By Sister Marcella Clancy
When we bloggers are asked which dates we might want to submit a blog, I almost always say “it doesn’t matter”. This time, I specifically requested the first date in March. March is the month of St. Joseph. About 6 years ago, when I moved from Cleveland back to the Detroit area, I was apprehensive about finding a place to live. It seemed appropriate to pray to Joseph. He was given responsibility for finding safe shelter for Mary and Jesus. So, I thought maybe he would help me. That began an increasing sense of the very quiet, tender, subtle presence of Joseph in my life.
I didn’t bury a statue of Joseph. I know some folks do that. I didn’t have an A-Ha! moment, like “Wow, this is the place! Thanks, Joseph!” No, there was just the sense of a gentle, caring presence gradually assuring my heart and hushing my anxiety. I did find a place that seemed right but then began a journey with Joseph from furnishing the apartment to developing a more contemplative stance in my first years of retirement. Joseph silently companioned me. All of this was almost imperceptible. One could contribute it to my wanting it to be true or simply my own imagination.
But I trust there is a possibility of intimacy between those who entered already into the fulness of life and those of us still on the way. The Church calls it the communion of saints and has us profess belief in it in every creed. Yet it became much more than an abstract concept when I experienced not so much Joseph’s intercession in answering my prayer but rather an abiding and comforting, companionship. Not consciously, maybe not even every day. Yet, like I experience my friends’ supportive presence when they are absent and as well as when they are present, so I experienced Joseph’s faithful friendship.
On December 8, 2020, Pope Francis in his Apostolic Letter, “Patris Corde” (With a Father’s Heart) proclaimed this the Year of St. Joseph. He did so because this is the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. The Pope begins his letter, “With a father’s heart Joseph loved Jesus.” “In Joseph”, the Pope continues, “Jesus saw the tender love of God.” “Tenderness”, he says, “is the best way to touch the frailty within us.” There is not a word of Joseph’s in the Scripture. Yet, his quiet steadfastness pervades the infancy narratives. “Saint Joseph”, to quote Francis again, “reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”
In the brief Scriptural passages that mention Joseph, one could find a number of virtues he exhibits. Yet, for me the most significant is his gentle kindness. Kindness is not a flamboyant quality. It is hidden within the fabric of relationships, offering support, encouragement, and cultivating the best in the other. It frees us from the abrasive callousness by which we wound one another. Kindness is courageous. It propels us beyond our selfishness and myopia and gives us the capacity to experience the world of another person with deep compassion. To be befriended by Joseph is to be willing to learn to gaze on the world as God constantly does with kindness.
In the midst of Lent, Joseph might not be the first saint to come to mind. His martyrdom was the daily self-gift in the most ordinary of lives, often confronted with events beyond his understanding, at times hostile, frequently unanticipated and bewildering. Joseph was not simply passive but responded with a mature faith and trust, not expecting his faith and trust to protect him or those he loved most from suffering. Surely his example offers many a pathway through the Lents of their own lives.
I write about my experience of Joseph, because in this month of Joseph, I want to encourage others to let this silent, ordinary man of Scripture with his gentle kindness befriend and companion you. His presence has been a blessing to me and I think Joseph can be a blessing to you. As Pope Francis writes, “Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble.”
About the Author
Sister Marcella Clancy, CSJ, is a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph and has degrees in theology and nursing. She has served in parish ministry, accompanied others in spiritual direction, and served as retreat director for many years. She has taught theology as an adjunct faculty. Currently she does some writing, spiritual direction, and gives presentations. She believes that the core of our life is moving toward love of God and love of our dear neighbor without distinction.