Given at the Mass at Day for Clergy at Westminster Cathedral on the Solemnity of St Joseph, 19th March 2019
The words of the Entrance Antiphon for the Mass of this feast day proclaim Joseph to be the 'faithful and prudent steward whom the Lord set over his household.' This same proclamation is echoed in the Preface of the Mass, too.
It has had a more down to earth proclamation through many of the years of my life. 'Set over the household' has meant the presence in the kitchen of a statue of St Joseph, there to preside over the very heart of the house, the kitchen!
After all, the kitchen is often the place where, in my experience, conversation flows most easily with confidences and anxieties readily shared over the preparation of food, or the washing up. Yet equally the kitchen can be the setting for rows and tensions. I can recall one such row, from my younger years, over how precisely to peel potatoes without wasting so much of their nourishment. And kitchens can witness far greater drama than that. They can become battlefields, ending up as strictly no-go areas where territory is unequivocally laid out and protected.
So it is good to have Joseph there, keeping an eye on things, easing the tensions and rebuilding bridges when they have collapsed.
I like to think that in this he is also a model for us priests, for we too have been set over a household of the Lord and we too must strive to be faithful and prudent. It is true, of course, that parishes are a bit like kitchens, in their best and their worst. Sometimes we need, in a parish, to encourage those same kinds of conversations marked by trust and empathy. Sometimes we have to ease the tensions that can build between members of our much larger households. Sometimes we have to live peaceably even with those who are estranged and caught up in hostilities. It is true, then, that we require the inspiration and the prayers of this fine patron saint of households.
Then a second thought occurred to me when I read the prayer of the Mass for today. It asks that the Church 'may constantly watch over the unfolding of the mysteries of human salvation whose beginnings you, Lord, entrust to his - St Joseph's - watchful care'.
This, too, was Joseph's task: to watch over Jesus and Mary, in whom the mysteries of salvation had their fullest expression. He was not to draw attention to himself. He never did. No, he stayed in the background, focused on the Son entrusted to him and to the Blessed Mother.
In this, too, he is surely a model for us all, especially for us priests. In all we do, we are never to think of, or see, ourselves as the centre of the action. In our ministry, in the service we give, we are not calling attention to ourselves. It is not 'our show'. No, like Joseph, what we care about is the presence and saving actions of Jesus and the sublime prayers and protection of Mary, given to everyone as a 'most admirable Mother'. Our task is that of watching over the unfolding of the mysteries of salvation. Our task is that of opening space, in minds and hearts, for the promptings and grace of God to work for the recreation of the human spirit, vision and hope.
In many moments of our ministry, whether in the daily liturgy, or in occasional meetings with the people, or in the moments of baptisms, or especially funerals, we do well to keep in mind this task of serving the 'unfolding of the mysteries of salvation'. We can see our ministry as watching for signs of God's goodness unfolding in the lives of those before us: signs of joy and gratitude, or weariness and aloneness, expressions of grief or compassion. With care and perception, we can highlight those signs as coming from God and waiting to be fulfilled in God. We can point to the promises that they echo, promises of which we heard in the readings of this Mass: promises which overcome deep fear and dread; promises of a secure sovereignty, a true Kingdom, still to come; promises made by God 'who brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not exist.' Living in the light of these promises is put before us today as characterising the heart and soul of Joseph. May these promises shape our ministry at every key moment, in every word we say. In this, too, Joseph is our patron: a patron who never puts himself forward but knows that every fruitful initiative emerges from the loving mercy of our Heavenly Father and comes to fruition in him alone.
St Joseph is a true father of a very precious household. He is a faithful servant of the mystery of salvation, incarnate in Jesus in flesh received from Mary. Father and servant. These are the titles to which we too aspire and St Joseph is there to encourage and help us.
So, please do think of having his statue in your kitchen for 'strong is his love for us and he is faithful forever' (from Psalm 116).