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Francis and Joseph Print E-mail
By Kristina Johannes   
Thursday, 03 October 2013

The most enduring image I have from the now famous papal interview is not something the pope said but something the pope has – a sleeping St. Joseph. I’ve never seen such a statute, but it makes much sense and gives me further insight into the spirituality of this dear man we call Papa.

The fact that the pope has that statue among his few possessions leads me to believe that he has devoted some thought to the mystery of St. Joseph’s sleep. Something about that pose has struck him and now serves as a daily reminder to him. I’ve not read what it is; perhaps he has not yet spoken about this. But I can imagine and reflect on it.

The Gospel recounts that St. Joseph received his mystical experiences via his dreams, in other words, while he is sleeping. I have always been struck by that and wondered about it. 

When I first read of the pope’s statue and tried to picture it, Psalm 127 came to mind:

Unless the LORD build the house,
they labor in vain who build.
Unless the LORD guard the city,
in vain does the guard keep watch.
 
It is vain for you to rise early
and put off your rest at night,
To eat bread earned by hard toil –
all this God gives to his beloved in sleep.
 
Certainly sons are a gift from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb, a reward.
 
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the sons born in one’s youth.
 
Blessed is the man who has filled his quiver with them.
He will never be shamed
for he will destroy his foes at the gate.

St. Joseph Sleeping by Arnolfo di Cambio, c. 1300

God gives to his beloved in sleep! I’m surprised that I’ve never thought of Psalm 127 before in connection with St. Joseph. This psalm corresponds so perfectly to this just spouse. As protector of Mary and Jesus – hence the protector of the infant Church – he is the guard who keeps watch, and yet he sleeps! His ability to sleep is an acknowledgment that it is the Lord Who guards the city; the Lord who builds the house. And the Lord rewards this trust by warning Joseph at the proper time while He is sleeping. We can put our trust in God!

And what of his quiver? The pure heart of this celibate who sacrificed physical paternity out of love for God, bears fruit as his quiver is miraculously filled with the Son of God – the most clear example in history that “sons are a gift from the Lord.” He will not be alone at the gate; Jesus will be at his side.

Surely anyone who has been given a great responsibility has experienced what Shakespeare puts into the mouth of Henry IV: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” We often see our presidents graying in office. Great responsibility can mean great stress. 

The same is true of a bishop. And a pope. He is charged with confirming everyone in the faith. Yes, he has the support of the college of bishops of which he is the essential member; but is there a greater responsibility on earth than the one laid on the shoulders of the pope? 

In that interview, the pope tells of his first response to being elected. He put it in terms of Caravaggio’s representation of St. Matthew, “That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew. . .It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine. Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.”

Who has not had that experience?  It’s so human. Francis knows that unaided he is not up to the task and yet he accepted it. And he seems serene in that acceptance. This can only mean that he has absorbed the lesson of Psalm 127. He knows the Lord is the builder and protector of the Church over which he serves as that “sweet Christ on earth.” God is in charge.

There is a lesson for all of us in there.  We worry so much these day about the condition of the world, but the Holy Father reminds us of the proper attitude: “The complaints of today about how ‘barbaric’ the world is – these complaints sometimes end up giving birth within the church to desires to establish order in the sense of pure conservation, as a defense. No: God is to be encountered in the world of today.”

The Holy Father is reminding us that the church is not in her final stage, but rather on a pilgrimage of faith though which she will continue to grow and develop. Retreat is not an option, nor is seeking refuge in a previous stage of her life – “pure conservation” – the answer to the uncertainties of the pilgrimage. Her doctrines develop more deeply precisely through that engagement with the world she encounters on her pilgrimage.  

Yes, God is our refuge and He “is to be encountered in the world of today.” Blessed John Paul II exhorted, “Be Not Afraid!” Perhaps when we are tempted to fear, we can bring to mind Psalm 127 and an image of the pope’s statue of Joseph, sleeping peacefully.

 
Kristina Johannes is a registered nurse and a certified teacher of natural family planning. She has served as a spokeswoman for the Alaska Family Coalition, which successfully worked for passage of the marriage amendment to the Alaska Constitution.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (17)Add Comment
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written by Jack,CT, October 03, 2013
Simply Beatiful! thx!
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, October 03, 2013
Here we are six months into a new papacy and the subject remains the person. No, not the person of Jesus Christ but the person Francis. Francis is not the one we are called to proclaim but the one called Jesus. My guess is Francis would agree and encourage us to get on with the work of evangelization.
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written by Avery Tödesulh, October 03, 2013
Yes, a very fine reflection ... Now if we can only convince Bergoglio to sleep through his Papacy and not make too many day-to-day blunders ...
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written by Jim T, October 03, 2013
A beautiful reflection on St Joseph and Psalm 127. An ancestor of mine, an architect, had the opening verse of Psalm 127 embedded in stone and placed in the outside wall of his home.
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written by Jacob, October 03, 2013
The insane part of what he is doing is pretending that it's a more pressing issue to lecture people for being "too orthodox" than those who are participating in the mass genocide of poor children.

INSANE.
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written by Chris in Maryland, October 03, 2013
Kristina:

Thank you for this superb reflection. Indeed, in the liturgy of Christmas in the middle ages, chant manuscripts retell the story of Joseph's dream from Matthew - his "Yes" to the Angel of the Lord, alike unto Mary's.
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written by Quacumque Vera, October 03, 2013
I don't know which is more depressing--that we have a Pope saying the things he is saying or that we have a college of cardinals who would elect a Pope who would say such things. President Obama, a man who never met an abortion procedure he didn't like, has expressed his great admiration for Francis as a Pope who finally gets it. God help us.
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written by Bangwell Putt, October 03, 2013
Thank you to Kristina Johannes, R.N., for this serene meditation. The Church prays: "Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis". We are in great need of serenity and peace. This piece provides a moment of peace within the existing moral chaos.

Regarding the comments of those who think that the Pope is failing to teach the Faith with adequate firmness: A comment on this subject was posted at First Things.

This comment makes the point that Pope Francis "knows that the proclamational strategy we have developed over the centuries for the propagation of the faith is ... ill-suited to our present situation... Francis ... is trying to force the atheist mind back to Pilate's question - What is Truth?." The Pope must "pre-evangelize" before he can evangelize.
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written by Quacumque Vera, October 03, 2013
When Pope Francis does not insist upon a correctly formed conscience he is teaching modern nonsense. Would that he would at least teach the faith.
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written by Richard A, October 03, 2013
Fear not, Quacumque Vera. There cannot be a public man on this planet with poorer judgment than Comrade Obama.
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written by kristinajohannes, October 03, 2013
Thank you so much for the feedback; I'm so glad some enjoyed it!

Avery, although you and i have opposite wishes for the pope your comment gave me a chuckle.

Quacumque Vera, don't you think the pope is simply proceeding from the Church teaching that "no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man"? He's engaged in a dialogue with an atheist and trying to find common ground on which to proceed.

Jacob, I've been trying to figure out why some feel so attacked when I don't. I think it is partially because for the last few years I have been formed in the spirituality of the Legion of Mary, which is a lay group devoted to works of evangelization. Especially in his homilies, the pope often sounds just like the founder of the Legion, the Servant of God, Frank Duff. One of our works is door to door visitation. You can find the Legion handbook online and if you think you might be interested I'm sure there is a Legion group in a parish near you.
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written by Matt, October 03, 2013
kristinajohannes: I know the deceased Mons. Moss was of the opinion that Mr. Frank Duff was saintly. He delivered all his personal interview tapes of Mr.Frank Duff to Vatican prior to his passing.

As for this Pope's gift for gab, I can hear Mons. Moss from the pulpit now..

" Do not concern yourself with the mis-directions thrown at you from within and without the church. Stay close to her! ( the Virgin Mother).
St. John was at the foot of the cross - not because he was more courageous then the other disciples - but because he would not leave her side. Stay close to her and she will help you stay close to Christ."
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written by Avery Tödesulh, October 04, 2013
Bergoglio is to the ordinary magisterium what Gerald Ford was to terpsichory. Mentally unsteady on his feet when not reading from a text. His homilies and addresses are fine, but these interviews make him sound like a 1st year seminarian, floundering about, making it up as he goes along ... As I've written before, this Francis should be making B-movies with Donald O'Connor!
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written by kristinajohannes, October 04, 2013
Beautiful, Matt.

Jacob, I'm not sure that came out as I meant it! I'm not saying that you will feel different if you join the Legion. Your feelings are what they are and some others feel that way too. I offer the Legion because you seem to have a lot of zeal for the faith and I have found it a great way to channel one's zeal.

As to my point re similarities, here's an excerpt from the handbook reflecting on the last testament of Christ, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation." (Mk 16:15):
"When Christ said all, he meant ALL...Our Lord, it will be noted, does not order that every person be converted, but only that approach be made to every one. The former may be beyond human possibility. But it is not impossible to make the approach. And if that all-embracing, undiscriminating contact be made, what then? It is certain that there would be an aftermath. For our Blessed Lord does not order unmeaning or unnecessary steps to be taken...What happens next might well be the renewal of the Pentecostal fires."

And in another section reflecting on the start of the Legion:
"A little band gathered around a statue of Our Lady and said to her: 'Lead us'. United to her, they began the visitation of an immense infirmary, filled with the sick and sorrowful and broken ones of a great city, seeing her Beloved Son in each of them. They came to understand that so also is he in each member of humanity and that they should join in Mary's mother-work for him in each one. So, hand in hand with her, they set about their simple work of service, and lo, they have grown into a legion; and over the world that Legion is doing those simple acts of the love of God in man, and of the love of men for the sake of God; and in every place that love shows its power to stir and win hearts."


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written by kristinajohannes, October 04, 2013
Avery, I'm not sure how many of those homilies and addresses you think are fine, are really verbatim what he has previously prepared. It's amusing how many times you see something like, "the pope put aside his prepared remarks."
I would be surprised if he changes. It seems part of his personal charism of availability.
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written by Avery Tödesulh, October 05, 2013
@Kristina:

“To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often”
St. John Henry Newman
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written by kristinajohannes, October 05, 2013
Avery, I can't disagree with St. JHN.

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