Sermon, Feast of Saint Joseph, Saint Peter Church, Steubenville, March 19th, 2021.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
The liturgical texts for the Feast of St. Joseph emphasizes one of his virtues more than all the rest: namely, his justice. Justus ut palma florébit: sicut cedrus Líbani multiplicábitur / The just man shall flourish like the palm tree; he shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon, the schola chanted in the introit. And in the Gospel we heard: Joseph autem, vir ejus, cum esset justus et nollet eam tradúcere, vóluit occúlte dimíttere eam / Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately. In the Preface I will sing: Qui et vir justus, a te Deíparæ Vírgini Sponsus est datus: et fidélis servus ac prudens, super Famíliam tuam est constitútus / who, being a just man, was given by Thee as a Spouse to the Virgin Mother of God, and, as a faithful and prudent servant was set over Thy Family.
Saint Joseph is the just man.
The iconographic tradition puts more emphasis on another one of his virtues: chastity. He is depicted with a lily the symbol of purity. Joseph is resplendent with the spiritual beauty of chastity.
The whole art of being a parish priest can be summed up in two loves, one fearlessness, and one fear.
The first love: Love of God. My predecessor in Sulz, the late Pater Norbert, used to spend an hour kneeling in prayer in the parish Church before Sunday Mass, and many of his parishioners have told me how moved they were by his evident friendship with God. Nothing inspires to prayer as much as seeing someone fulfilled by prayer.
The second love: Love of the parishioners. This means willing their good, and that necessitates being interested in their lives, remembering their names, suffering with those who suffer and rejoicing with those who rejoice. There is a priest in the Archdiocese of Vienna who carries a bouquet of flowers to every married couple in his parish on their wedding anniversary every year. Most every day he has several bouquets to deliver.
The one fearlessness: In order to truly love his parishioners it is important that a priest not fear them, that he not be dependent on their praise and approval, that he not be too weighed down by their criticisms. People will always be upset about something or other (“You coward! How dare you follow the Bishop’s directives on the Corona prevention!” etc.). It is important to be able to accept their anger with patience and good humor.
The one fear: The Fear of God. Nothing drives out the fear of human persons more than the fear of God. One has to realize that one will be answerable at the judgement Seat of Christ for every time that one gives way out of respect of persons.Obviously, these habits are easy to blog about, but are difficult to live in real life, as I am discovering through experience.
I visited the Circus Belloni today. The Ringmaster, Carlos, gave me a little tour. His family has had this circus for seven generations, but now they are in danger of going down on account of the pandemic. They they haven’t been allowed to have any performances. They usually winter at stables in Germany, but the pandemic has now stranded them here in Austria. They have been calling up parishes, asking for donations, so I brought them a small one today.
Tom Howard is dead, and the tributes are pouring in (First Things, The Catholic Herald, Catholic World Report, etc). I don’t want to repeat the story of his life that they tell, but only to write a few words of gratitude for having known him. He was one of my favorite people in the whole world. And he had a lasting influence on my life.
Cardinal Schönborn ordained five of my confrères to the priesthood, and three to the diaconate, yesterday. One of the neomysts is Pater Thomas, who’s sister is a Dominican nun, and whose uncle is auxiliary bishop of Salzburg.