As we turn our calendars forward and welcome in the month of May, those with a green thumb have been rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty in their gardens, preparing and protecting the beautiful landscape around their homes, parishes, and communities. Just like a gardener has tools that they use to protect their frail plants from the wind and storms, so too does God have his tools to protect the weak and the meager.
May is also a month in which we celebrate Memorial Day, many celebrate First Communions, and we honor the matriarchs of our families for their service and sacrifice. In a very special way honor our heavenly mother Mary. It is only fitting, that to start this special month, we do so with a feast day in honor of St. Joseph, in his patronage as the Worker.
From the moment he awoke from the dream where he was told that Mary would bear a son, Emmanuel, he took Mary into his home – and began to protect and care for her and the child in her womb. With great care, he took her to Bethlehem, not wanting to because of her condition, but having to because of the census, and going to great lengths to finding her suitable lodging, to no doubt standing watch over mother and child in the moments and hour after birth.
One of my favorite paintings was done in 1879 by Luc Oliver Merson, which showed the Holy Family on the flight to Egypt, while Mary and Jesus were asleep nestled in the protection of the arms of a sphynx, Joseph lay on the cold desert ground in front of them, guarding the fragile family.
He accompanied both Mary and the child to the temple at the time of the presentation and heard the prophet’s song. His worry and anxiety very visible when they found him in the temple after three days.
Consider now the Eucharist enthroned in the monstrance – how fragile. He seems so much weaker now in the Host than he ever did in the tender years of his earthly infancy.
St. Joseph spent much time in the presence of the child God, imagine the number of times Joseph would have swaddled him close to his heart, bounced him upon his knee; heard the pitter-patter of the footsteps of the child in his workshop. The tears that were shed, and the joys that were shared. How he would have recognized the face of God in each of those moments. And now too, can we recognize the same Jesus in the frailty of the Eucharist. Here he is much smaller than he was in Bethlehem, more difficult to recognize, more hidden than when he was in Egypt. But fear not, for it is still Him, with the same majesty and glory – brought to us by the power of the same spirit of his incarnation.
The job of St. Joseph is done; he shielded and protected the child until such a time when he could fend for himself. It is now our turn – through the same faith, hope, and charity that existed in the heart of St. Joseph, we must carry on to protect Christ and to bring him to the rest of the world. God entrusted his life in Jesus Christ at the frailest point in our lives; now too each time we receive him in communion, God is presenting himself in a frail form, so that we may share in his majesty and power.
You could say that Joseph was like the perfect set of bookends, on one hand, he, as St. Bernadine of Siena once wrote, was the fitting closure of the old testament, he brought the noble line of patriarchs and prophets to its promised fulfillment. What divine providence promised through that lineage, he held in his arms.
You could also say that he was the first protector of the new covenant, for it was by his hand, no doubt rough and cracked from labor, but gentle and loving as well, that the Christ was reared and loved.
Let us then remember the words of St. Peter Julian Eymard:
“Let us be the Joseph’s of the Eucharist as he was the Joseph of Nazareth.”