Today we remember St. Joseph, in the year that Pope Francis has named as the Year of St. Joseph. Today, also, we begin a Year of the Family! When the Church honours a saint or honours families, it is one thing, but I think it would do us a lot of good to try to honour both the saint and our own family in our own homes and in our own lives.
St. Joseph disappears after the first chapters of the life of Jesus, and in some of the Gospels he does not appear at all. While this has led to many legends, some about him being an old man, what I would like to focus on is how someone so important in the family of Jesus could become so invisible.
This is not as unusual as it might seem. When I taught world religions at a college in Portland, we talked a lot about the place of family in handing on the traditions of faith. As a test, I would ask my students how many of them knew the first and last names of all 4 of their grandparents. It was never more than about half. Just as St. Joseph became invisible in the story of Jesus, the everyday life of our families, the things that we all know so well, can easily be forgotten.
So we need to stop and tell the stories of the saints like Joseph. In Matthew’s Gospel we have the lineage of Joseph, even if we know next to nothing about his life. That lineage is like a shrine to the saint. We can honour Joseph by re-telling what we do know of him, but we can also honour him by telling the stories of our own families, creating shrines that help in the telling of our own lineage of where we are from and how we got to where we are.
I believe that this is key to growing and handing on our faith, because the story of how God has acted in history, what we call the Bible, is only part of the story of how God has acted in the world. God is still gathering people together – in this case us – to celebrate the milestones of our lives. All of this is crucial to sustaining us as people of faith into the future.
And if you are not in touch with your family, for whatever reason, you can still honour the family you have built for yourself. I have been part of a couple of great groups of friends over the years, and just like most families, there is no record, there is no shrine to them. I had a wonderful work family in Denver, and in my files is a hysterically funny recording of them singing a version of the 12 days of Christmas: “On the first day of Christmas, Glenn Byer said to me…” and then they would recite one of the stock sayings that I had at the time. I watch that video with such joy — just like I look at the videos and pictures of my family.
So, on this feast of the nearly invisible St. Joseph, let’s make an effort to remember all of the joy and the strength that we have received, and work to develop our own shrines and traditions to find a way that they be remembered for always.
Glenn Byer has been making music for the Mass for 40 years, and has been writing about and offering courses and workshops on liturgy for more than 30 years. He holds a Master’s in liturgy from the University of Notre Dame and a doctorate in liturgy from the Pontifical Institute for Liturgy at the Atheneaum of Sant’Anselmo in Rome. Glenn has written numerous books, among them: 26 Ordinary Ways to Live the Liturgy, Unlocking the Feasts and Seasons of the Liturgical Year and Living the Liturgy of the Word.