April 11, 2021 - Pastor Message05/19/2021
THE YEAR OF ST. JOSEPH PATRON OF A HAPPY DEATH
“Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live with him in newness of life” (Romans 6:34).
We continue our yearlong celebration of the life and witness of St. Joseph this month with a reflection on his role as the patron saint of a happy death. The idea of death’s being happy seems rather odd to us who value life so much. We think of death as something sad and tragic that we do everything in our power to avoid. Yet for us as Christians, death is not something to be feared but to be embraced as the ultimate stage of this life because of the very thing we celebrate throughout the Easter season, the resurrection.
As far as we know, Joseph was never baptized. But he was the closest person to Jesus other than the Virgin Mary, and it is impossible to think that Jesus would not share the eternal life he won through his death and resurrection with his adoptive father who so faithfully cared for him throughout his childhood. Joseph’s was a baptism of faith and love of Jesus, rather than water, and the Holy Spirit undoubtedly blessed Joseph by joining him with Jesus in eternal life after his death.
A popular tradition in the Church is that Joseph died before Jesus began his public ministry and that he died with a young Jesus and Mary at his side. That is a pious and comforting image, and there is nothing wrong with believing that. The fact, however, is that we don’t really know when or how Joseph died. Regardless of the time or means, we do know that Joseph passed from this life with faith in the saving power of his son, and that is what made his death “happy”. As Joseph heard from the angel when Jesus was conceived: “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:2022). Joseph’s faith in this salvation through Christ gave him happiness at his death because he knew, because of his fidelity to God and closeness to Jesus, his sins were forgiven and he was destined for eternal life.
That is what also gives us happiness when facing the inevitable prospect of our death. No one wants to die, but we know we all eventually will. Our death and that of those we love can be a sad and traumatic experience or a happy and peaceful one. It all depends on whether or not we, like Joseph, believe in the saving power of Jesus. If we do, then death holds no fear for us, as we pray in the funeral Mass: “In him, the hope of blessed resurrection has dawned, that those saddened by the certainty of dying might be consoled by the promise of immortality to come. Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven” (Roman Missal 78). The eternal dwelling awaiting us is the very reason we live in this temporary dwelling, just as Joseph did, and just as Joseph trusted in the greater life awaiting him for his fidelity, so do we. That was the reason for his happiness at death, and it is the reason for ours, so let us face our death with the same faith-filled happiness with which Joseph faced his, united to his son, Jesus Christ, who lives now and forever.
Fr. Marc Stockton