On a sunny March day in 2013 I walked into St. Joseph’s Church in New Orleans. As my eyes adjusted from the noontime sun to the darkness of the dimly-lit Church I realized there were hundreds of people inside. It wasn’t quite full, but to find a group of seats for four students (I was a campus minister) and myself took a bit of looking around. Mass was about to begin and there were roughly a dozen people kneeling around an a altar full of breads, pastries, and wine, that sat at the foot of the St. Joseph statue. What was it that brought these hundreds of people to a daily Mass during their lunch hour? It was the feast of St. Joseph, patron of workers, and these people were here to honor their heritage, honor the saint, and to let the Eucharist transform them.
The city of New Orleans was settled not only by the French and Spanish, but also the Italians. In Sicily there is a great devotion to the foster father of Christ. There is a legend that the Sicilians were on the brink of starvation due to famine and prayed to St. Joseph, telling him they would provide a great feast if he would save them. And of course, the rains came. To this day they create altars full of breads, pastries, and wines to honor the saint. When the Italians came to New Orleans they brought along this tradition. And so even today there are dozens of public St. Joseph’s altars all around the city. In this way the faithful of the city can remember (think anamnesis) who it is they are and how they got here.
The people gathered--the Church--were also there to honor the saint. I love St. Joseph, and not only because he is my namesake. I love St. Joseph because even as the foster father of Jesus Christ, and the spouse of the Mother of God, he is an accessible saint. Saint Joseph wrote no great treaties, he performed no miracles, he is not known for his heroic asceticism. Instead he is a man that heard the voice of God, and followed him. He was a good father and husband. This kind of hidden holiness is so spectacular in that it is inconspicuous. His silence in the Gospels shows that he held others in such high esteem he was willing to fade into the background. He shows us that holiness is found in the ordinary simple task of daily life. While I might be intimidated by St. Catherine of Siena or St. Thomas Aquinas, I find St. Joseph very relatable. He’s also a good reminder that I shouldn’t talk so much.
These people, gathered at this church in New Orleans were here to celebrate the Eucharist and be transformed by it. St. Joseph’s parish is amazing in that it is an urban parish, and is, by far, the most diverse church where I have worshipped. Gathered here were the young and old, black, white, and brown, the poor and the rich. It is traditional that after the Mass there is a shared meal. We went to the back of the church, where they have a soup kitchen, showers, and laundry, and ate a meal together. For a brief moment, the Eucharistic feast was so obviously extended it felt like the Kingdom of Heaven. Sitting on the ground eating a plate of spaghetti never felt so holy, right, and good. And in this, St. Joseph blessed us; he brought us together to break bread as the Body of Christ gathered, and he quietly and humbly faded into the background, letting the Poor Christ have the best seat in the house. St. Joseph, pray for us.
God our Father, Creator and Ruler of the universe, in every age you call us to use and develop our gifts for the good of others. With St. Joseph as our guide, help us to do the work you have asked and come to the rewards you have promised. Please grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.