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February 15, 2021
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February 16, 2021

An inner transformation through suffering

Q: Archbishop J, tell me truthfully, why St Joseph? (Pt. III)

St Joseph is a man of deep suffering. Things did not go the way he would have liked. At major points in his life, God’s will was very inconvenient and disruptive, even painful.

Yet St Joseph, the man of Torah, was silent and obedient in the face of this pain and disruption. Silently, he said ‘yes’ to God and agreed to do whatever God asked.

Our tradition has the devotion of the seven sorrows of St Joseph. These seven moments in the life of the Saint remind us men that disappointment is part and parcel of maturation and growth.

Consider Joseph’s sorrows and then see if you still believe you have a raw deal.

  1. His doubts about Mary: Was she unfaithful to him?
  2. His pain at the lowly poverty of Jesus’ birthplace—born in a cow pen.
  3. Watching the circumcision, Jesus’ first blood spilt for us; the suffering only a father would know.
  4. Listening to the painful prophetic message from Simeon: While he was not mentioned, the suffering of his wife and child would be a significant suffering that he would have contemplated often.
  5. Having to take the Holy Family into exile: This was a perilous journey on foot and donkey and sometimes boat.
  6. The hard trip back from Egypt: The whole journey took about three years, and in both directions covered around 2000 kilometres.
  7. The loss of Jesus for three days: Any father losing a child knows the horror and pain of this event. For Joseph it must have been devastating—he lost God’s child.

Manhood—growing up

The point of circumcision is to tell the boy—at that crucial time in his life—that manhood involves pain, vulnerability, and mastery of your body. We have grown a generation of boys who do not know sacrifice, are not prepared for the pain of manhood and have not been given any wisdom around mastery of their bodies. This culture of indulgence has brought forth a type of man who does not grow up, is unprepared to suffer, and often reacts badly when he does not get what he wants.

Jungian psychology calls this the puer aeternus—the eternal boy. The boy who never grows up emotionally, never becomes a man, does not take responsibility, does not put others first, flees from commitment and does not follow through on promises. Such is the Peter Pan syndrome, “Yuk, I never want to grow up!”

Before industrialisation, boys were brought into the world of the men in adolescence. They had to grow up and take responsibility. Apprenticed to an older man, they learnt a trade or a form of work. They turned up every day and learnt responsibility the hard way.

We have extended adolescence into the twenties and thirties. In secondary school and university, boys remain boys with little responsibility, or need for commitment or emotional intelligence.

Without pain and suffering as integral to adolescence, the boy remains a boy for a prolonged time. With no practice of discipline or responsibility early on, we see the challenges in manhood that we encounter today; domestic violence, womanising, making children but not caring for them, and believing the world is there to serve him.

St Joseph is the opposite of this false view of manhood. He took responsibility: he married Mary. He saved the child and mother many times; he is a model man and father. This is because he embraced his suffering and remained faithful to God.

 

Manhood and suffering

Romans begins with a meditation on suffering and its importance in a person’s life: “… we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (5:3–5).

The suffering that St Joseph endured brought character, which brought hope. This too is why St Joseph is a model for Caribbean manhood; we need to see this path to maturation as men.

We need to choose the harder way and allow God to grow us up in this choice. We need to believe the challenges we face are opportunities for our growth and development.

Every man faces challenges. How we face them is vital. In his openness, St Joseph gives us a way to face our challenges with respect and honour. He listened and obeyed God’s will. To hear God’s will we need to be open; to obey, we need to hear.

 

Lent: a season of openness

Every year we are given the season of Lent as a gym for our soul. We are asked to pray, fast, and give alms. These are spiritual exercises that strengthen the soul; how we open ourselves to listen; how we listen so that we obey.

This Lent, I urge you, do the 33-day challenge. Take up something: Every day follow the meditation on St Joseph. If you have not already done so, sign up today. Give up something you like: food, drink, social media, unforgiveness, etc. Give away something: Pray and ask God what He wants you to give away. Give to a poor person, a relative or friend or to a charity.

During Lent we have a great opportunity to follow the example of St Joseph. If we observe this Lent with intention and purpose, we can find in the daily challenges the grace to grow into disciples of Jesus Christ. Here, too, St Joseph is father, model, and guide to healthy masculinity, to saintly masculinity.

Key Message: St Joseph is a role model for Caribbean men today. His suffering should give us deep hope that we can be saints.

Action Step: Make a list of all your sufferings, look at them carefully and prayerfully and ask God to show you those that have already given you opportunity for deep inner transformation.

Scripture Reading: Rom 5:1–5

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