Summary: We can learn much from Saint Joseph about the ways to fight acedia and to recover the joy of evangelization.
Feast of St. Joseph 2015
Joy of the Gospel
It is humbling to lead this prayer service on a solemnity, especially that of St. Joseph. He is the patron of fathers, of workers, of carpenters, of social justice, and of the universal Church. He has titles such as St. Joseph the Worker and St. Joseph the Protector. He served as spouse–chaste spouse, celibate spouse--of the Mother of God. He had the most exalted of vocations: to be the head of the Holy Family, even though he was humbly in service to the greatest of humans–Mary and Jesus our Lord. Yet during his life he was literally a “nobody.” As a child, I was shown pictures of Joseph the carpenter making little rocking horses with Jesus. But rocking horses were no way for a carpenter to make a living in the first century. His work was probably about a mile away from Nazareth, in Sepphoris, a rich Roman town inhabited by wealthy Jewish collaborators who had benefitted from the rule of the Herods. There he could find construction work. Sepphoris was the capital of Galilee, but since it is not mentioned in the Gospels, Jesus likely never spent much time there.
The Church has a subtle sense of humor, and so we have this reading about building the house of God, the Temple, and the house of David, on the feast of the great carpenter. Joseph was a man of faith, and so we hear Paul preaching about the faith of Abraham that was so well exemplified in this man whom St. Matthew called a “living saint.” His greatest work, of course, was raising, with Mary, the Christ child, and training the sacred humanity of Jesus. From Mary and Joseph, Jesus in His humanness learned that the will of the Father trumps everything. Jesus learned to give Himself completely to those things that fulfill the Father’s plan.
The Pope addresses himself in this vein to all those working to spread the Gospel: ‘At a time when we most need a missionary dynamism which will bring salt and light to the world, many lay people fear that they may be asked to undertake some apostolic work and they seek to avoid any responsibility that may take away from their free time. For example, it has become very difficult today to find trained parish catechists willing to persevere in this work for some years. Something similar is also happening with priests who are obsessed with protecting their free time. This is frequently due to the fact that people feel an overbearing need to guard their personal freedom, as though the task of evangelization was a dangerous poison rather than a joyful response to God’s love which summons us to mission and makes us fulfilled and productive. Some resist giving themselves over completely to mission and thus end up in a state of paralysis and acedia.
‘The problem is not always an excess of activity, but rather activity undertaken badly, without adequate motivation, without a spirituality which would permeate it and make it pleasurable. As a result, work becomes more tiring than necessary, even leading at times to illness. Far from a content and happy tiredness, this is a tense, burdensome, dissatisfying and, in the end, unbearable fatigue. This pastoral acedia can be caused by a number of things. Some fall into it because they throw themselves into unrealistic projects and are not satisfied simply to do what they reasonably can. Others, because they lack the patience to allow processes to mature; they want everything to fall from heaven. Others, because they are attached to a few projects or vain dreams of success. Others, because they have lost real contract with people and so depersonalize their work that they are more concerned with the road map than with the journey itself. Others fall into acedia because they are unable to wait; they want to dominate the rhythm of life. Today’s obsession with immediate results makes it hard for pastoral workers to tolerate anything that smacks of disagreement, possible failure, criticism, the cross.
‘And so the biggest threat of all gradually takes shape: “the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness”. . .Called to radiate light and communicate life, in the end they are caught up in things that generate only darkness and inner weariness, and slowly consume all zeal for the apostolate. For all this, I repeat: Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the joy of evangelization!’
There is a cure for this disease of acedia. First, perseverance in prayer, especially the Scriptures and psalms. I find my daily Office to be something I can’t live without, and not just because of my vow to the bishop. Every human emotion finds expression in those prayers of David. They are the principal way I pray with Jesus, especially when there is trouble. Last week I was in the middle of a troublesome medical procedure, and I opened the book and read “save me O God, for the waters have risen to my neck.” God gives us everything we need. Blessed be God.