By Paul J. Ashton, Psy.D., D.Min.
Consultant to the VIRTUS® Programs
Behold the faithful and prudent servant whom the Lord has set over his household.
—The Antiphon of the Canticle of Mary on the Feast of Saint Joseph
Go to Joseph! In all of our needs it is a wise and prudent choice for us to go to the very one God chose to be the protector of Jesus and Mary—the holy family. However, the faithful guardian of Jesus and Mary and of the universal church is often overlooked. He remains in the shadows. We know little about him, and what we do know comes not from his own words, but from his actions as the faithful husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus. We know that Joseph was “a righteous man” (Matthew 1:18) and that he labored as a carpenter, “Is this not the carpenter's son?” (Matthew 13:55), to take care of his family.
The Church rightly celebrates Joseph as the patron of fathers, carpenters, workers, social justice, the dying, and the universal Church. We honor him on two feast days: March 19, a solemnity, for Joseph the Husband of Mary and May 1 for Joseph the Worker.
In almost every country there are celebrations and traditions surrounding this great Saint—the wearing of the color red on his feast day, the traditional return of the swallows to Mission San Juan Capistrano after having flown south for the winter, and the preparation of St. Joseph Tables or altars, “tavole di San Giuseppe” honor him. These tables are set on three tiers representing the holy Trinity, and are decorated with beautiful and often elaborate foods, including meatless Lenten dishes as well as breads, cookies, pastries, cakes and other delicacies. All of these traditions honor a man who silently went about doing God’s will in simple, yet profound ways.
Saint Joseph’s steadfast service to God was perfected through his strong, silent witness, and his protection of Jesus and Mary. What better model is there today for all of us who strive to live out the love we have for our families, friends, and those we care for? What better figure in our Catholic tradition is there to turn to in times like these when the protection of children is of paramount concern globally?
In a recent cover story in USA Today, (16 December 2011) a report called “Silent Abuses” reveals that “Hundreds of thousands of children are abused or neglected in the U.S. every year. But adults who are legally required to report abuse have little reason to fear punishment if they don’t.” The report informs us that mandatory reporting laws across the country requiring adults to report suspected child abuse “have gone largely unenforced over the past decade.” “Infrequent enforcement and small penalties” are stated as the reasons.
The article states, “Child welfare agencies estimate that 695,000 children were abused or neglected last year, but studies have repeatedly found that even more abuse goes unreported.” The report outlines all fifty states and lists which of adults are specifically required to report abuse and whether failing to report it is a crime. In some nine states it is not a crime if suspicions are unreported.
What is positive and hopeful about the article is that “States’ mandatory abuse-reporting laws are getting new scrutiny in the aftermath of a sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University…”
Regardless of the law we, as Christians, know full well the mandate of the Gospels and the definitive call by Jesus to protect all children and vulnerable adults. Reporting our suspicions is crucial to saving the lives of those who might be forever scarred by abuse. We answer to a higher law, and there should be no doubt about our responsibility to report our suspicions immediately. We must, as good Saint Joseph did, put children and vulnerable adults in the center of our lives as a priority. Saint Joseph, ora pro nobis!