In celebration of their patronal feast on March 19, members of St. Joseph Parish in South Bend gathered for Mass and a special reflection recounting the legacy of St. Joseph on salvation history and within the Church today.
Father Kevin Russeau, CSC, pastor of St. Joseph Church, reminded in his homily: “All of the saints have something to teach us. With St. Joseph we have no recorded words, but his actions speak volumes about his character; his obedience to God’s will.” He continued, “I cannot help but think that Jesus came to understand the words, “Thy will be done,” from the way His own parents acted in their home. Joseph not only taught Jesus, but is here to teach us as well.”
Following Mass, the “Evening with St. Joseph” continued with dinner and remarks by Andrew Polaniecki, director of Campus Ministry at Holy Cross College. Polaniecki built upon the remarks of Father Russeau and reflected on the life and work of one of the saints most dedicated to St. Joseph, Brother André Bessette.
“Joseph did not live a hidden life for the sake of never being known to us,” Polaniecki began. “Joseph lived a hidden life for the sake of being discovered by us.” He recalled the parallels between the Josephs of the Old and New Testaments, which reveal “men who served as providers for their families, were great models of chastity, and were chosen by God’s providence for the salvation of mankind.”
Speaking about infancy narratives of the Gospel of Matthew, Polaniecki invited those present to remember the personal trials Joseph would have endured. “If St. Joseph knew Mary was pregnant, did the town gossip circle also notice? One can only wonder what shame and hurt he must have felt. How his heart must have been broken. Then there was the flight into Egypt, a dangerous, weeklong trip through harsh conditions into a foreign and pagan land. The Greek biographer Plutarch tells us that in 55 B.C. the same crossing was made by Roman officers, and that these soldiers feared the trip more than the war that awaited them in Egypt. These years were certainly not a vacation.”
He also called to mind the importance of Joseph’s response to these struggles. “Through all this, Joseph fulfilled his obligations courageously. He was just and righteous. His pure love for Mary as his spouse, although virginal, was complete and real and their union is the most perfect realization of earthly love. He was the head of the Holy Family and protected and provided for them. It should not be surprising, therefore, that he is venerated as patron and protector of the universal Church; having adequately defended the head of the Church, he can also be entrusted with the body.”
Packy Lyden, managing director for the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives, later shared his appreciation for the presentation, commenting, “There are many aspects to St Joseph’s life that I had not considered; as a father and a husband there is a lot there for me to model.”
Polaniecki then shifted focus to the life of St. André Bessette, a man of deep devotion to St. Joseph, who sought to follow in his example of humility and service to God. As a Holy Cross brother who served as the porter, or doorkeeper, for much of his religious life, “he welcomed thousands of people, he talked to everyone, he entered the intimacy of their illnesses, their quarrels, their poverty and pain, their joys and sorrows. He was a man of humble faith, of strong hope and honest love.”
Orphaned at the age of 16 and initially refused by the Congregation of Holy Cross because of his frail health, Brother André could have driven inward, but instead he would look beyond himself and situated his life within the workings of Divine Providence, Polaniecki said. In this outward movement, Brother André found that his life had purpose and fulfillment at the feet of St. Joseph. “St. Joseph would be his foster father, his adopted friend, his all.”
He explained that St. André, perhaps best known for his efforts to have the St. Joseph Oratory constructed as a pilgrimage site in Montreal, which now stands as the largest church in Canada, “considered his relationship with St. Joseph in very simple fashion. When asked how he talked to St. Joseph or how he should be invoked, he often repeated, ‘You don’t have to speak much. You know your Father in heaven knows what you need; well, so does His friend St. Joseph.’ André’s teaching on St. Joseph can be summed up with his famous charge ‘Ite Ad Joseph’ (Go to Joseph), and it is these three words that continue to greet the millions of people who visit the oratory each year.”
The oratory, to which Polaniecki has led Holy Cross and Notre Dame students on pilgrimages the last eight years, “is the testimony of a life lived completely as a gift to others, a life dedicated to making God known, loved and served in order to bring knowledge of salvation to others.” He also reminded listeners of the possibility to encounter St. André locally; a statue of him stands at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. “If you see this statue, your attention will be drawn to the welcoming posture of his hands, which are held out so tenderly and gently and seem to say, “I know you are in need and I know that you suffer.” Those gentle open hands invite you to the care and openness of St. Joseph and to God’s divine providence.” Polaniecki concluded by saying that “Brother André continues to call to each of us to humble ourselves before the Lord, to gather up all our suffering and vulnerability and place them in acts of faith, hope, and trust at the foot of the cross.”
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