apparitions. The page is at
The first image is a holy card depicting Mary and Joseph with Jesus securely in their arms. I like this one because the image depicts the Holy Family as symbolically being securely in God's arms, with the Holy Spirit descending upon them. This image captures most of the main points of my entry. I do not know who the artist is.
Next is an icon of The Holy Family at Work. It was found in a blog on iconography which I follow. The icon is Russian, painted by V.O. Mumrikov. It is rare, almost unheard of, for an icon to be signed, but this one was. The site is https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/workers-of-the-world-adjust-the-physical-labor-of-the-holy-family-icon/
The next three icons are the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols, mentioned in the blog entry. The first is called San Jose Sombra del Padre and shows Jesus securely in the arms of Joseph, who also seems securely held in the cloak of God the Father. It is a stunning, yet tender icon, and one of my favorites. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/san-jose-sombra-del-padre-161-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The second icon is Murom Icon of the Mother of God. I chose it because Jesus is securely in Mary's arms, but His hand is raised in a blessing, as if He is saying thank you to her. But He is also blessing her lips so that she can impart His message as she directs all people to Him. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/murom-icon-of-the-mother-of-god-230-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The third of Fr. Bill's icons is my all-time favorite, as mentioned above. It is called Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations. The first time I saw this magnificent work I audibly gasped and my eyes filled with tears at the beauty contained within the icon. I saw it during a slide show, so she was larger than life in every way. I am still moved with awe every time I see her, which I do daily, since a copy hangs in my prayer room. You can find this icon at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/mary-most-holy-mother-of-all-nations-080-william-hart-mcnichols.html. I know I repeat this often, but indeed it bears repeating: go to Fr. Bill's website http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/ and peruse the many beautiful and sometimes challenging images and icons which he has painted. You can purchase any of the works as a card, plaque, paper giclee (copy) to be framed, as a canvas copy, and many other mediums. I get nothing from the endorsement except to share the wealth of beauty that Fr. Bill sees in his heart and puts on the Masonite of the originals. So feast your eyes upon the work, and get something for yourself to pray with!
Finally, the last image is a photo I took last week in Rockport, TX. If you look closely you will see that the mother duck had many, many chicks in her care. They seemed secure in her presence, but there is comic relief from the one on the right who is standing tall, stretching to make sure he has the attention of the mama. I guess from time to time we all need a little extra attention.
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Heart Speaks to Heart