I recently read St. Joseph and His World by Mike Aquilina (New York: Scepter Publishers. 2020). I purchased this to read with the Year of St. Joseph called for by Pope Francis (Dec. 2020-December 2021) in mind. As indicated by the title, in this book Aquilina provides perspective on the world that Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and adoptive father of Jesus, was born into it. Thus, the world that Jesus was born into.
I expected the book to help me understand St. Joseph. It does do that. However, what I read also helped me find hope in the midst of the challenging world we live in today. That is what I am inspired to write about today.
The Bible does not tell us much about St. Joseph. One of the things we do find is known in the Bible as the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17, Luke 3:23-38). It is the genealogy of Jesus because it is the genealogy of Joseph. Why is this genealogy important? Aquilina writes, “They lived not with nostalgia, but with hope. Hope was the reason they kept the genealogies, so that the legitimate line of David could be restored at the moment of God’s intervention” (9).
“Identity” is something important. We need to know who we are. Our past is part of this. Speaking of the Israelites, Aquilina writes, “Above all, they remembered. Memory was the key to their identity, and it was the most valuable heirloom they could give to their children – the memory of the Lord’s actions and interventions, the memory of the Lord’s providence, the memory of the Lord’s presence” (10). As I read this, I could not help but see how true it is. Sadly, it is this “memory” that we are not passing on today.
Those who have wandered from the faith has lost the sense of why faith is important. They do not see it as relevant. Some say they do not teach their children about the faith because they want them to choose for themselves. One cannot choose what one does not know about.
We need to remember. Aquilina writes, “Remembering was the exiles’ duty. Forgetting, they knew, would be their downfall as a people, their annihilation by assimilation” (10, my emphasis). I ask is this where we are at today? Have we forgotten our past? Have we forgotten what God has done for us? The general worldview used to be Christian. That is no longer true (see my article “We Need to See as God Sees”). The secular worldview has taken over. Instead of our faith shaping the world, the secular worldview is leading people to believe in morals and values contrary to what our faith teaches.
We need to invite those who have left the faith (as well as those who were never taught the faith) back into the Lord’s fold. This is not an easy task. When God declared an end to the Babylonian exile and called the Israelites to their homeland, many did not. As Aquilina writes, “Many were comfortable in Babylon, which was by now the only home they had known. They were making a decent living. They had never seen Jerusalem. And the resettlement of the old territory – now dilapidated and overgrown – seemed like a lot of hard work, with little promise of a return on the investment” (12). This is true for many today. If they happen to find some interest in our Catholic faith, it might seem a difficult life. It is not easy. It is not the way of the secular world but we must remember, “The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart” (Psalm response for the 26th Sunday in Oridary Time, Year B).
Many people today speak of tolerance, saying people must be free to believe what they want. However, they criticize us for speaking up for what we believe in (see my article, “Tolerance, Hate Speech, and Dialogue”). They may speak of tolerance but they expect us to change what our faith teaches. Unfortunately, this is not something new. Aquilina writes, “Not satisfied with wholesale slaughter, Antiochus entered the temple and plundered its treasury. On its main altar, he sacrificed a pig – the animal considered most unclean and unholy by the Jews” (13). May we be inspired the example of the Maccabean revolt in persevering in our faith (see 1 & 2 Maccabees in the Old Testament).
When this revolt was over, “The Hasmoneans put out word that Jews in the dispersion should return home to the traditional lands of Israel” (Aquilina, 15). We need to put the word out to invite everyone to faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer. Jesus tells us, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Reading from Aquilina’s book led me to think of the phrase the “remnant of Israel.” It is a concept found several times in the Old Testament and Paul’s letter to the Romans. The remnant is a small portion of Israel that always kept the faith alive. They kept the memory of the Lord’s actions. The faith was never completely extinguished. It can’t be because it is rooted in God. We see it in Genesis 45:7, “God, therefore, sent me on ahead of you to ensure for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance.” In 2 King 19:31, we read, “For out of Jerusalem shall come a remnant, and from Mount Zion, survivors.” In Jeremiah 23:3, the Lord assures us, “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have banished them and bring them back to their folds; there they shall be fruitful and multiply.” These are just a few of the passages that speak of the “remnant”. My point is that we must work to keep our Catholic faith alive. The Lord will help us. As long as there remains a remnant, there is hope. God can use us to restore faith.
Again, it is not easy. There are those who wish to silence us. This is nothing new. Our existence can seem like a provocation to them (see Aquilina, 23). We need courage. God knows that. Courage is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Lord, please give us the courage we need to persevere in faith.
Lord, help us to live not just appearing to have faith but to truly live it (see Aquilina on King Herod, 36). In doing so, we can be living witnesses to the truth you offer us.
In describing Joseph, Aquilina writes, “Joseph feared the possibility of failing God far more than he feared the wrath of Herod” (81). Who is more important to you? God or human beings?
St. Joseph was a quiet man but he was a faithful man, a righteous man. St. Joseph, pray for us, that we may follow your example, always doing what the Lord asks of us.