Feast of Saint Joseph – Homily by Mgr Guérard des Lauriers

Homily of 19 March 1987 by Mgr Guérard des Lauriers

The feast of St Joseph is very dear to us; he is the intendant; he is the one who is constituted by the good Lord bursar of all his goods, and principally of the Church, which represents on earth the good par excellence, because being the true Church, she is faithful to her mission which is to guard the Deposit and the pure Oblation.

Let us therefore celebrate St Joseph together. It is with joy that I come among you to celebrate Mass in his honour, to ask him for his protection, and to confirm us in the difficult decisions we must keep.

Moreover, it is difficult to situate St Joseph in relation to the Church. I have already made you aware of that question which I always brood over and which I have not resolved. You know that the suppression of the feast of St Joseph on the third Sunday and the third Wednesday after Easter has meant that, today, according to the current rite, today you must celebrate St Joseph also as patron of the universal Church. We shall speak of this again. Although it was Pius XII who made this transformation, I believe that in this case he was not well inspired.

He has let the solemnity of the Wednesday of the third week after Easter be supplanted by the feast of St Joseph the Worker; so that the title of patron of the universal Church, which was celebrated the third week after Easter, has been transferred to today’s feast.

We can still consider this question, however, because it concerns all feasts of St Joseph: what exactly is his role in relation to the Church? We feel that protector is not enough; all saints protect the Church; that patron is a word with pejorative undertones; and it is difficult to situate him. I have not yet resolved this question, but in order to do so, I propose to consider the successive stages through which the Church has passed.

What is the Church? It is exactly: the Head of the Church, the Incarnate Word, plus at least one member.

Now it was exactly that from the moment the Word was conceived in Mary’s womb. And at that moment, St Joseph was present, for the Conception of the Blessed Virgin was for him the occasion of the silence that we have already celebrated. He therefore witnessed this birth, he was a witness to the Conception; and at the moment when Jesus was conceived, there were there, with Him, with the Word Incarnate, Mary and St Joseph, the latter nodding to the mystery and honouring it principally with his heroic silence. And here the Church is constituted, it is here more than in germ, it is here in substance; what comes afterwards, the apostles, and us after a long time, joins, so to speak, this initial cell. We see here a very important law for the constitution and development of the Church. Everything in the Church is based on choices, which express and manifest predestination. Now these choices are aggregative, and not segregative.

I call segregative choice that which consists in rejecting what one does not choose. Thus a housewife who bakes a cake, takes a basket of apples, and rejects the rotten ones. It is a segregative choice: you hold back what is good, of the rest you do not care. It is not like that in the Church. At first it is Israel that is chosen, it is true, but the prevarication of Israel has meant that others are also chosen.

And for the Pope’s situation in relation to the episcopate, this observation has equally great scope; one must not conceive the priority of the vicar of Christ from the other bishops. The bishop of Rome is certainly ‘primum inter pares’. But, in reality, his ‘primacy’ comes from above. It is Jesus who constitutes the Pope as his vicar, having plenary jurisdiction over the whole Church; and furthermore, to govern a diocese the Pope makes the person who is to be bishop of that diocese an associate. One understands very well that in this way, in the same diocese, there are two true bishops: primarily the Pope and secondarily the bishop associated with the Pope, the one the Pope associates with precisely to rule that diocese.

So everything in the Church is based on an aggregative choice. This is also how it is in the history of the Church; the original ecclesial cell is Jesus, Mary, Joseph; and this cell has developed, has blossomed. Evidently structures of a social and juridical order have been grafted onto this initial cell, which is of the family type, but it is the same law of development that is intrinsically preserved in the Church. There is a major detail here. We contemplate the order of divine things. The things of God are based on principles that absolutely remain unchanging, although the conditions of their application are indefinitely varied according to circumstances.

So this cell is constituted. Then, we know the story of St Joseph. We can say that it is the Church, the wandering Church, or the Church in a state of adventure: the flight to Egypt, the return, and so on. Who is the leader of this Church? If we consider the visible side of things, the head of the Holy Family is St Joseph, it is always to him that the Angel speaks. “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife”… “Take the child and his mother”… “Those who wished to harm his life are dead”. It is always to St Joseph that the heavenly discourse is addressed.

So if we look at things from the visible point of view, St Joseph is the principal. He is the head of the Church. In the same way that the Vicar of Jesus Christ is currently, or should be, the head of the Church militant, so St Joseph was the head of the Holy Family, which was the sole cell of the early Church. You will say that obviously Christ is the head. Yes. But nevertheless, if we look, and today I insist, at things from the visible point of view, of what is seen externally, the head was not Jesus, it was Joseph; you see, in the Gospel that we read for the feasts of the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph, when Jesus returns to Nazareth after the incident in the temple, when Jesus is found among the doctors, we are told: ‘erat subditus’, he was obedient to them. So the Church, whether the Church of Bethlehem, the Church of the flight to Egypt, or the Church of Nazareth, until Jesus came out of its hearth to proceed to the foundation of the Church as we understand it today, until that time, Jesus was submissive, ‘erat subditus’, and the principal was St Joseph. And we can give the word principal its two meanings: the principal as the leader; and also the carpenter, who taught Jesus himself the trade that Jesus practised.

And if we go a little further, we can see that there are, in this Nazareth cell, essential components of the whole Church, of the whole mission. What does Jesus say to the apostles? “Go, teach, baptise, educate” and so on. Well, who taught Jesus? Mary and Joseph. Jesus was not baptised by them; however, Jesus’ circumcision and initiation into the law was well done by Mary and Joseph. Every year, the Gospel points out, they went up to the Temple, and on one or other of these pilgrimages, the twelfth, Jesus stays at the Temple. This means that teaching and education played their part. Jesus, it is true, did not receive them as coming from outside in relation to Himself; He discovered in Himself what He carried within Himself, on the occasion of the teaching given to Him by Mary and Joseph. His infused knowledge evidently surpassed any teaching that might have come to him from without. But nevertheless he wanted Mary and Joseph at least to be the occasion for Himself to discover that which He already carried within Himself; and thus they really taught Him. Jesus received this teaching. And, paradoxically, we can consider that in this original Church, the one who was the head, and therefore the vicar of the visible Jesus Christ, was St Joseph; the one who exercised the mission par excellence of educating, teaching, and watching over Jesus’ initiation into the rites of the old law was Mary; and the faithful, they were Jesus: ‘Erat subditus’; we too, by law, must be subject to the Church, of course when it is the true Church.

So we have this great comfort, in these difficult and turbulent times, so chaotic for us, in contemplating the original cell of the Church, in which everything is in order. It is as it were, in a wise word that you will understand, the paradigm of the Church. The paradigm i.e. the model in itself, the model pushed to its point of perfection. Well, this paradigm is the Holy Family and we find in it all the elements of the Church.

If we look further in relation to the psychology of the Incarnate Word, we can say that Jesus was educated, it is true. What is education? It is difficult to analyse. We see it, however, when we speak of people who are badly educated, badly brought up; of fathers or sons who have not been educated, who are uncouth. We also know that the outward social level has no direct relationship with education. We find people in socially modest circumstances who are perfectly polite; that is, who spontaneously adjust their most familiar behaviour to delicacy of heart and feeling. On the other hand, there are so-called high-ranking people, who behave like scoundrels and louts, it is well known. Now education (educere, to educate, to bring forth), to bring forth from this man in potency a fulfilled man, this task of education is Mary who carried it out, for Jesus… mystery. Let us take another step. To educate the son, is to prepare him for life: what did Jesus need above all for his mission? He needed a renunciation; that eludes us. We have already said it several times together: Jesus’ normal state was that of the transfiguration. Instead he chose to remain in a diminished state, to be deprived of this right that belonged to him. Who taught him this? It was Mary. She had humanity like us. Infinitely purer, and therefore the nucleus of a great splendour. But after all, she was not to have the splendour of the Word Incarnate. She therefore taught Jesus by her habitual behaviour and her motherly touch. It is very difficult to find the right words, so much so that one is afraid of somehow shaking the mystery. Jesus would perhaps have had the inclination to always show himself in a glorious manner; and that is what the devil proposes to him in the desert, at the time of temptation: to let his divine omnipotence go free, so to speak, and Jesus must refuse. He refuses because he wants to, of course! But no doubt also because he was educated by Mary. The habit whose spontaneous play reacts correctly at the moment of temptation, Jesus wanted to receive it primordially through Mary, from Mary who educated him. In a nutshell, you see that the Blessed Virgin educated Jesus, she educated Jesus, to the spontaneous sense of renunciation that prepared him for the sacrifice of the Cross. This is the substance of the education Jesus received from Mary.

But it is not little. Seminary directors, those in charge of religious institutes, know very well the differences between a young person, a child who certainly has a vocation, but has lived in a pagan, hostile environment, and a young person who has lived in a Christian family. The latter spontaneously has reflexes that make him choose what is more reserved. There is a kind of acquired discretion, which is the basis of infused discretion, which comes from above. And this makes a big difference for those who have the task of educating clerics and consecrated persons. It makes a big difference to deal with someone who has already been absorbed by a Christian environment, or someone who, despite his good will, is part of a hostile environment. It is a trivial experience, so to speak. Jesus was God. Of course, that counts for more than anything. However, he wanted to be educated by Mary, and to receive from this familiarity with a creature, the infused renunciation he carried within himself; he wanted to receive it in an acquired manner, modelling himself so to speak on the virtue and behaviour of his most holy Mother.

And so we see in the Holy Family, this original cell of the Church, that there was education in the deepest sense of the term. Jesus was educated; he was the son, he was the member of the Church that we must become; he allowed himself to be educated by Mary, that is, he wanted his plan to pass through the cross to be implemented in his Person, in his Humanity, by the education he received from Mary. And Joseph was there, Chief, overseeing, sanctioning everything, approving and making possible this intimate commerce between Mary and Jesus. If he had not been there to provide for the daily needs, organise the house, etc., every contingency that Jesus and Mary wanted to undergo, if St Joseph had not been there the thing would have been impossible. So he was not some kind of fifth wheel. No, it was essentially part of this original cell of the Church which, I repeat, was constituted from the moment Jesus was conceived, and conceived through Mary, and conceived in Joseph’s presence and at the cost of Joseph’s silence.

The Church later developed, sometimes it receded; but, let us say it now, it has always retained the same economy. The succession of generations, the development on the planet, the bringing together of the different parts with evangelisation, all this already existed when the Church was established. And we can guess that the Church of Pentecost is basically the Church of Nazareth, but extended and developed; extended to other people, to other principles of social order. But the fundamental principles remain; the essentials of the primordial choice persist: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, this is enough to make the Church. We are not surplus, because Jesus loves us and has chosen us, in an aggregative choice that completes the primordial choice, and that respects the primordiality of this choice: a choice that will always remain the first, whatever the greatness of whoever comes after.

Yes, the primordial, primitive choice fell on Mary and Joseph. Hence the greatness of St Joseph. And hence also the useful explanation of a mysterious word. Mystery is always clarified by questions. Jesus said in the Gospel: ‘none among those born from women is greater than St John the Baptist’. And St Joseph? Is he greater than St John the Baptist or not? Another question, related to those we are asking. An awkward question, and I will not propose an ex cathedra answer, as I do not have the authority to bring an end to it. However, one can say this: St Joseph, according to what we have seen, stands, so to speak, as the forerunner of the Popes, the forerunner of the vicars of Jesus Christ; in a certain sense he is the first vicar of Jesus Christ, but his privilege was to have a kind of power of plenary jurisdiction, not only over the Church, but over Christ himself, the founder of the Church. Jesus wanted it that way. And, in this sense, St Joseph on the one hand is lesser than St John the Baptist because the latter was a forerunner of Christ, while St Joseph was so only of the visible head of the Church. But on the other hand St Joseph has, directly over Christ, a jurisdiction that St John the Baptist did not have.

Thus we can outline the beautiful diptych that the comparison between St Joseph and St John the Baptist is; they are each the greatest, but from a certain point of view. Here then, my dear brothers, is what we can say, what discourse can be made about St Joseph. You currently see this militant Church of which we are a part, of which we are proud to be part of since our baptism. We agree in our knowledge of its situation, we agree that we no longer have a leader, nor the way to obtain one; we can no longer direct our gaze towards someone who is our support. We have to do with what we have, in solitude. But we have, in the absence of the ‘church’ of Rome, which is currently sluggish and waiting, we have the Church of Nazareth. Let us turn to her. This Church of Nazareth exists in Heaven, and the ternarity, the Jesus, Mary, Joseph trilogy is not abolished by the foundation of the Church. On the contrary, it is living, ever living and subsisting in the Church. And so looking at something that is not only the past, but the perpetual present, that is Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Church, the original Church and the Church of all time, because it remains the foundation, the living foundation of the Church as it is constituted now and until the end of this time, we do not abandon the Church founded in Rome.

Let us therefore pray together to St Joseph; and let us ask him to hasten the solution, through his silence, and through the silence that it imposes on us. The silence imposed on us in the sense that the most difficult questions that arise remain for us unanswered. Because in the end, thanks to whom, and how can the crisis be resolved? It is becoming increasingly clear that it can only be by direct intervention from Heaven. The solution, which is possible through normal only canonical ways, is proving more and more impossible and impracticable.

Now, the intervention of God requires the integrality of the choice. It cannot be assumed that God will come to the rescue of those who do not confess the truth in all its demand and to the full. St Joseph, by his silence, went to the bottom of the crucifying truth that was forced upon him. Let us imitate him, let us enter into his psychology. We must then, in the absence of the ‘church’ of Rome that no longer offers the figure of Christ, in the absence of the vicar of Jesus Christ that precisely reflects the authority and power of Christ, in his absence we must turn our gaze towards the Church of Nazareth, of which St Joseph was the head in a certain way. And certainly, if we complete this human perspective, namely that the Church is visible, with the other perspective, namely that the Church descends from Heaven, we must say that the head of the Holy Family is Jesus. But Mary and Joseph are only part of this family by relationality to Jesus. This is the deepest aspect of the mystery, certainly.

But who we evoke today, however second in relation to the essential aspect, is not negligible. It is an important fact, because we are grafted into this perspective, because we are part of the visible militant Church, which is a visible society. And this visibility is primarily about apostolicity, which presents so many difficulties today. It is, after all, the stumbling block for Bishop Lefebvre; because he did not understand that visibility is not a note. The note is apostolicity; so that, as long as the Church remains able to recover, and to dedicate itself to the gathering of a conclave, apostolicity endures in potency. Apostolicity would be severed if we were to say that the seat is vacant, and that it can remain so indefinitely. This is impossible; for the Church is apostolic, and must remain so.

Let us therefore remain in expectation of what God will do, and to console ourselves in this expectation, to strengthen our faith, let us turn our eyes to the past, to be instructed in the nature of things, and to the present, for Jesus, Mary and Joseph, live in heaven and watch eternally. Amen.