Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Narrow and Stifling

Sleepy St. Joseph, pray for us!

I have no intention of commenting extensively on the recent papal exhortation, nor even on reading the thing. It would get in the way of me completing Augustine’s City of God, for one thing. If you’re looking for extensive thoughts on the matter, Mr. Skojec has been providing birds-eye view commentary, and Mr. Bear is examining the document in excruciating detail.

Perusing the document quickly drives one to exhaustion. It has that almost hypnotic effect so indicative of intentionally non-offensive yet passive aggressive rhetoric. It either lulls the reader to sleep or drives him mad.

But I digress. After about half an hour of bored reading, I started running text searches, and my running obsession with St. Joseph paid off in spades. Here is a fascinating little selection from the middle of the document:
No family can be fruitful if it sees itself as overly different or “set apart”. To avoid this risk, we should remember that Jesus’ own family, so full of grace and wisdom, did not appear unusual or different from others. That is why people found it hard to acknowledge Jesus’ wisdom: “Where did this man get all this? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mk 6:2-3). “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” (Mt 13:55). These questions make it clear that theirs was an ordinary family, close to others, a normal part of the community. Jesus did not grow up in a narrow and stifling relationship with Mary and Joseph, but readily interacted with the wider family, the relatives of his parents and their friends. This explains how, on returning from Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph could imagine for a whole day that the twelve-year-old Jesus was somewhere in the caravan, listening to people’s stories and sharing their concerns: “Supposing him to be in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey” (Lk 2:44). Still, some Christian families, whether because of the language they use, the way they act or treat others, or their constant harping on the same two or three issues, end up being seen as remote and not really a part of the community. Even their relatives feel looked down upon or judged by them. (Amoris Laetitia 182)
Jesus listening to people’s stories
and sharing their concerns.
The reader is left to his own conclusion about what sort of families are being described as “constant[ly] harping on the same two or three issues.” It’s a vague accusation easily used as a weapon against any family the reader does not like because of some real or perceived assumption of moral high ground. (Maybe a family in which the parents have remained married for fifty years in spite of difficulties is “looking down” on their divorced and adulterous cousins.)

The really interesting language is used to describe what is in fact the popular idea of the Holy Family, in which the threesome of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph make up a kind of self-sufficient unit like an “Earthly Trinity.” P. Francis calls such a small unit “narrow and stifling.”

And he is right! A distorted devotional ideal of the Holy Family is indeed narrow and stifling, and earlier beliefs about the widowed St. Joseph’s children from a previous marriage and the so-called Holy Kinship are great antidotes to this narrowing devotional crutch.

Let us take this opportunity to move past the propagandist devotionalism of the past, and venerate the relatives of Our Lord as tradition tells us they actually were!

“Even their relatives feel looked down upon or judged by them.”


  1. I hope to see a post regarding the upcoming St. Joseph Octave!

    1. What upcoming St. Joseph Octave? ;)

    2. Pius IX placed the Universal Church under the protection of St. Joseph and established a feast on the 3rd Sunday after Pascha. Since it superseded the Paschal Sunday, it was then moved to the 3rd Wednesday after Pascha (tomorrow) and an octave was added only to be nixed by Pius XII. The feast was removed by Pacelli and replaced by the odious Joe the Communist mockery in 1956.

      Although a newer feast, St. Joseph patron of the Universal Church is actually quite beautiful. The Mattins lessons recall the patriarch Joseph and contrast him with Our Lord's stepfather. One gave bread to the Egyptians, the other Living Bread; both were compelled into Egypt under a King; both acted as custodians of their family in a dangerous land and received visions in dreams. The continuity and typology in the feast is substantial. It might be the best written Office in the post-Tridentine era.

  2. I suppose the feast could be renamed 'St. Joseph the Forgotten'!