Skip to main content


Bishop's Column

Bishop Barbarito Column
 March 15, 2024

The Trinity, St. Patrick, St. Joseph

We are in the final two weeks of Lent, referred to as Passiontide. This year, on the first of these weeks, before Holy Week, we celebrate the feast days of two popular saints, St. Joseph, husband of Mary (March 19), and St. Patrick (March 17). St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Sunday this year. Even though the Mass we celebrate on his feast is that of the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we still celebrate this special day in his honor.

A good image to keep before us during these final weeks of Lent and on the feasts of St. Patrick and St. Joseph is a depiction of the Trinity, which was commonly used as an altarpiece during the Middle Ages. Titled the Throne of Mercy, the painting is a vivid portrayal of God the Father holding out to the world in His outstretched arms His beloved Divine Son on a crucifix. The Holy Spirit, depicted as a dove, hovers between them as the breath of the Father. The painting speaks in a moving manner the reality that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son and the Son gave His life on a cross that we might have life through the Holy Spirit. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it but to save it. God is love, and the Trinity is God’s life of love, which is given to us and lived in us. The image of the Trinity in the Throne of Mercy is one that moves us to understand better the unfathomable love of God for us. St. Joseph and St. Patrick lived fully the life of the Trinity and understood the meaning of the Throne of Mercy.

Quite interestingly, both of these saints are often depicted as holding a staff. St. Joseph holds a shepherd’s staff in many of the scenes we see of him at the birth of Christ. St. Patrick is almost always depicted as holding the staff of a Bishop. The staff they hold symbolizes their loving care for all of us, which is a reflection of God’s love for us. Also interesting is that both saints are also commonly depicted as holding flowers. St. Joseph holds a lily and St. Patrick holds a shamrock. The flower represents the gift of God’s life to us, most especially revealed in His Triune nature. The shamrock recalls the Trinity and the lily recalls the Resurrection of Christ.

St. Joseph is the patron of many causes and many persons. He was, of course, the husband of Mary and the foster father of Mary’s Divine Son. He stands for us, during Lent, as a model of prayer who lived an ordinary life as a carpenter and raised the Son of God. Through his quiet life of prayer, God was totally present to him in all that he did. Like Mary, he trusted completely in God’s will, even when he did not comprehend it.

St. Joseph was entrusted by God the Father with His own beloved Son. St. Joseph, with Mary, mirrored the life of the Trinity. Their love for each other and for their Divine Son was a reflection of the loving life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. So much were Joseph and Mary involved in the life of the Trinity that Christ, the Son of God, was the union between the Father and the Son as well as between Mary and Joseph. The Spanish painter, Bartolome Etesban Murillo (1617-1682), has given us a wonderful image of this union in a painting titled the Two Trinities. In this almost mystical work, the Father and the Holy Spirit hover above Mary and Joseph with the Christ child common to both Trinities! It is not an exaggeration to say that St. Joseph completes the mirror of the image of the Triune God in the Trinity of the Holy Family.

St. Patrick is well known as the patron of Ireland and of missionaries. Very widely known is the tradition of his teaching the mystery of the Trinity through the symbolism of the shamrock. St. Patrick’s life was deeply rooted in the reality of the Trinity. He was a man of deep union with the Trinity through his life of prayer. Indeed, he could be considered a mystic. In his Confession, he movingly expressed how the very prayer of the Trinity was present within him through the Holy Spirit. The beautiful prayer on his breastplate is another testimony of his mysticism rooted in the Trinity: Christ shield me this day: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of every person who speaks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me.

As we move closer to Holy Week and celebrate the feasts of St. Joseph and St. Patrick, let us keep the staff, the lily and the shamrock before us. God is a Trinity of love who has given His life totally to us. He is inside and all around us as the Throne of Mercy, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. May the giving of Himself to us help us to live, as did St. Joseph and St. Patrick, in a communion of love with Him and each other.

Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito