Catherine de Hueck (day-hew-eck) Doherty was born in 1896 to a wealthy, devout Russian Orthodox family. From a young age she accustomed to bringing food, clothing and medicine to their less fortunate neighbors. Shortly after her first marriage, the Russian revolution forced her to England where she embraced Roman Catholicism. In 1931, after a move to Canada, she sold all her possessions, moved to the slums of Toronto and began, again, to aid the poor in their needs. Soon after she established other houses in the US where she met her second husband. In Canada they called their home: Madonna House where they trained the laity for an apostolate to the poor. They lived the rest of their lives modeled after the Holy Family … a life of contemplation, quiet, prayer, engaged in the dignity of labor and in service to others. Catherine died in 1985 leaving a spiritual legacy … she was, however, a simple, poor woman who managed to accomplish great things simply because she listened … she put her gifts to the service of God and neighbor … and she gave herself entirely to Him. She was ordinary yet able to accomplish extraordinary things …
Perhaps the same could be said for St. Joseph. There was nothing special about him – well, he was the rightful heir to the throne of King David but he was a poor, simple carpenter who lived a moderate life, faithful to God and the Commandments. Can you imagine, though living with Mary and Jesus and being the only one with sin … I often think this is what marriage must be like!
On December 8th, Pope Francis announced a special year in honor of the husband of Mary, the Guardian of Jesus … The announcement comes on the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as the Patron of the Universal Catholic Church … quite the honor for a simple carpenter. Yet, as Pope St. Paul VI once noted that Joseph made his life a sacrifice in service of the mystery of the incarnation and the redemptive purpose of Christ. He had all legal authority over the family and he devoted himself completely to them – his life and his work. This of course is evident in his acceptance of his role in the history of salvation and his protection of Mary and Jesus from the wrath of Herod. He risked his life for them. He was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus in the exercise of his fatherhood. He may have been the heir to the throne but he was ordinary, simple, and poor … Nevertheless, he listened and gave himself entirely in service of the savior and this is what makes St. Joseph extraordinary – this is what makes him great.
The two examples of folks I have given today ought to remind us of the fact that ordinary folks, simple faithful people, have the ability to do great things for God. He does not ask much but to listen, to be faithful, to serve … To give ourselves in love and service to God and one another. In our families, in our communities ordinary people can accomplish and do extraordinary things for God – sometimes at a great personal risk or injury … sometimes in times of great difficulty and amid strong opposition – our lives are to be lived in service of the mystery of Christ in such a way that allows His love and mercy to be made known to others. Therefore, the gift of faith within us must be protected – Christ and His mother, must be kept safe within our hearts … As such, turning to Joseph, he teaches us how to be the family of God.