On the Solemnity of our heavenly patron, we Catholics of Martinsville, Virginia, bless and dedicate the new addition to our church!
I. St. Joseph grew up holding fast to the faith of his ancestor Joseph: Almighty God loves His people, and He has grand plans for them. St. Joseph drank in this ancient faith with his mother’s milk, and he lived in the fear and love of the God of Israel, from his youngest days.
But, during the course of his earthly pilgrimage, Joseph learned more. When his foster son was born, Joseph heard from angels and other witnesses that something absolutely new and wonderful had come to pass. And, as he watched the Lord Jesus grow up and come into His own as a man, St. Joseph learned the most decisive fact of life:
Being in communion with this Person, with Jesus Christ: it’s the most important thing there is.
I guess we can’t know for sure that today is the day St. Joseph died. But we do know this: The foster-father of Christ had the happiest death possible. Because he had the Son of God, in the flesh, by his side. He died in communion with Jesus.
We share this with St. Joseph: we know that facing death without Christ would be unimaginably bleak and terrifying. Which means that facing life without Christ—if we want to live anywhere deeper than on the shallowest surface of existence—facing life without Christ would be unimaginably bleak and terrifying, too. Communion with Jesus Christ is the foundation of a truly livable life.
II. For the past couple of decades, the Catholic world has faced the question of the “Catholic identity” of the Church’s institutions. I find myself at a point in life where I myself have to think about such things and take appropriate action. What we have learned, I think, over the past 20 years is: the humblest of all the Church’s institutions, namely the parish, teaches us most clearly what ‘Catholic identity’ is.
A parish exists for one reason, and the reason is pretty obvious. A Catholic would have to get pretty tied-up in nonsense to lose sight of the clear reason why a parish church exists.
These buildings stand so that everyone in the area can have a living relationship with Jesus Christ. The parish church offers everyone in the town—or neighborhood, or county—communion with the foster-son of St. Joseph.
Communion with Christ: The most important thing at the moment of St. Joseph’s death. The most important thing through the course of his life. The most important thing in any life that proposes to have genuine depth and vitality.
The desperate need that we have for Christ is what makes us ‘militant.’ To say exactly what keeps a Catholic institution from becoming aimless and ‘identity’-less—that’s a hard thing to formulate. Church leaders have been trying to formulate the definition of ‘Catholic identity’ for some time now.
But the militance, the urgency, the genuine identity of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, alive in the world: it springs from our awareness of the same fact that St. Joseph learned during his days on earth. Jesus Christ makes life worth living.
So: We thank you, holy father Joseph, for learning that fact. And for helping us, by your heavenly intercession for us, to learn it, too. Thank you, St. Joseph, for sharing with us your gentle strength, so that we can march forward toward heaven, clear as a bell about who we are as Catholics. We are the people who know that communion with Jesus Christ is the most important thing in life.