He dwells among us: What we take for granted

St. Joseph helps us to keep Christ close to our hearts so we too can be better protectors of God’s gifts

Once again we can sing the “Gloria” of the Mass and repeat those words so central to our faith—“Christ is Risen.” But I must say, it seemed as if Easter came a few weeks earlier this Lent with the words announcing the end of another vigil, and of prayers answered—Habemus Papam! “We have a pope!”

These words of joy again were confirmed in the Mass inaugurating the pontificate of Pope Francis on March 19, the day when the Church traditionally celebrates the solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I have always had a devotion to St. Joseph, and given that his feast day is also the anniversary of my ordination and installation as bishop of this wonderful diocese four years ago, I was particularly grateful that the Holy Father recommended to us the example of St. Joseph as protector of all of God’s gifts. We have so much to be grateful for—as a Church, as a diocese, as parish families, in our individual families and lives, in our vocations, and even our crosses. And I think in a special way St. Joseph helps us to not take for granted any of these.

Though the Gospels record no words of St. Joseph, his silent witness teaches us that the key to truly being grateful and protective of all of God’s gifts begins with a listening heart. “Joseph is a protector,” Pope Francis reminds us, precisely “because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will.” And he who cared for and protected Jesus and Mary also watches over the Church, and our families and each of us. The counsel offered in the beautiful Old Testament account of another Joseph are words we should especially heed today—“Go to Joseph” (Genesis 41:55)—if we are truly to value and protect what God has entrusted to our care and stewardship.

It is so easy to take for granted God’s many gifts, especially that of Christ in our lives. With St. Joseph, we protect Christ in our hearts so that we can better protect and serve others, and also be good stewards of God’s many gifts. When we lose touch with God, we lose touch with ourselves and our neighbor, and we lose touch with nature and our responsibility to care for it. Blessed John Paul II reminds us that if there is a growing natural emergency in caring for our environment, it is because there is an even greater emergency in an “ecology of man.” In an age of “earbuds,” it is time to reclaim the silence of St. Joseph.

When I think of ecology and the call to care for the physical environment, I am reminded how much it needs to be an ecology of a listening heart. You don’t have to agree with the science of climate change to see how awash we are in plastic wares such as plastic bottles.

These are the visible reminders of what a “throw-away” society we have become. It is a mentality of convenience that relieves us of responsibility for caring for things. It used to be that when we ordered an ice cream shake, we sat down and enjoyed it from a sundae glass with a metal spoon that afterwards was cleaned and used again. Now, we take it “to go” in a plastic cup with a plastic spoon and a bubbled plastic cover so we can fill it even higher with whipped cream. Like many of our plastic products, they are used once and then tossed without further responsibility for what we have used. This is why we need St. Joseph.

A “throw-away” mentality has a consequence not only upon the environment, but also upon the first environment, the womb. When groups like the Sierra Club advocate limiting the human footprint upon nature through population control measures (e.g., abortion, sterilization and contraception), we are not being protectors of all God’s creation.

A “throw away” mentality carries over to our treatment of the poor, and of poor nations where populations can easily be exploited for cheap labor to feed our growing appetite and consumption and need for “things.” When we treat others and God’s creation as masters and not as good stewards of his gifts, dire consequences soon follow. This is why we need St. Joseph.

It is easy to take for granted other people, too, and here I think of those who have served in our nation’s armed forces. After almost 12 years of our “War on Terror,” we have a growing number of veterans whose transition back into society as civilians has been met with new challenges such as unemployment. With growing numbers becoming homeless, or left to themselves to deal with traumas and losses suffered from combat, they, too, in a certain sense have become subject to a throw-away mentality—they served our nation as protectors, and now we are done with them.

This is what led a group of people to organize and create the Wounded Warrior Project (www.wounded​warriorproject.org), which helps the severely wounded in their transition back to society.

Let us not wait for the government to step in and create programs of assistance in our community. Each of us is called to be protector. So then, let us make this Easter season a special time to “Go to Joseph” and to ask his help for us to be better protectors of Christ so we can better protect others and all of God’s good creation.