Mar 27, 2015

The Province of Joy - Lenten Series 2015 - The Meeting on the turret stairs - Burton

"The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away." (Song of Solomon 2:8-13, NRSV).

A number of years ago RTE conducted a survey to find Ireland’s favourite painting and the result was “The meeting on the turret stairs” by Frederic William Burton which is one of the most popular paintings in the National Gallery despite the fact that despite it is rather delicate nature it is not actually on public display that often.

“This richly coloured watercolour painting depicts the ill-fated lovers Hellelil and Hildebrand, meeting on the stone stairway of a medieval tower. The princess and her bodyguard had fallen in love but her father regarded the young soldier as an unsuitable match for his daughter and ordered his sons to kill him. Burton was inspired by the story of the ill-fated lovers told in an old Danish ballad. The poem had been translated into English in 1855 by Whitley Stokes, a lawyer and philologist, and friend of the artist”[1].

“A careful reading of the ballad reveals an imagined early moment in the relationship when the couple meet fleetingly on the stairs, as Hildebrand passionately seizes Hellelil’s arm, embracing it and making the most of a brief encounter in a doomed affair. In the words of George Eliot, ‘The face of the knight is the face of a man to whom the kiss is a sacrament’. Burton creates an emotionally charged situation—by focusing attention on the knight’s intense embrace of the arm of his lady, who, taken by surprise, turns aside, having dropped her flowers, scattering the petals on the stair—symbolising the brevity of the affair and its destructive nature[2]”.

The painting probably appeals to the romantic element in our Celtic temperament; the ideal of giving all for love as the story of Hellelil and Hildebrand is after all a tragic romance – like Romeo and Juliet there is no happy ending for the two lovers. The idea of the star crossed lovers like Deirdre (of the Sorrows) and Naoise is a common theme in many stories from an Fhiannaíocht and an Rúraíocht.

The painting depicts a stolen moment; a kairos encounter; an encounter stolen outside the running tide of time as the lovers seek to mark their love for each other. A fleeting embrace as they pass each other by.

Love can be such a fleeting thing; but it is part of being human where we recognise that not being in love somehow makes us seem less human; after all the saying is that it is better to have loved and lost then not to have loved at all. Our relationships in life can be complex and not simple. But always they are moments of encounter and relationships of love can be even sacraments of encounter. “As we journey from the womb of the sea with our gaze of longing fixed on the stars, we have stopped off on this earth for a short spell of belonging[3]. And sometimes the journey can be a “long and winding road” but “we are not asked to get it right, we are asked to be open, to keep the heart soft, and in this open space we discover the healing and stillness we long for. Maybe life is simply asking that we not anesthetise ourselves against the bigger questions, but with pilgrim hearts be always asking that which the poet Mary Oliver asks: ‘What is it you plan to do with your one, wild and precious life?’”[4]

Love is also the under lying theme of the scriptures. The stories, poetry, creation myths and historical recordings set out the journey of a people as they grow into a relationship with many side steps and tangents before its ultimate culmination and consummation in the empty tomb on Easter morning. And that idea of a love story is expressed in the Song of Songs or the Canticle of Canticles.

The Song of Songs is a book of the Old Testament which is regarded as part of the Wisdom literature. It is in unusual book in some ways with its earthy even erotic language of love and passion – recently I read of one commentator who described it as needing an R rating! In this book we hear the Shepherd and the Shulamite singing their love to each other, celebrating each other, praising each other, yearning for each other as much when they are together as when they are apart. It is the story of two lovers and their description of their love and passion for the other seen as an allegory for God’s love for the people of Israel.

As blogger Craig Adam’s notes[5]:

“....the books of Wisdom literature are life related. They speak to the here and now. They are reflections on life and how it is to be led. To the ancient Hebrews "wisdom" was the ability to live well. It was the ability to find happiness and fulfillment in life. We read in Ecclesiastes 3:12,13: "I know that there is nothing better for [people] than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil."

..... in the Song of Songs, we find ourselves in the ancient Jewish wedding festival. This is where these poems were originally read. They speak of the celebration of erotic love and of romantic longing. .......We should not be afraid of this part of ourselves.
Calling it "evil" and suppressing it will not make it go away. Our sexuality is woven into the fabric of our being. The more we reject and suppress the sexual urge the more out-of-control it is likely to become.

And, it's not an evil thing to see beauty and wonder in another human being. Hey, it's a good thing! It's not evil if it causes us to see and value that person as a human being. Really, our capacity for this is too small. The truth is that we are created in the image of God — don't you know? — and, there is a beauty in everyone that we are not always capable of seeing. God sees us as handsome and beautiful and wonderful — oftentimes tragic, yes — but nonetheless as God's "very good" creation. God delights in us.

God calls us into a relationship through Jesus Christ.
"Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away." Can you believe you are beloved, honored, valued?

Lent is a time for us to remind ourselves of that. Like the couple in the “Meeting on the turret stairs” God seeks to embrace us and often can only find those stolen moments of encounter. Lent provides us with an opportunity to reflect on that fact that “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him[6]”.  

As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us “these with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny”[7]. It poses the question for us – can we claim John’s summary of the Christian life that “we have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us”? After all “[b]eing Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”[8] expressed in communion and community. “In the Song of Songs love becomes a concern and care for the other.”No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice[9].”

But where is our passion? Where is our drive and desire for love? Why is it that the Celtic temperament and drama of the Christian love story has been subdued within us? Where is the energy and the out pouring of desire?

We are almost afraid to recognise that “I am my beloved’s, his desire is for me. Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields[10]  Why do we not cry out and ask God to set “a seal upon [our] heart, as a seal upon [his] arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave[11]

Looking at the painting it almost seems to ask us can we make of our own the search for God, that “I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him....”[12]. But are we seeking, searching, asking, opening ourselves to that love? As Lent draws to a close and we enter into the sacred Triduum, we can ask ourselves do we allow that space for that sacrament of encounter so that we can say 
“My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready. I will sing, I will sing your praise. Awake my soul, awake lyre and harp, I will awake the dawn[13].

[3] John O’Donohue, The Four Elements – Reflections on Nature; Transworld Ireland, 2010; quote from the foreword by Pat O’Donohue
[4] Martina Lehane Sheehan, Seeing Anew – Awakening to Life’s Lessons; Veritas, 2012, pg 13
[6] 1 Jn 4:16
[7] Deus Caritas est, para 1
[8] Deus Caritas est, para 1
[9] Deus Caritas est, para 6
[10] Song of Songs 7:10
[11] Song of Songs 8:6
[12] Song of Songs 2:
[13] Psalm 56

Mar 24, 2015

March 25th - The Annunciation

The Annunciation
by D. Werburg Welch
(Source: iBenedictines)
"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end." 

And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

Today we mark the beginning of time, the new creation, a kairos moment. We mark the day when all the universe paused and waited with bated breath for the response of a simple young woman; who was asked to undertake a unique motherhood, to be God-bearer, Theotokas, and through the Cross mother of us all.

The divine messenger, standing in her simple home, bowing down to ask would she consent to God's will. The Divine humbling itself to the human, lowering itself down to the level of the created for to be able to ultimately divinise the dust of the earth. To walk with us, among us, as one of us through this "vale of tears". The fact that God-made-Man, entered into our existence, entered into our human history, experienced our pains, our joys, our needs, “like us in all things except sin,”is the ultimate hope given to us. The in-breaking of God into human history enables us to share in the ultimate love between the persons of the Godhead expressed as the Holy Spirit. Because Christ has taken on our frail human nature, we are able to participate in, no rather are part of, the Divine Eros, the Divine Love epitomised by the sending of that Spirit of Love on the first Pentecost, the manifestation of love on the world. No longer are we just made in the image and likeness of God, through His sharing in our humanity we share ultimately in his divinity.

Where do we stand in that room at the Annunciation? 

Are we the messenger? Are we the ones who can go to another and remind ourselves because of Mary's "Yes" that we are all indeed "full of grace"? The grace of being children of God, co-heirs with Christ, made in the image of the Divine Light? Do we provide that moment of reflection where we remind each other, God has a special plan for you too? 

Often we are asked to focus on Miriam, Mary, Maria. Her 'fiat' given to us as exemplar and example. Virgin Madonna, Holy inviolate Mother, Ark of the Covenant, Tower of David, Gate of Ivory. But have we wrapped the woman-child in too many layers of mystical pastiche? Where is the trembling, frightened, awe struck young lady who makes the ultimate sacrifice? But what if she has said "No!"?

The birth of the child was a divine manifestation but in a very human world. “In human terms, in paschal terms – [from the Greek verb pascho with its root word in strickeness and suffering] – the story of Jesus begins with a terrified teenager birthing onto a futon of straw in a rock cavity amid the incense of the breath of livestock. It begins in a Taliban territory, a sectarian state that murders single mothers by stoning them. It begins badly and ends worse – in the public execution of her child as a condemned criminal in a rubbish dump outside the city walls.”

In very human terms, still very much happening today, frightened young girls and women are giving birth in conditions not much better and often worse, relying on the divine grace of their human female nature – often so defiled and abused by the societies that they are in - to bring to climax the process of creation which they have participated in either willingly or unwillingly. Like that young Jewish girl giving birth without the benefit of midwives they too often “experience an unescorted birth; labour without amenity…there are no women present” .

But even before the messiness, the pain and suffering of birth in a dark cave where a mother, in her ultimate gift to the world, in bringing new life into that ungrateful world, prefigures the blood and pain of Calvary, she had suffered for her willingness to be open to the message of God.

She suffered from staring eyes and whispers behind her back which forced her to the shelter of her cousin Elizabeth to the consolation of another woman in the same predicament as she. Small consolation to her, but surely it offers hope to any woman in the situation of an unexpected pregnancy and worried about “what the neighbours may say”.

She suffered in the uncertainty as to whether her fiancée would stand by her in what in human terms he could have seen as being an ultimate betrayal. We can say that “Joseph was a very decent man. He didn’t want to give his girlfriend a bad reputation and after a reassuring dream he married her. But was it a happy life?”

She suffered “when Jesus was twelve they lost him in the crowd and when they found him, after three days of anxiously looking, their question: “Why did you do this to us?” was answered with something close to a reproach: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house”(Luke 2:49)? This response, “But didn’t you know I have more important things to do than pay attention to you,” is hardly consoling” to Mary and Joseph but must give hope to any parents of angst-ridden teenagers.

Take and eat…take and drink….we eat of his body, broken on the Cross, birthed in pain and suffering in a dark cave. We drink of his blood poured out for us, but as blood and water flowed from his side, so too it poured forth at this birth, prefiguring the sacrifice to be made on Calvary. Simeon’s prophecy to Mary was that she would experience suffering too for having brought this child into the world, but what mother does not experience suffering from the moment of birth as her child grows further and further away from her into their own person and ultimately journeys back to the God that made them?

“When Jesus hands over his body to the disciples he is vulnerable. He is in their hands for them to do as they wish...It embodies a tenderness that means that one may well get hurt. It is a self gift that may be met with rebuff and mockery and in which one may feel oneself to be used. The Last Supper shows us with extreme realism the perils of giving ourselves to anyone…The Last Supper is the story of the risk of giving yourself to others. That is why Jesus died, because he loved. But not to take the risk is even more dangerous. It is deadly…Love is the only impetus that is sufficiently overwhelming to force us to leave the comfortable shelter of our well-armed individuality, shed the impregnable shell of self-sufficiency, and crawl nakedly into the danger zone beyond, the melting pot where individuality is purified into personhood.” 

Mary too, as a mother, handed over her body to the world so that the world could receive the Divine Love into its midst and then suffered again as the world rejected that Divine Love by impaling it on a cross.



Let it be the middle of nowhere,

at the heart of nothing but wheat fields.
Let there be farmers swinging their arms,
broadcasting seed.

Let us see the terrible boredom of oxen
and small-town girls. Let there be one girl
grinding grain in her father’s house,
her face bland with inexperience,
her heart expectant of little
but marriage, customarily arranged.

Into this everyday, female life,

let there enter a messenger,
praising her and telling wild stories
about God inside her body.

Let the message flourish in the girl,

and make of her a prophet, capable of seeing
beyond the milky tenderness
of her promised pregnancy and motherhood,
to her son’s ironic kingdom.
Let her envision him befriending prostitutes
and children,
enraging priests and governors,
dying between thieves.

Let the girl be wise and curious.

Let her ask, how can this be?
When the messenger is overwhelmed
by beauty,
and he can tell her only
that the shadow of the holy will fall
across her life,
let her receive
the God of fearsome possibilities.
Let her conceive the Christ.

Rachel Srubas (Source)

The Annunciation
By Denise Levertov

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
       Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
       The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
         God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.


Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
         Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
More often
those moments
      when roads of light and storm
      open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
                                 God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.


She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
  only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
                     Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–

but who was God.
This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,


She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
                                                       raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
                                  consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
                               and the iridescent wings.
              courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.


Other reflections:

Salt + Light - Because Mary said “Yes…” — A Reflection for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord
Phil over at Ennis Blue
America - The Annunciation and You
Pope Benedict XVI reflecting on the Annunciation Advent 2012 - “The Annunciation wouldn’t have made today's headlines”
iBenedictines reflections- 20112012
OCA - The Annunciation: Announcing the Incarnation
Totus2us - The Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary

35th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero

"Today is the 35th anniversary of the March 24, 1980 assassination of Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero. The day is being met with marches and commemorations throughout the week and throughout the country as El Salvador looks towards May 23 and the celebration of Romero's beatification by the Roman Catholic church.

The image of Romero is everywhere in El Salvador, from a mural within the international airport which now bears his name, to the walls of houses in remote hamlets in the countryside.   It is evidence of how profound was the impact of this man of God who walked hand-in-hand with the oppressed and the poor in the country.  It was his commitment to justice rooted in faith which put him on the path to martyrdom at the hands of a death squad assassin."

Continue reading and see a collection of photos at Tim's El Salvador Blog
Lutheran Peace Blog has a series of links to videos, reflections and other resources -  Anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero
Thinking Faith from the UK Jesuits has a number of articles in their archive:
Previous posts on SS102fm on Oscar Romero here

The 'Mad' Nuns of Naples

We knew that Pope Francis was a popular man; but the cloistered nuns of Naples who had received permission to leave their enclosure for the day to see him were determined to do more than that!

From Catholic News Service:
Pope Francis was mobbed by nuns Saturday when he visited the cathedral in Naples to meet with priests, seminarians and religious. From our story:
- - -

Entering the cathedral, Pope Francis’ white cassock and his arms were yanked repeatedly by priests, seminarians and nuns wanting to touch him or attract his attention.
Calm reigned briefly after the pope reached the altar, but then Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples told the pope that, in accordance with canon law, he had ...given formal permission for the nuns in Naples’ seven cloistered convents to go out for the day.

The nuns, who had been seated in the sanctuary, broke free, running to the pope, surrounding him, hugging him, kissing his ring and piling gifts on his lap.
“Sisters, sisters, not now, later!” the cardinal shouted over the microphone to no avail. “Look what I have done,” he said, exasperated. “And these are the cloistered ones, imagine what the non-cloistered ones are like! Ay. They’re going to eat him alive.”
When order was restored, Pope Francis stood with several sheets of paper and told the congregation, “I prepared a speech, but speeches are boring.” So, he put the papers aside, sat down and began talking about how Jesus must be at the center of a consecrated person’s life, about life in community, about poverty and mercy.

Mar 23, 2015

iCatholic - Why is Limerick hosting a diocesan synod?


Mar 22, 2015

22nd March 2015 - Interview with Br Conor McDonagh OP - 5th Sunday Lent (Year B)

On this weeks programme John, Anne and Shane and joined by Br Conor McDonagh who shares his Dominican story and what it means to be a young religious in Ireland. We have a short reflection on the Sunday gospel as well as some other odds and ends.

You can listen to the podcast of this weeks programme HERE.

Interview with Br Conor McDonagh OP

Br Conor and Sr Louise after his diaconal
ordination 15th March 2015
Br Conor McDonagh OP joins John and Shane on the programme this week to share his journey to becoming a Dominican friar and onto his diaconal ordination on 15th March. 

In what is an interesting discussion, Conor reflects on what it means to be a Dominican and a in a particular way to reflect on what it means to be a young religious in Ireland today. Conor reflects on the challenges and opportunities that religious have as people of encounter and how religious life is an opportunity of evangelical witness.

You can listen to Conor's interview excerpted from the main programme HERE.

You can find out more about the Irish Dominicans from their website.

Conor was also involved in the video that was produced to mark the Year for Consecrated Life:

Gospel - John 12: 20-33

Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feastcame to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.Whoever loves his life loses it,and whoever hates his life in this worldwill preserve it for eternal life.Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.The Father will honor whoever serves me.
“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?‘Father, save me from this hour’?But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.Father, glorify your name.”Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

Here I am, imperfect, concerned, broken. 
I give it all to you - I let go trying to be in charge and 
I will let God be God in my life.

Prayer of Confession

(inspired by John 12:20-33)

Lord, we confess that we love our lives as they are.
We struggle with even the idea of change.
We wrestle with the thought of doing things differently.
But we know that the life we cling to is only a half-life.
Only you, O Lord, can give us true life in full.
Forgive us for holding onto the wrong things.

Teach us by your Spirit to let go of our agendas and assumptions.
Help us to let go of our self-righteousness and false notions of power.
Give us the strength and courage to try new things.

Encourage us – and even push us –
to let go of ourselves so we can fully embrace you, Holy God.
We pray these things in the name of Christ Jesus. Amen.

~ written by Amy Loving, and posted on The Worship Closet: The Place for Creative Worship Ideas

Reflections on this weeks gospel:

Word on Fire
Sunday Reflections
Centre for Liturgy

Liturgical odds and ends

Liturgy of the Hours: psalter week 1; 5th week of Lent

Saints of the Week

March 23rd - St Turibius
March 24th - St Macartan (anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero)
March 25th - Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
March 26th - St Mochelloc of Kilmallock
March 27th - St Rupert of Salzburg
March 28th -Bl Donal O'Neylan

Mar 19, 2015

You are not alone

Need to counter myth that religions lead to global conflicts - Bishop Leahy

Need to counter myth that religions lead to global conflicts – Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy states at Three Faiths Forum

Religious leaders need to stand side by side in showing how religion can provide a lead in resolving conflict, Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy stated at Three Faiths Forum gathering in the Mansion House tonight.

Speaking at the event titled ‘Religions and Global Conflict’, Bishop Leahy said that while religion has been in some cases “hijacked” by forces intent only on personal profit of one kind or another, it is not the cause of conflicts.

“A superficial reading of religions and global conflict bring some to view religions as only a negative influence in our world. I know and acknowledge that there can be what the American professor Scott Appleby describes as the ‘ambivalence of the Sacred’. There are deviant forms of religion. It does happen that religions find themselves taken up into conflict issues of identity, in many cases hijacked by forces intent only on personal profit of one kind or another.

“When aligned to various political currents that promote a logic of enmity, religions can become vehicles of mutual exclusion through the absolutizing of some of their texts or institutions.”

Bishop Leahy said that the 1986 Assisi meeting of religions for peace, which he attended, was an example of how various faiths can come together in the name of peace. However, today we need to be careful not to fall into the myth, born often out of a Western ideological stance, that religions are generally sources of the conflicts of civilisation.

“Religion is not usually the sole or even primary cause of conflict. In short, while religions are not the causes of conflict they have a very valuable role to play in the transformation of conflict.

Continue reading here.

March 19th - St Joseph

 “St. Joseph’s mission is certainly unique and unrepeatable, as Jesus is absolutely unique. However, in protecting Jesus, in teaching him how to grow in age, wisdom and grace, he is a model for every educator, and in particular for every father. … I ask for you the grace to be every closer to your children, allow them to grow, but be close, close! They need you, your presence, your closeness, your love. Be, for them, like St. Joseph: protectors of their growth in age, wisdom and grace. Guardians of their path, and educators: walk alongside them. And with this closeness, you will be true educators.”
(Pope Francis).

March 19th marks the feast day of St Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary and foster father to Jesus. He was proclaimed the patron of the Universal Church in 1870 by Pope Pius IX and is also patron of workers and fathers.

In the Gospels it is written that “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife” . He is also depicted as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart is full of tenderness. 
In his Homily at his installation Mass on this date last year, Pope Francis described St Joseph as a protector, the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church. He is, said the Pope, “constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own”. 



He was probably born in Bethlehem and probably died in Nazareth. His important mission in God's plan of salvation was "to legally insert Jesus Christ into the line of David from whom, according to the prophets, the Messiah would be born, and to act as his father and guardian (Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy)." Most of our information about St. Joseph comes from the opening two chapters of St. Matthew's Gospel. No words of his are recorded in the Gospels; he was the "silent" man. We find no devotion to St. Joseph in the early Church. It was the will of God that the Virgin Birth of Our Lord be first firmly impressed upon the minds of the faithful. He was later venerated by the great saints of the Middle Ages. Pius IX (1870) declared him patron and protector of the universal family of the Church.

The darkest hours of his life may well have been those when he first learned of Mary's pregnancy; but precisely in this time of trial Joseph showed himself great. His suffering, which likewise formed a part of the work of the redemption, was not without great providential import: Joseph was to be, for all times, the trustworthy witness of the Messiah's virgin birth. After this, he modestly retires into the background of holy Scripture.
Of St. Joseph's death the Bible tells us nothing. There are indications, however, that he died before the beginning of Christ's public life. His was the most beautiful death that one could have, in the arms of Jesus and Mary. Humbly and unknown, he passed his years at Nazareth, silent and almost forgotten he remained in the background through centuries of Church history. Only in more recent times has he been accorded greater honor.

Liturgical veneration of St. Joseph began in the fifteenth century, fostered by Sts. Brigid of Sweden and Bernadine of Siena. St. Teresa, too, did much to further his cult.
At present there are two major feasts in his honor. On March 19 our veneration is directed to him personally and to his part in the work of redemption, while on May 1 we honor him as the patron of workmen throughout the world and as our guide in the difficult matter of establishing equitable norms regarding obligations and rights in the social order.

Further reflections on the feast:

Phil over at Ennis Blue
OSV - St. Joseph: A humble model for all fathers
Dominica - 5 ways St Joseph can help your Lent
Word on Fire - The Loud Silence of St Joseph