St. Joseph: images, signs and symbols

“The Presentation of Christ,” 5th century, Triumphal Arch, Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome.

Father Jordan Hainsey, Messenger contributor.
Christianity has used symbols from its very beginnings. Think of the fish (ichthys) made by two intersecting arcs. It stood for Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter, i.e. Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. Aside from the theological overtones of the Eucharist and the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, it was a secret symbol used to identify one’s self as a Christian. The fish pointed to a deeper reality — an identity.
The same is true of saints in artwork. How they look, what they hold, how they are dressed and even the colors they are shown in are highly symbolic, revealing their identity. Much of the information that comes down to the Church in this regard comes from her Hagiography, the body of literature that describes the lives of saints and their cult tradition.

“St. Joseph and the Christ Child,” 1620s, Guido Reni.

In the early days of the Church, St. Joseph appeared only in images related to the Nativity, drawing on scriptural references. In the 5th-century arch mosaic at Rome’s church of Santa Maria Maggiore, St. Joseph is young, bearded and garbed as a Roman.
Other depictions came to be derived from the “Protoevangelium of James” — a 2nd-century work, not part of the Christian biblical canon. Artists following this tradition depicted St. Joseph as an old man, grey and balding. By the 16th century though, artists were returning to more youthful depictions.
Joannes Molanus, a Catholic theologian during the Counter Reformation, worked to make the Council of Trent’s “decrees on sacred images” the marching orders for a generation of artists to follow. Molanus advocated that it was far more appropriate to show St. Joseph as a young man — one capable of restraining his carnal urges, one fit enough to take his wife and child into Egypt, and one strong enough to support them with his labor as a craftsman.
Neither visual tradition has remained a constant though. St. Joseph continues to be shown old and young, from statues to holy cards. He is almost always shown though carrying a flowering staff of lilies. It alludes to the flowering rod of Aron (Numbers 17) and a miraculous account from a 13th century hagiographical work titled “The Golden Legend.” Garbed in brown, the color of earth, and green, the color of new life, the robes of St. Joseph evoke the ideas of humility and hope.

“The Chaste Heart of St. Joseph,” 2013, Giovanni Gasparro.

The Diocese of Covington has chosen “The Chaste Heart of St. Joseph” by Giovanni Gasparro as its image for the Year of St. Joseph. Born in 1983, Gasparro is a young artist from Bari, Italy. Gasparro draws on the traditional iconography of St. Joseph while offering a contemporary depiction that is accessible to the faithful of today. The strength of St. Joseph’s character extended to all aspects of his life and person — including his heart.
With his whole being illumined by God, Gasparro depicts St. Joseph’s heart on fire with the love of God, and a flowering staff points to his purity. Together the heart and staff remind the viewer that purity of heart lies within reach, thanks to the grace of God and the intercession of Joseph.
However an artist depicts St. Joseph, the point is the same: to draw the faithful into contemplation of the man at the heart of the Incarnation story, the man Pope Francis has called a “minister of salvation.”

Q&A: Indulgences in the Year of St. Joseph

Father Jordan Hainsey, Messenger Contributor.

The “Year of St. Joseph” was proclaimed by Pope Francis on Dec. 8, 2020 and extends to December 8, 2021. It honors the 150th anniversary of Pope Blessed Pius IX’s proclamation of St. Joseph as the “Patron of the Universal Church” (“Quemadmodum Deus”). Special plenary indulgences have been granted “to perpetuate the entrustment of the whole Church to the powerful patronage of the “Custodian of Jesus.”

Q: What is an indulgence?

A: An indulgence is the remission, in the eyes of God, of the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven. The English form of the word indulgence comes from the Latin word <<indulgentia>>, meaning an act of kindness or tenderness.

Q: Who can get it and how is it used?

A: A person seeking an indulgence must be baptized, not excommunicated, and in the state of grace when performing the work of the indulgence. A person must formulate a sincere intention of gaining the indulgence before doing the work associated with it.

An indulgence can be applied to oneself or a deceased person (but not another living person). Gaining a plenary indulgence on behalf of a deceased person is a great act of mercy because it makes atonement for the punishment they are experiencing in purgatory, allowing them to be more quickly ushered into heaven. The atonement is only possible because of the merits of Christ’s salvific work of the Cross; in an indulgence, we are simply asking that those merits be applied to a loved one in need of them.

If the indulgence is for yourself, you are working toward the remission of the temporal punishment for sins that, if left unremitted in this life, you will have to work toward in purgatory.

Q: What are the Conditions required for an indulgence, particularly in the Year of St. Joseph?

A: A plenary indulgence is granted under these usual conditions: 1) sacramental confession; 2) Eucharistic communion; 3) praying for the intentions of the Holy Father.

In the Year of St. Joseph, the Apostolic Penitentiary (the Vatican tribunal responsible for issues relating to the forgiveness of sins in the Church) directs the faithful to participate in one of the devotions to St. Joseph in order to obtain the plenary indulgence:

— Meditate for at least 30 minutes on the Our Father.

— Participate in a spiritual retreat of at least one day that includes a meditation on St. Joseph.

— Perform a corporal or spiritual work of mercy.

— Recite the holy rosary in families (engaged couples can also receive an indulgence from praying the rosary together).

— Entrustment of daily work to the protection of St. Joseph and to all believers who invoke, with their prayers, the intercession of St. Joseph.

— Pray the Litany of St. Joseph or some other prayer to St. Joseph, particularly for the persecuted Church and for the relief of all persecuted Christians.

— Pray any approved prayer or act of piety in honor of St. Joseph especially on:

– March 19, Solemnity of St. Joseph;

– May 1, Feast of St. Joseph the Worker;

– Dec. 26, Feast of the Holy Family;

– The Sunday of St. Joseph (according to the Byzantine tradition);

– The 19th day of every month;

– Every Wednesday (the day dedicated to the memory of St. Joseph in the Latin tradition).

The elderly, the sick and the dying who are unable to leave their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic also have special permission to receive an indulgence by “offering with trust in God the pains and discomforts” of their lives with a prayer to St. Joseph, hope of the sick and patron of a happy death.

Q: What is the time frame for the indulgence requirements?

A: The three requirements of confession, Eucharist, and prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father must be met several days before or after the particular St. Joseph devotion is completed.


Tangible reminders: The relics of St. Joseph

Reliquary of the cloak of Saint Joseph and the Veil of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Sant’Anastasia, Rome.

Father Jordan Hainsey, Messenger Contributor

Holy relics are the physical objects that have a direct association with the saints or with our Lord. First class relics are the body or fragments of the body of a saint, such as pieces of bone or flesh. Second class relics are something that a saint personally owned, such as a shirt or book. Third class relics are those items that have been touched to a first, second or another third class relic. Relics are meant to be honored and venerated, never worshipped. By honoring the memory of the saints and martyrs, their bodies, and their belongings, we give thanks to God for their holy witness.

Of all the Church’s saints, the only two of whom the Church possesses no first class relics of are the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. The Church attributes the lack of bodily relics of the Virgin Mary to her Assumption into heaven, both body and soul — a dogma pronounced by Ven. Pope Pius XII in his 1950 apostolic constitution “Munificentissimus Deus.” Regarding St. Joseph, while there is no dogmatic proclamation about him being assumed into heaven after his death, many saints piously believed that the Lord did for him just as he had done for the Virgin Mary (Cf. the writings of St. Bernardine of Siena, St. Francis de Sales, and Pope St. John XXIII).

The Church and her tradition venerate several relics related to St. Joseph: the wedding ring given by him to the Virgin Mary (Perugia, Italy); his belt (Joinville, France); his staff (Camaldoli, Italy); and his cloak (Rome, Italy). The cloak relic of St. Joseph traveling to the parishes of the Diocese of Covington was obtained by Bishop William T. Mulloy, 6th Bishop of Covington, in 1950 and taken from Rome’s principal cloak relic.

Tradition holds that the cloak of St. Joseph was brought from Jerusalem to Rome by St. Jerome at the end of the 4th century. It was deposited in an altar niche in the Basilica of Sant’Anastasia where it has remained and been guarded for veneration.

Whether a relic is first, second, or third class, the purpose is the same: to be physical, tangible, concrete reminder that heaven is obtainable for us. In the presence of holy relics, and particularly the one of St. Joseph, we recall the saints’ holy lives and pray for the grace to achieve what they’ve achieved — eternity with God in heaven.

Jesus in Wilderness

A Lenten Reflection – Follow Jesus into the Desert

By David Cooley.

Lent is such a powerful time and if we open ourselves up to the graces of God it can be a time of great spiritual enrichment. Lent is so many things, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers us a concise reflection: “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” (CCC, 540)

The mystery of Jesus in the desert is just that — a mystery — but that doesn’t mean revelation hasn’t given us a lot to ponder while reading over these intriguing passages. What is the desert first of all? More to the point, what is it not? Well, it’s not the Garden of Eden!

If Eden was a walled, beautiful garden where all your needs were met and the chaos of the wilderness was kept at bay, then the desert is its direct opposite. In his book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict XVI wrote that by going into the desert Jesus descends “into [all] the perils besetting mankind …” (p. 26).

Jesus had gone to the Jordan to be baptized by John in order to enter into solidarity with us sinners. The first thing the Holy Spirit does is lead him into the desert “to be tempted by the devil” (Matt 4:1). What this means is that the Lord subjected himself to all the risks and threats of human existence (cf. Heb 4:15). Ultimately, Jesus came to battle with the forces of evil and so, in the midst of his sojourn, he is met by the prince of evil himself.

But, before we get to the temptations of Christ, it is good to note that the spiritual implications of going to the desert are not all negative. We are meant to follow Jesus wherever he goes and if he goes into the desert, then we should too. Going to a desolate land, for us, means getting rid of all the noise and distractions that often come between us and God. We must rid our lives of clutter, focus on what is truly important, living simply enough so that we can hear God’s voice and find joy. Sin has a lot of negative consequences, and one of the more minor ones is that it complicates everything in our lives and leaves us trying to hide from God. Going into the desert is all about not hiding from what scares us and seeking God. With paradise lost, it is a place of reconciliation and healing.

Oftentimes, when we face temptation it is something that comes from within. Satan had to approach our Lord from the outside and because of this Scripture is able to give us a glimpse of Jesus’ struggle to stand against all the distortions of his mission. Remember that these temptations and the devil himself are with Jesus every step of the way to Calvary. Pope Benedict points out that the story of the temptations is an “anticipation that condenses into a single expression the struggle that he endured at every step of his mission.” (“Jesus of Nazareth,” p. 27)

In his book, “Life of Christ,” Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen calls the temptations of Jesus “three short cuts from the Cross.” It is important to recognize the difference between temptation and sin. Since Jesus had a human nature he had to go through the human experience of withstanding temptation, but being tempted is not the same as giving into temptation. Archbishop Sheen wrote, “The temptations were meant to divert our Lord from his task of salvation through sacrifice. Instead of the Cross as a means of winning souls of men, Satan suggested three short cuts to popularity: an economic one, another based on marvels, and a third, which was political.” (“Life of Christ,” p. 67)

With the first temptation (Matt 4:3), Satan challenges Jesus to turn stones into bread. On the one hand, we can reflect on this as a temptation toward instant physical gratification. The virtue, then, we learn then from Jesus’ response is the importance of self-sacrifice. However, both Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Sheen go further with their interpretation and they see is as a temptation for Jesus to become the savior of the world by ending hunger. “If you solve the people’s physical, material needs they will not be able to resist following you.” To this Jesus answers that we have more than physical needs; we have spiritual needs as well (see Matt 4:4; cf. Deut 8:3).

Perhaps the second temptation to “Throw yourself down” and God will save you (Matt 4:6) is a manifestation of self-idolatry, the temptation to see one’s self as more important, better than others. Or, considering Jesus’ response that we should “not put the Lord, your God, to the test” (Matt 4:7; cf Deut 6:16), we can conclude that Jesus is telling us that God is not subject to our authority. We cannot call on him to prove himself by throwing his promises back in his face; we cannot ask him prove his existence by meeting our needs and satisfying our curiosities. God is not simply a magician or a genie waiting on our beck and call. In either case, Jesus shows us the importance of humility — accepting our place in the universe by recognizing that we do not have the mind of God.

Finally, Jesus is offered all the kingdoms of the world if he would just abandon the Father’s will and serve Satan. The third temptation proposes a short cut to glory, a chance to bypass the Cross and go right to kingship. Who can deny that it is so hard for human beings to resist an easy way out instead of following through with what is right? Satan wanted Christ to turn away from pain and suffering and let the kingdom of the world remain under the power of sin and death.

But, Jesus didn’t come to be Lord of the world, an earthly king; he came to redeem humanity. And the only way to do that was to take upon his shoulders sin and death and carry them to Calvary. There is no crown without the Cross. There is no way to get to the resurrection without the crucifixion.

After the Resurrection Christ says, “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me” (Matt 28:18). Only someone who has power in heaven has real, saving power. Power in virtue of his Resurrection presupposes the Cross, his death. The earthly kingdoms that Satan was able to put before the Lord will all pass away, but the glory of Christ — the humble, self-sacrificing glory of his love — will never pass away.

The third temptation reminds us that the worship of false idols; the worship of power, politics and the idea that man can create a perfect world without God, is a dangerous proposition that inevitably leads to a tragic downfall. To worship Satan, to serve Satan, means you are a slave to sin. To worship God, to serve God, is true freedom. Jesus, for a third time, quotes Deuteronomy: “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matt 4:10; cf. Deut 6:13).

After his 40 days in the desert, when he appeared to be in a weakened state, Satan tried to get Jesus to turn his back on his divine mission. He tried to get him to avoid the Cross and search for “a better way.” Christ is always the model we should follow. Those temptations didn’t make Jesus weaker, they made him stronger. If we follow Jesus into the desert these 40 days of Lent will help us prepare to battle the forces of evil as well.

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization in the Diocese of Covington.

Reaching for the heart

By Brad Torline.

The Gospel reading a few Fridays ago asked us to contemplate one of Jesus’ most challenging teachings: “You have heard that it was said … You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment …, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” (Matt 5:21-22)

Gehenna — the valley of Hannon — was the stuff of nightmares. It was a “cursed” place where the ancients offered human sacrifice. In Jesus’ time it was a place of disposal, where large heaps of garbage, refuse and even the remains of the poor were set ablaze, ceaselessly smoldering and burning.

This is the image Christ used to describe Hell. This is the punishment he says we risk when we say to someone, “You fool!” I don’t know about you, but this makes me nervous. In my day, I have said a number of things, to a number of people that were far worse than the phrase, “you fool!”

There’s some comfort in remembering that Jesus uses exaggeration from time to time. Even so, it’s usually to ensure that we are paying close attention and taking him very seriously. So what is he trying to tell us?

There is a common misconception that Christ came to abolish and replace the old laws. I have even heard of a young person saying, “Isn’t that why Jesus came? So that we can chill, have fun and not have to worry about the rules?” This is a fairly egregious misunderstanding, and it remains unfortunately prevalent today.

Jesus makes it clear that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, a Scripture scholar and Trappist monk, puts it this way: “Christ does not reject the law but rather, intensifies it. In some sense he makes it more demanding, because he imposes conditions, not only on the externals of our lives but above all on the abiding attitude of our hearts.”

External laws and external punishments are not bad. The point is that they are not enough. It’s good to not murder. It’s good to punish and judge those who do. But it’s not enough!

Christ, the Lord, the God-Man, the Word of God who, from all eternity, descended into the depths of man’s condition, taking on the form of man and slave and suffering victim IS NOT SATISFIED with the merely external. He is after the heart.

The Greek Fathers called Him “The Knower of Hearts,” for he sees our hearts and he will not be satisfied until, not only our external lives and actions are cleansed from sin, but also when our very hearts and beings are cleansed from any taint, from any of the sources of sin.

How does murder happen? It begins with anger. And anger begins with contempt. Jesus, the “Knower of Hearts” tells us that it is not good enough just to refrain from external violence. We must also cleanse ourselves of the internal violence of anger and contempt.

When I reflected on this and looked inwards a few weeks ago, I realized just how much anger and contempt I have inside. It’s difficult to not view everything in relation to the unbelievable events that occurred last year. But if you’re anything like me, 2020 has left its mark inside me — vestiges of anger and contempt, which may not always be on the surface but, like the fires of Gehenna, continuously smolder and burn in the background of my mind.

Even for those of us who refrained from getting into heated arguments in grocery stores or raging political battles on social media, how many of us escaped last year unscathed with no anger or contempt left in our hearts? I have realized that I have plenty of anger and contempt inside of me and that Jesus won’t be satisfied until I get rid of it.

Contempt for ideas, movements, ideologies and actions that threaten the Good are one thing. But contempt for human beings — any human being — is forbidden. In fact, if we harbor any, we make ourselves liable to Gehenna.

On the one hand this seems overwhelming. How, Lord, can you possibly expect us to eradicate any and all traces of contempt for other persons from our hearts? It is too enormous a task, too against our nature — it is impossible.

On the other hand we remember that, with grace nothing is impossible and that Lent is the perfect time to work on this. Let us turn to the sacraments — to confession, to the Eucharist, and to prayer and beg Jesus to clean us of contempt.

He will leave our zeal for truth, goodness and beauty and won’t alleviate righteous anger which seeks to defend such things from any actions or movements that attack them. But he will burn out all our contempt for people, including, perhaps, any contempt we have for ourselves. It is not ours to hold on to it. We are not permitted. We are commanded to let it go — to love even our enemies.

And when we finally do let go of all contempt — can you imagine the freedom?

Brad Torline is associate director for the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization, Diocese of Covington, Ky.