March 20, 2013
Bishop LaValley’s homily for the Feast of St. Joseph, delivered March 16 at Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse
Scriptural testimony is pretty meager, but ever so significant about St. Joseph. As we gather to celebrate your patron today, I would like to focus on one facet of this righteous man about which we do know: Joseph was generous in trusting God. Similar to Mary’s voiced fiat: “let it be done to me according to your word,” Joseph’s life speaks loudly of his silent fiat.
When I was reflecting on Joseph’s generosity in trusting God, I couldn’t help but reflect on the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph, particularly your first arrival in Watertown.
I remember reading about the establishment of the first Catholic schools and what tremendous faith - women who truly generously trusted in God. The hardship, the unknown, the abject poverty of the North Country, the fighting between the Irish and the French, nothing deterred these women of ironclad faith, your forebears, who trusted so in God’s Providence.
As I’ve mentioned previously, if their hearts were pounding or their knees knocking those so many years ago, it was because of the frigid wintry weather, not for fear or lack of faith.
Sisters of St. Joseph, you must be, you should be, so very proud of your heritage. In order to plant your roots in the frozen tundra of the north and minister so bravely to the people of God here, it took more than just trust. It took a generous spirit of trust, raw faith!
That was over 130 years ago. But the generous trust in God wasn’t in short supply and all spent then.
The faithful here continue to be richly blessed because the Sisters of St. Joseph, like their patron, so generously trust in God’s Providence. And that generous trust is so very important today in our changing world and changing Church.
My dear Sisters, the bones of your faith, continue to be formed here in the 21st century. They must continue to grow or they become brittle and break or calcified and immobile.
As the years roll along, change has been the constant companion of the Sisters of St. Joseph. In her comments on your written history, Sister Annunciata summed it up so beautifully, “It becomes increasingly clear that all is grace and that the driving force of the Spirit forces missions and ministries out of circumstances and events far beyond our own efforts.” But that can only happen when we generously trust in God and revel in the grace.
I looked up the word “generously” in Webster’s Dictionary. He uses words such as “noble, bounteous, abundant, unsparing” to describe generous. You see, you don’t just trust to a minimal or even to an average degree. You trust in God unsparingly, holding nothing back! Your embrace of the evangelical counsels enables such giving.
To say no to owning your own car, your own home; to pay scant attention to the fashions and styles of the day; to say no to personal checking or savings account are all a remarkable witness of generosity and trust that speaks volumes to a world today that doesn’t believe life is possible without such material things.
Through the evangelical counsel of obedience, you join in the Blessed Virgin’s verbal and her husband’s non-verbal fiat of total self-sacrifice of your own will and ego. Again, what a counter-cultural, really heroic witness for us all!
Your vow of chastity is a public expression of the exclusive and total giving of yourself to Christ. You have committed yourself, all of your energies, all of your desires, the whole of your life, to the One whose love is so beautifully poetically portrayed in the Song of Songs.
By generously, not grudgingly, living out the evangelical counsels, the blossoming of the faith and the growth of new possibilities is nurtured. Joseph, the righteous one, had no assurances that everything would turn out well if he took Mary as his wife.
He received nothing in writing that would guarantee that his taking of Mary and Jesus to Egypt would be a safe journey or that even their return would be without peril.
No, this man of the covenant generously trusted in His God. Joseph’s every decision and action was taken in obedience to God’s will. He put no limitations on what he would do for God. Any human fear that this poor, humble man might have experienced was drowned out by the generous overflowing of total trust in the faithful God he worshipped.
I would like to conclude with the words of Benedict XVI at his final General Audience: “We are in the Year of Faith, which I desired in order to strengthen our own faith in God in a context that seems to push faith more and more to the margin of life. I would like to invite everyone to renew firm trust in the Lord (I might add…generous and firm trust in the Lord). I would like that we all, entrust ourselves as children to the arms of God, and rest assured that those arms support us as we walk every day, even in times of struggle. I would like everyone to feel loved by the God who gave His Son for us and showed us His boundless love. I want everyone to feel the joy of being Christian.”
Sisters, feel the joy of being Christian, the hope of a Sister of St. Joseph! None of us knows what the future holds. But we do know that if we are generous in trusting God, our God will not abandon us. We simply cannot outdo Him in generosity. May God be praised…forever may God be praised!
Blessed Feast Day, Sisters of St. Joseph!