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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Twelfth Sunday. Year B. Mass during Lourdes


Corpus Christi Church, Moyross, 20 June 2021

On this last day of the Novena, I think it’s right to refer to a person who always manages to stay in the background but is very present on our Diocesan pilgrimage. Normally, when we have the workers Mass on the last night, he is there but we don’t refer much to him. He’s the type of person who is rather silent; he is a bit of a dreamer, he is a protector of others but doesn’t like the limelight.

But today, Father’s Day, it is good to talk a little about him. Have you guessed who I am referring to? Yes, St. Joseph, the husband of Mary, the foster father of Jesus and a protector for each of us. The workers Mass as it’s called is often held in St. Joseph’s Chapel in Lourdes on the last night before the singing competition. I think Our Lady and St. Bernadette would be happy for us to focus a little today on just how much St. Joseph is a good man to look to as a model for us all but also for fathers on this Father’s Day.

St Joseph was such a good foster father to Jesus. We can certainly say of St. Joseph was we read in the second Reading: “anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation". Saint Joseph, made new by his role in Jesus’ life, is often invoked as “protector” of the unfortunate, the needy, exiles, the afflicted, the poor and the dying.

Let’s just take three points that St. Joseph’s life suggests to us.

St. Joseph was a tender and loving father. He knew his own limits, frailties and weaknesses. He was afraid at times. But he was a man who trusted in God’s mercy and started over again and again in being a foster father to Jesus. And what St. Joseph tells us all is to put God first in our lives. That is really the secret to life.

I was struck recently by a story I heard about Michael Phelps. He was the famous swimmer who won 22 Olympic gold medals. But when he retired in 2012, he went through a big crisis, struggling, as he put it, to “figure out who I am outside the pool”. After the was arrested for drunk driving, Phelps hid in his bedroom for 5 days. He said, “I didn't eat. I didn't really sleep. I just figured that the best thing to do was end my life.” 

At that point a former professional footballer a committed Christian, Ray Lewis, came to his help. He convinced Michael to enter rehab and gave him a book and the opening sentence of the book really struck Phelps. It said: “The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It's greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. ….’

Phelps said that book “turned me into believing there’s a power greater than myself and there’s a purpose for me on this planet.” The book tells readers that “relationships are always worth restoring,” which got Phelps to reconcile with his father he’d been estranged from for more than twenty years. When they saw each other, they embraced.

St. Joseph believed in the higher power that is God. And so Joseph was an accepting father. He knew how to accept life as it is, with all its contradictions, frustrations and disappointments. I’m sure life didn’t go the way he thought it would go when he was young. He ended up having to arrange for the visit to Jerusalem, then the flight into Egypt and then losing the child Jesus in the Temple. But what St. Joseph reminds us all is that it doesn’t’ matter if everything seems to have gone very different to what we expected, or even wrong or some things can no longer be fixed. God can make flowers spring up from stony ground. Since his big experience, Phelps now keeps telling people: “God's purpose is far greater than your problem and your pain. God has a plan behind your pain, a beautiful plan for your life.” I think it’s what St. Joseph would be saying to us here today too.

A third point. St. Joseph was a creatively courageous father. St. Joseph had to be creatively courageous in so many situations. We can only imagine what that first Christmas night in Bethlehem must have been like for St. Joseph. It wasn’t just like the Christmas cards. There was a lot to do and a lot to be afraid of. And the same must have been true when he had to go to Egypt with King Herod threatening to kill the small children. But Joseph was courageous and kept going. In the face of difficulties, we can either give up and walk away, or somehow turn around and face difficulties. At times, difficulties bring out resources we did not even think we had.

So these are three points that St. Joseph shows us: be tender and loving; he accepting and be courageous. Jesus owed so much to Joseph and Mary as he was growing up. Joseph was protector and Mary was Mother who brought calm as he grew up.

 Of course, Jesus himself will go on to be the great protector as we see in today’s Gospel story of the storm. When they were crossing to the “other side”, in other words, entering into a new situation, something new, a terrible storm blew up. Jesus calmed the storm. And that’s the calm Our Lady seems to share with us when we go to Lourdes, a calm and peace the world does not know. It’s the calm St. Joseph also brings us.

No wonder Pope Francis has the custom that when he has a problem or worry, he writes it down on a piece of paper and puts it under a small statue of the sleeping St. Joseph.

So on the last day of the Novena, as well as bringing out petitions to Our Lady, let’s remember St. Joseph also hears them and will want to protect us asking Jesus to calm any storm that is going on in our lives.