The Catholic Church has a mottled history, this is well known. Now, we have this fine message from its spiritual leader, the Pope, an Argentinian. What does a humanist see in this message? Certainly, it is a timely message. It is hoped that everyone addressed responds in kind to its plea. That would immediately begin solving the problems large and small. The call, as such, will not reach that ‘everybody’ but a wide range of people will hear the message so, it is good, it is useful.
The more mystical elements and rather formal or orthodox statements at the beginning give way to the informal and general later on, that latter is the meat of the message. That, when turned into action, is what the declared hope is all about.
I was born into a Catholic family and, am part of that form of the humanist movement launched renewed into modern times by another Argentinian, Silo, and have a developing point-of-view about the matters addressed in the Pope’s message. Allow me to further comment on the homily.
One has to swallow the entire Christian history of the Jesus story to understand this sudden (to me) highlighting of Joseph, but there is no way to see deeper other than go along with it and this is one way to circumvent thus forestall barriers against real understanding because whether one is an insider and believer or an outsider and a sceptic, taking the story as real, or as an anecdotal fable that allows esoteric truths to unfold, this is a personal choice.
Thus, looking at the matter with some hoped-for objectivity, the highlighting of Joseph who unassumingly protected Mary and Jesus throughout, is an interesting aside on the usual focus. Indeed, that would be manifold problem solving, if people just acted in their roles with certainty and quietude, with faith.
This is why Joseph became the patron of the universal church. That attitude as a saving grace.
Plus, taking the role model of St. Francis of Assisi, “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation,” … the same created world… “with which we don’t have such a good relationship.” Further: “How I would like a church that is poor and that is for the poor,” he told the more than 5,000 media representatives who came from around the world for the conclave and his election.
No one can understand the church without understanding its spiritual purpose, he said. “Christ is the pastor of the church, but his presence passes through the freedom of human beings. Among them, one is chosen to serve as his vicar on earth. But Christ is the center, the focal point.”
For me, as a humanist, Christ equates with Truth. Not truth with a little “t” but the totalizing one, the absolute one sought as an experience which lights the darkness and meaning of such as – God’s kingdom on Earth – which is our Universal Human Nation. Substituting “Truth” for “Christ” simplifies things.
I prefer our own rendition of the Kingdom because for me the word God just does not make it, does not convey what is really meant and the danger lies in the glib way that word is tossed around by the religious, which is mechanical. Love has to be a conscious. Even when mistakes are made we try in our humanness to do useful things and they don’t always turn out right. It’s our failure but that does not stop us, no, we learn and walk on.
On the matter of the churches I would quote from Silo’s, “Religiosity in the Contemporary World”, from a talk given in Casa Suiza, Buenos Aires, Argentina, June 6, 1986:
“First, a new type of religiosity has begun to develop in recent decades. Second, underlying this religiosity is a diffuse background of rebellion. Third, as a consequence of the impact of this new religiosity and, of course, as a consequence of the dizzying changes taking place in all societies, it is possible that at their core the traditional religions may undergo re-accommodations and adaptations of substantial importance. Fourth, it is highly likely that people all over the planet will experience further psychosocial shocks in the coming years and that this new type of religiosity I have been referring to will figure as an important factor in this phenomenon.
“Furthermore, and even though it may seem contrary to the opinion of most social observers, I do not believe that religions have lost their impetus. I do not believe that they are increasingly cut off from power in political, economic, and social decision-making, nor do I believe that religiosity has ceased to stir the consciousness of the peoples of the Earth.”
To me, the foregoing taken all together means we can welcome Pope Francis and his fine homily, especially given the ‘meat’ of the message, meant for the church itself, the other religions – the Jewish deputation was singled out for special reference to my mind telling them this message has special relevance given the situation circumscribing Israel – and all of the institutions and the world’s various nations’s peoples.
Joseph as a saintly man took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus the Christ’s upbringing in the day-to-day life and in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus. Thus we see reverence to the mother and to the child, surely exemplary behaviour then and now!
It is said that Joseph is a “protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will. To look a bit deeper into this utterance I would like to bring Silo in again but despite that he did not use religious terminology, however the Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan does, though his preferred term is the Beloved. This other master gave a chat titled: “The Will, Human and Divine” saying, “The will is the same, whether it be human or divine. The only difference is that in one aspect it is the whole, in the other aspect it is part…”
Hazrat Inayat Khan goes on to speak about failure in the same manner as Silo, then saying not to feel discouraged; forget the past that has failed him or her and begin constructing and moulding the future as it is wanted and wished, because, “…with all our limitations we are not separate from the will of the Unlimited One.”
The personal works of our humanism are also engaged in the homily: “Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!”
With this introduction I think it worthwhile becoming familiar with the new Pope’s homily, so here it is, on the day of the equinox – celebrated far back into the past by the various groups in seasonal gatherings.
“Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I thank the Lord that I can celebrate this Holy Mass for the inauguration of my Petrine ministry on the solemnity of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the patron of the universal Church. It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the name-day of my venerable predecessor: we are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude.
I offer a warm greeting to my brother cardinals and bishops, the priests, deacons, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful. I thank the representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial Communities, as well as the representatives of the Jewish community and the other religious communities, for their presence. My cordial greetings go to the Heads of State and Government, the members of the official Delegations from many countries throughout the world, and the Diplomatic Corps.
In the Gospel we heard that “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife” (Mt 1:24). These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: “Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model” (Redemptoris Custos, 1).
How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.
How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own. This is what God asked of David, as we heard in the first reading. God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit. Joseph is a “protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!
The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!
Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically, in every period of history there are “Herods” who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women.
Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be “protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!
Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!
Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!
In the second reading, Saint Paul speaks of Abraham, who, “hoping against hope, believed” (Rom 4:18). Hoping against hope! Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope! For believers, for us Christians, like Abraham, like Saint Joseph, the hope that we bring is set against the horizon of God, which has opened up before us in Christ. It is a hope built on the rock which is God.
To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!
I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me! Amen.”