Image: The Holy Family, Juan Simon Gutierrez [public domain]
Imagine a beloved child of yours gone astray. What wouldn’t you do for that child? How much of yourself would you give to bring that child home? For some this may not take imagination, but may be an unfortunate reality. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is a reminder that children gone astray is real, particularly in our culture today. Real or imaginary, what we know is that there’s nothing that we wouldn’t do for our children, for them to know how much we love and are willing to sacrifice of ourselves for them.
For God, this scenario is real and not imaginary. His beloved creation went astray in Eden and further strayed thereafter. Yet God, in His love for His beloved creation, chose to redeem us. The Prodigal Son is not so much a symbolic story as it is the truth of God’s willingness to welcome home repentant sinners. And not just welcome home, but throw a feast to celebrate their return!
In choosing to redeem us, God could have chosen any number of means of doing so. Yet He chose to become man and die on the cross. To not simply redeem us, but to become one of us, entering into our human condition and experiencing suffering and death. God Himself chose to be killed in the most horrific death, offering Himself as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. All the more incredible considering that one drop of the Most Precious Blood was enough to redeem us, since it is the blood of a Divine Person. Yet Jesus didn’t shed just one drop of blood at eight days old at His circumcision, but every drop of blood at 33 years old in His Passion. Christ gratuitously chose the entire shedding of His blood so as to redeem us…it is ineffably mysterious how much Jesus loves you, that He would die for you on the cross!
Yet if God is to become man, this necessitates that He have a mother to come to us in the womb of. For this is not a hero sent from beyond, but a real man of flesh and blood. True God and true man, as we say. This is thus a mother whom God had, from all of eternity, planned the creation of. A mother for whom He determined the graces that He would give her so that she could fulfill her role in salvation history as the Mother of God. And if you held the prerogative to consider how to create your own Mother, then wouldn’t she be the most holy creature ever created? The most perfect reflection of the Divine glory that a human person could reflect? Would she not be perfectly sinless, as pure as the white lily? Would she not be, as we pray amongst other things in the Litany of Loreto, chaste, undefiled, prudent, powerful, merciful, faithful, and wise? This is precisely how God created His mother, the immaculately conceived perpetual virgin that was assumed into heaven.
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin, Foster-Father of Christ
That God created His mother to be so leads to the next thought: what kind of man would you create to be her husband? To care for her needs? To protect her virginity, this mother who will remain a virgin before, during, and forever after the conception and birth of her Son? And if you’d chosen to be born of this mother in a dark, cold cave, then what sort of man would you create to rock you to sleep? And if a wicked king were to desire to kill you, and kill all of the two year old and younger children in your neighborhood, then what sort of man would you create to protect you? To carry your life in his arms to safety in Egypt? What sort of man could dare stand before God Incarnate and the Mother of God to lead the Holy Family in prayer?
Just as it is obvious that Mary would be specially created by God, so it should be as obvious that Saint Joseph was not an afterthought, but the man whom God had specially created for his unique role in salvation history. For of all of the ways that we may consider Joseph, of all of the things that he is the patron of, there is no greater description of his role in salvation history than spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster-father of Jesus. God gratuitously chose to redeem us and to do so by becoming man and dying on the cross. Yet the first step was to be conceived in the womb and born of a virgin who was wedded to the great Joseph.
A common follow up question is: Why does Mary need a spouse and Jesus a foster-father to begin with? In answer, we refer to Saint Thomas Aquinas that “grace perfects nature.” In other words, while Jesus and Mary are full of grace, this doesn’t negate their natural human needs. The need for a husband and father-figure to provide for material needs of food, drink, and shelter. To safeguard the child’s Messianic claims, which would have been dismissed were He conceived out of wedlock. To protect the mother and child against the devil, who comes, for example, in the form of Herod and the Massacre of the Innocents. Furthermore, this husband and father-figure provides exalted testimony for us, as well: by cloaking Mary’s virginity, we see the virginal state honored, while by Joseph’s marriage to Mary, we likewise see matrimony honored. A marriage as true as any other, even if virginal, for the two spouses attained an inseparable union of souls and embraced the duties of spouses and parents in tending to one another and rearing the Christ child, which union of souls and fulfillment of duties constitute the perfection of marriage.
That Joseph is the spouse of Mary and foster-father of Jesus means that he is the head of the Holy Family. And as head of the Holy Family, Joseph is, therefore, the Patron of the Universal Church, the Holy Family being the prototype of the Church, itself the perpetuation of the Incarnation in time. This Patronage of the Universal Church was declared by Pope Pius IX in 1870 in his decree Quemadmodum Deus, a declaration that the Church is celebrating the 150th anniversary of with this current “Year of Saint Joseph.” The relevance of this for us is simple: if Joseph is the head of the Holy Family and Patron of the Universal Church, then we ought to take him as our patron, as well. And as Aquinas writes,
“Some Saints are privileged to extend to us their patronage with particular efficacy in certain needs, but not in others; but our holy patron Saint Joseph has the power to assist us in all cases, in every necessity, in every undertaking.”
Devotion to Joseph is as necessary today as ever, all the more so given this year dedicated to his Patronage!
Draw closer to Saint Joseph with the Lay Division
This “Year of Saint Joseph” presents us with an opportunity to draw deeper into union with Joseph. To that end, I’d like to introduce you to a six-week course about Joseph that I’ll be teaching online this summer for anybody, anywhere in the world.
Firstly, let me mention who we are and what we do. While most people affectionately know us as the “Biblical School,” we are more than that. For we are the Lay Division at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary for the Archdiocese of Denver. This makes our seminary unique: not just the formation of future clerics, but also a division dedicated to the formation of the laity. Our mission is to put people in contact and communion with Jesus, Who alone leads us to the heart of the Father in the Spirit. We do this through various offerings that study God’s call to each and every person to have a personal relationship with Him in the Church that He established with the Precious Blood of Jesus.
Our two flagship programs are the Denver Catholic Biblical School, a four year study of the Sacred Scriptures, and the Denver Catholic Catechetical School, a two year study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We also offer various other programs of study: year long “Enrichment Courses” in different topics of the faith, short courses throughout the year, lecture series throughout the liturgical seasons, and day-long workshops. Wherever you’re at in your faith, we have something for everybody! Including my summer class on Saint Joseph, in which we will dive into his life to learn everything from the narrative story and theological significance of all of the passages in Scripture involving Joseph, to why he is the Patron of the Universal Church, to his moral life and what he teaches us about virtue, to his interior life and what he teaches us about prayer, and much more. I’d simply end by inviting you to join me at the Lay Division in learning about the man that Mary called her beloved husband and Jesus His loving foster-father.
6-week online course taught live (no pre-recorded lectures!) by Daniel Campbell, Director of the Lay Division.
Class sessions are Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:30-11:30am MDT and 6:30-8:30pm MDT.
July 13 July 15
July 20 July 22
July 27 July 29
Aug 10 Aug 12
Aug 17 Aug 19
Aug 24 Aug 26
All four weekly sessions will cover the same curriculum. When registering, students will choose one day/time to be assigned to, but will have access to all four weekly class sessions. Students may attend as many sessions as they like.
Tuition is $100.
As a special promotion for the “Year of St. Joseph”, students will receive a $100 tuition credit toward enrollment in any 2021-2022 full-year Biblical School, Catechetical School, or Enrichment Course.