“We need only ask Saint Joseph for the grace of graces: our conversion” (PC p. 9).
Immediately before the closing prayer, as the very last line of his Apostolic Letter on St. Joseph, Patris Corde, Pope Francis has a compelling statement: “We need only ask Saint Joseph for the grace of graces: our conversion.” In the preceding paragraphs, the Holy Father had indicated “The proper mission of the saints is not only to obtain miracles and graces, but to intercede for us before God.”
The question arises as to how convinced we are of our need for conversion, this “grace of graces.” What lessons about this change of thinking, living, and speaking might Joseph teach us? To answer that question begins with a resolution for personal honesty.
First, Joseph might encourage us to believe the best about people. The news of Mary’s pregnancy must have been an astonishing shock to him. He knew and loved Mary. He wanted to believe the best of her, and when the angel brings the message of the Lord in a dream, Joseph grasps it with both arms and a full heart. He believed and trusted in Mary.
Second, Joseph can teach us not to do anything that might cause another person harm. When he first learns of Mary’s pregnancy, the Scripture tells us:
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.(Mt 1:19)
Whatever hurt Joseph might have felt does not extend to harming this woman. Even before he learns the truth, he will not do anything that embarrasses her and particularly anything that brings upon her the rigor of the Law. Fidelity to his own values cannot take precedence over her reality. (It sounds very much in keeping with Pope Francis’ repeated summons to recognize that the principle cannot ignore the person. Or, as the Pope says in a different context “The nobility of Joseph’s heart is such that what he learned from the law he made dependent on charity.” PC, 4)
Third, Joseph demonstrates how one needs to carry out God’s will in one’s life no matter how much it goes against one’s plans or what it costs. Pope Francis describes this as Joseph’s “fiat” (PC, 3). We hear how:
When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. (Mt 1:24).
The rest of the story repeatedly demonstrates the way in which Joseph responds obediently to his understanding of God’s call in his life.
Fourth, Joseph offers the wondrous example of loving service to those who are in his life, especially family. He is willing to go anywhere, to do anything, to follow any instruction that insures the care and safety of Mary and Jesus. Pope Francis’ apostolic letter (Patris Corde) begins with the affirmation that “Joseph loved Jesus with a father’s heart.” One could easily make a parallel statement in relation to Mary as “Joseph loved Mary with a husband’s heart.” The meaning of both of these statements offers meaningful grounds for reflection for all of us in relation to our families and those close to us.
And fifth, Joseph can call us to conversion in relation to fidelity to our faith. Luke’s Gospel offers repeated examples of the Holy Family’s regard for the Law and its sacred call. Among them, we hear about the circumcision (2:21) and the purification (2:22):
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord . . . When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. (Mt 2:22, 39)
And, of course, there is the way in which the stage is set for the finding of the 12 year old Jesus in the Temple:
Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. (Mt 2:41)
This family practice finds its place in the adult Jesus:
Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. (Mk 4:16)
There are, of course, other lessons that Joseph could teach that would contribute to our conversion, but these are enough for now for most of us. Would you want to add any?
Within our Vincentian Family, we know that Vincent preached the first sermon of the mission on January 25, 1617, which is the feast of the conversion of St. Paul. Popularly, it has been said that Vincent was “converted by life.” It would require little effort to identify some of these areas of growth in the maturing Vince. We could say no less of Louise. Conversion rests close to the heart of the Vincentian vision.
When the Holy Father invites us to ask for the gift of conversion, the “grace of graces,” he wisely points us to a good man who models the areas in which that change can be welcomed into our lives—St. Joseph.