I was honored this evening to celebrate Mass with our brothers at Pope Saint John XXIII Seminary. Here is my homily.
Obedience. That’s what Saint Joseph teaches us. Obedience.
Do not hesitate to take Mary as your wife. And he obeys. Take Mary and the child to Egypt. And he obeys.
And it’s good for future priests to learn obedience. For, in a very real way, obedience is their work. Obedience to their Bishop, to their pastors, to their Faculty Advisor and Spiritual Director and even to their Rector.
But why are you called to be obedient to your legitimate superiors? Is it because they are always right? They are always brighter than you, more talented than you and always more capable of making the right decision?
Not necessarily. Because sometimes your legitimate superior will be less bright than you, less experienced and sometimes even less capable of making the right decision.
But you obey with docility because God has made this man your Bishop or your Rector of your Pastor and its up to God alone to make sense of it. And for now God calls that man to make the decisions and you to obey them, as a participation, if nothing else, in the kenotic self giving, the obedience unto death which is at the heart of Christ’s perfect sacrifice of love upon the Cross for our salvation.
Saint Joseph helps us understand obedience in a very real way. Actually Origen does, when he writes:
"Joseph understood that Jesus was superior to him even as he submitted to him, and, knowing the superiority of his charge, he commanded him with respect and moderation. Everyone should reflect on this: frequently a lesser man is placed over people who are greater, and it happens at times that an inferior is more worthy than the one who appears to be set above him. If a person of greater dignity understands this, then he will not be puffed up with pride because of his higher rank; he will know that his inferior may well be superior to him, even as Jesus was subject to Joseph.”
I think of another Joseph, Joseph Ratzinger, our beloved Pope emeritus. After experiencing the increasing weight of his physical limitations he set aside the Petrine office for a life of prayer. "I am,” he told us, now a “simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth.”
And then he, the Pope did a remarkable thing. Joseph of Bavaria made a promise of obedience, “unconditional reverence and obedience,” to whoever his successor will be. A promise he has kept.
Did he do it because he knew his successor would be a better theologian than him, a more powerful preacher or a more effective Pope. No. He did it because there could be only one Pope, and he, the emeritus, would render him unconditional obedience and respect.
He did it because he belied the words he preached years before:
“Only if we know how to lose ourselves, if we give ourselves, may we find ourselves. When this occurs, it is not our will that prevails, but that of the Father to which Jesus submitted himself: ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.’ (Lk 22:42)…. This is what St. Joseph has taught us, with his renouncing, with his abandonment, that in a certain sense foreshadowed the imitation of the Crucified Jesus, the paths of fidelity, of the resurrection, and of life.” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, homily 19 March 1992)
Just one more brief story.
I was recently reading an old favorite book, a diary from the middle of the last century. “It tells the story of a prideful, loudmouthed, sensitive 14 year old boy who was tired of getting yelled at by his seminary superiors and the old ladies in his native town of Bergamo; it tells the story of a young man who didn’t believe he had what it takes to be a priest or even a faithful man of God; it tells the story of a young seminarian in Rome overwhelmed with his studies and who felt far from God …[it tells the story of a man] “radically in love with Jesus Christ, and completely disposed to doing the will of God no matter what.” Despite it all, his episcopal motto said it all: “Obedience and Peace”
And that Pope is your saintly patron, and his diary, the Journal of a Soul.
So take this from our Feast of Saint Joseph the husband of Mary and custos of the Son of God: Obey. Obey your Rector, or your Bishop, or any legitimate authority with humility, docility and love and you will grow into the image of him who was obedient unto death, even death on a Cross.