Over Thanksgiving I visited my grandfather in New York. I don’t get to see him as often as I’d like, so it was a special time. He showed us his new room in the facility, pointing out different items and the meanings they have. Between a crucifix and a photo of my grandmother, was a statue of St. Joseph. He handed me the heavy bronze statue of St. Joseph standing behind the Holy Child. St. Joseph had his arms on the child’s shoulders, simultaneously exalting and shielding Him. St. Joseph stood as a protector.
How can a man protect God? How could the care of the Son of God be entrusted to Joseph the carpenter? These questions crossed my mind on the drive home, and I couldn’t help but think of the role of the priest. In perfect humility, Christ has entrusted Himself to the priest in the Eucharist and in his Church. In a way, the priest, like St. Joseph, is a protector of Christ. But what does a protector do?
A protector defends what is precious. At the nativity, St. Joseph was the first man to hold the Son of God tenderly in his arms. At that moment, St. Joseph held salvation itself and stood as the one to defend Him and his mother. When a priest holds the Eucharist in his hands during Mass, he gives Our Lord the same tender care that St. Joseph gave his adopted son.
A protector is alert. I imagine the sleepless nights St. Joseph must have had when shepherding the Holy Family on the way to Egypt, not knowing what danger they might encounter. Yet he stood strongly each night, watching and praying for his family. A priest must labor in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament for the flock entrusted to him. He is an intercessor, praying for the needs and petitions of the Church.
A protector gives entirely of himself. St. Joseph’s virtue of chastity allowed him to be totally free in giving himself to Our Lady and to the care of her child. His virtues of obedience and diligence allowed him to work tirelessly for them, slaving over the workbench to provide for his family. Similarly, a priest’s celibacy allows him to freely love God’s people. He is free to give his time and work entirely for the Lord, but, more importantly, he is ready to love the flock as Jesus does, in a complete gift of self.
As seminarians, we anticipate the day that we will be ordained priests, praying that in complete humility we may be spiritual fathers to God’s people, entrusted with the care of their souls. But this is daunting! Here, in the early years of our philosophy studies, it seems as if there is a mountain to climb before we stand a chance. We need only to look to the example of St. Joseph for solace. Through his radical trust in God, sincere prayer, virtue, and devotion to Our Lady, he fulfilled his role as a father and protector.
St. Joseph, Protector of the Church, pray for us!
Mr. Parlett is a Second Pre-Theology seminarian for the Archdiocese of Washington.