A Catholic Monthly Magazine

St Joseph, Mainstay of Families

by Fr Brian O'Connell sm

by Fr Brian O'Connell sm

One of the invocations in the Litany of St Joseph that strikes a chord for me is St Joseph, Mainstay of Families, pray for us. 

We look in the Scripture and find precious little about St Joseph, but what little there is, is precious. He links Jesus to Israel .When he accepts Mary’s baby as his child he confers Davidic origin on him, and the Evangelist Matthew sees the birth of Jesus as fulfilling crucial Old Testament prophecies. The gospels do not record a single word of Joseph the husband of Mary, but actions speak louder. There are three stories when Joseph has a dream and acts immediately afterwards. His actions save his wife and child from danger. He brings them safely through and settles in a quiet town. His death is not  even recorded as the evangelists are focussing on Jesus the Son of God and not his earthly origins.

It may comfort us to know that Jesus grew up in a poor household, but this was in many respects an ordinary family. Village and synagogue life would impact on them like other families. We only hear about one pilrimage to Jerusalem because the 12 year old Jesus became separated from his parents. For all those home years Joseph was there in the background. The important things about him arise from our beliefs that Jesus  was the Messiah the anointed one of God, and Mary is honoured as the Mother of God.

St Joseph FamilyFamily life in the 21st century is not at all like First Century Palestine. How can Joseph possibly be a model? Most of the forces in modern Western society are more likely to cause  families to fly apart than be bound together. Economic and social forces work against families living closely in harmony. There needs to be a strong anchor to hold the family together against the srong tides of materialism and individualism. For the Christian, this anchor is gospel values which impart consistent self-transcendence which underpins successful families. For many Catholics, reliance on the powerful intercession of St Joseph is the providential way God directly supports families.

Not all families honour St Joseph, but God certainly  supports them. One cannot fail to be impressed by the solidly Christian family life of Dr Brian and Joyce Johnston of Tauranga, who were buried this week.  They were tragically killed in a bus crash on a rural road in Kenya. Parents of ten children, they were deeply involved with community development in Kenya, an outreach of their Christian-based Bethlehem College. This family lived by the gospel, and now in their grief will find solace and strength in their faith.

The key to keeping families together is the practical realisation that they are not alone

The key to keeping families together is the practical realisation that they are not alone, but part of  wider supportive communities. They have their natural families, their worshipping community, their village or its modern equivalent, and indeed the family of God.

We can be sure that Joseph knew all his support systems not least the all-loving God who spoke to him  in dreams and touched his family in a unique way.  

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