The celebration of Palm Sunday and Holy Week begins this year immediately following the celebration of the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on Saturday, March 19. This Solemnity will be the third anniversary of the installation of Pope Francis as the Universal Shepherd of the Church and the Successor of St. Peter. Pope Francis has great personal devotion to St. Joseph. It is Pope Francis who added the name of Joseph as the spouse of Mary to all of the Eucharistic prayers of the Mass. A reflection upon this devotion will help us not only appreciate the importance of St. Joseph in the life of the Church but also to appreciate a message St. Joseph has for us during Holy Week.
Pope Francis has a statue of St. Joseph on his desk. It is an unusual statue since it is one of St. Joseph in a sleeping position. The statute is about one foot and four inches and is carved out of wood. The Saint is dressed in gold trim dark green and red garments which is typical of Hispanic American iconography. The statue of the sleeping St. Joseph is one of the few things which Pope Francis requested be sent to Rome from his residence in Buenos Aires after his election as Pope. In his talk to the families of the Philippines during his January 2015 visit, Pope Francis personally attested, "I would like to tell you something very personal. I like St. Joseph very much. He is a strong man of silence. On my desk I have a statue of St. Joseph sleeping. While sleeping he looks after the Church. Yes, he can do it! We know that. When I have a problem or difficulty, I write on a piece of paper and I put it under his statue so he can dream about it. This means please pray to St. Joseph for this problem."
The sleeping position of St. Joseph is very significant as it is while he is asleep in the Gospel of St. Matthew that the Angel of God appears to him in dreams to make known God's revelations in regard to His will for St. Joseph. We see this clearly as St. Joseph is told, in a dream, not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife since the child conceived in her was through the power of the Holy Spirit. This child would be Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. It is also in a dream that the Angel warns St. Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt to avoid the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem. It is also in another dream that the Angel advises St. Joseph to return to Israel after the death of King Herod who was responsible for the slaughter. It was in the dreams of sleep that St. Joseph comes to know the will of God and to carry out his special mission as the foster father of God's own Son for which he was chosen.
As we approach Holy Week, after the celebration of the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary, it is well to reflect upon his role as a dreamer both in regard to the importance of marriage and family life and also in regard to the importance of prayer.
The significance of St. Joseph in regard to family life is such an obvious one. On March 19, we celebrate Joseph as the husband of Mary. The dream in which he was told that Mary was the Virgin Mother of God and that he would have a role in raising Jesus reminds us of the sanctity of marriage and family life not only for Jesus, Mary and Joseph, but for all of us. In his recent address to the Roman Rota this January, Pope Francis referred to marriage and the family as the "dream of God." How fitting it is for the Pope to use this image especially in regard to his devotion to St. Joseph as a dreamer. In his address, Pope Francis explained how from the beginning God created man and woman in His image and likeness in order that they might give themselves to each other for mutual support in life as well as for participating with God in giving life to children. He described “God's dream” in marriage as "indissoluble, unitive and procreative" which is not an ideal but a fundamental vocation for most men and women.
During Holy Week, we commemorate the giving of Christ as a spouse to us who are the Church. We celebrate that giving as He sacrifices His life upon the Cross for us and as He establishes the celebration of the Eucharist which represents Christ's spousal love for the Church, sealed with His blood on the Cross. Just as Christ gives Himself to the Church, a man and woman give themselves to each other in marriage which is strengthened by Christ's giving. We celebrate in a special way during Holy Week that we are the family of the Church and are joined to Christ in a most intimate manner which is celebrated most fully in the Eucharist.
During Holy Week, we are also reminded of the importance of prayer within our lives. Holy Week is a prayerful week in a particular way. Pope Francis has used the image of St. Joseph as a dreamer to emphasize the importance of taking time to be with God in prayer in order to listen to Him. This includes the rest that comes from prayer as comes from sleep. In his talk to the families of the Philippines in 2015, the Pope stressed "Resting in prayer is especially important for families. It is in the family that we first learn how to pray. And don't forget when a family prays together, it remains together. This is important. We come to know God, to grow and to be men and women of faith, to see ourselves as members of God's greater family, the Church. In the family we learn how to love, to forgive, to be generous and open, not closed and selfish. We learn to move beyond our own needs, to encounter others and share our lives with them. This is why it is so important to pray as a family! That is why families are so important in God's plan for the Church!" How fitting are these words as we reflect upon the importance of our lives as members of God's family in prayer especially during Holy Week.
St. Joseph indeed has much to say to us and sets an example of a person who gave himself to God by giving himself to his family. He stands before us as a dreamer who puts us in touch with the very dream of God Himself. As we celebrate Holy Week, may we know more fully in our lives the “dream of God” by taking time to be with Him more in prayer, especially in the Eucharist, and to participate more fully in family life and the life of the Church.
A blessed Feast of St. Joseph and a blessed Holy Week to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
March 11, 2016