“The Age of Anxiety” is a poem W. H. Auden wrote in 1947. It deals with man’s search for meaning in a turbulent world and won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Leonardo Bernstein thereafter composed “Symphony No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra.” Princeton University Press, in 2011, published a new edition of the poem.
“Our times are an Age of Anxiety,” Deacon Greg Kandra wrote on the feastday of St. Joseph, Mary’s spouse and foster father of the Christ. Tomorrow’s rites honor one who goes through the gospels without uttering a single word. Yet, he acts decisively to save his family when threatened.
Venerating Joseph emerged in the fourth century. And in 1847, Pius IX designated March 19 to cite a man who shielded his family from terror. Think Zamboanga City under siege by the Moro National Liberation Front. Or the Ukraine crisis. Did the 200 plus on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 scream?
Warned of Herod’s fury, Joseph took Mary and the Son, “who did not have his eyes” by night. They “departed to Egypt, remaining there until the death of Herod.” They became refugees, as are many Syrians and Nigerians today.
On return, Joseph discovered that Archelaus reigned in his father Herod’s place. So he slipped into the remote village of Nazareth where his Son “grew in wisdom, age and grace.”
Joseph knew economic insecurity - wondering how he’d support his family. A carpenter’s wages are paltry compared to the take, by nine out of 10 welshers, at today’s Bureau of Customs. Joseph paid taxes—to “render unto Caesar.” They’re collected by people like Levi, who morphed into Matthew. Or Bureau of Internal Revenue’s Kim Henares who is clobbered for her zeal but remains untainted.
He was a descendent of the royal house of David. “Joseph, son of David,” is the angel’s salutation. “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the Child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.”
Joseph speaks to our own jitters, Kandra writes. This is not what I had planned, he must have said. Everything is suddenly different. How many of us say that about our lives? We face, like Joseph, uncertainty, even terror. Many are petrified in a world where cash (or pork barrel?) is the ultimate yardstick.
“A model of Joseph, as believer, would pass muster in almost any Christian church,” Presbyterian minister Howard Edington wrote. A Time magazine book review notes, “In providing the Child with safety and family love, Joseph discovered a purpose for his own life within the greater purposes of God.”
Joseph showed the Child, “all the natural love and all the affectionate solicitude that a father’s heart can know.” When his Son took his first steps, Joseph held his hand. Together in the carpenter shop, they talked, worked, laughed and prayed. The mother was never far away. She never is.”
We need to see Joseph in the context of the often unremarked bond between fathers and sons, wrote Filipino theologian Catalino Arevalo, SJ. See that in the “chapters and chapters of day-to-day existence together,” which the Scriptures pass over in silence.
He learned from Joseph “how to avoid the knots in the wood, how to cut it along the grain and how to make sure it is already quite dry so it will not unexpectedly split.” How did Joseph transmit the deeper lessons? How is a parent’s love, both hard love and tender love, all the way true?
At his inaugural Mass as the 265th successor of Peter, on March 19, 2013, Pope Francis said: Be “protectors, like Joseph, by caring for the poor, families, friendships and the environment… Joseph responded to his calling by being constantly attentive and receptive to God’s plans, not simply to his own. And for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons and surroundings entrusted to his safekeeping.”
Being a protector “is not just something involving us Christians alone. It also has a prior dimension. (Being) simply human, it involves everyone… 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.”
As a craftsman from Galilee, Joseph was merely one man among many, St. Josemaria Escriva notes in “In Joseph’s Workshop.” What had life to offer to someone from a forgotten village like Nazareth? Or to the 2.96 million unemployed scattered in 42,027 Filipino barangays? “Nothing but work: work every day, with the same constant effort.”
Yet, God relied on this ordinary man to do great things. In Hebrew, the name Joseph means “God will add.” God lavishes unsuspected dimensions to the lives of those who do his will. God chooses the simple and humble to do his work. In their sparse style, the gospels give of the title of Jesus as “Son of Joseph.” So does the genealogy.
There is no record when - and, more important, how - Joseph died. “As a man lives, so shall he die,” an old adage says. Some therefore infer that it may have been Mary who, with tears, gently closed his eyes after he breathed his last. He lay in the arms of the Carpenter who, before the tomb of his friend Lazarus, wept. Maybe. Who knows?
Our national hero was given his name: Jose. So are many Filipinos. He is “officially” protector of the church, patron of the Christian home, of working people and of Christian vocations, and at the end of life, in a most significant way, patron of the dying.
We fret in this country’s “Age of Anxiety.” Thieves in barong jockey to become president in 2016. Others claw to remain in power. Who among these measure up to the Scripture’s accolade for Joseph? “He was a just man.”