Part 17 – December 2014

In The Tradition Of Joseph! – An Ecological Reflection

As we embrace this time of Advent and Christmas many of the traditional images of our Faith come to the fore, not least the figure of St. Joseph and the story of his role in Christian history.

The narrative is familiar; Joseph the quiet man, the protector of Mary and Jesus. Depictions of the story are ubiquitous in this season. It may seem to be a stretch too far to link the tradition of Joseph with our call to care for the earth today! But this is precisely the link made by Pope Francis in his inaugural homily given on the Feast of St. Joseph, 2013. 

Pope Francis claimed the tradition of St. Joseph as protector. Joseph was a protector “By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans … because he is able to hear God’s voice, is sensitive to those in his care. He can look at things realistically and is in touch with his surroundings.”

Francis, like his two predecessors, is acutely in touch with the realities of our current surroundings in which environmental destruction and human suffering are inseparable. Therefore, he can take a radical leap when he invites us to imitate Joseph the protector. He says, “In him we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!” An inseparable bond!

Francis continues, being a protector like Joseph “means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world …. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people and showing loving concern for each and every person,” especially those who are most vulnerable. Today, some of the most vulnerable are those whose poverty and suffering are a direct result of environmental problems and whose fulfilment of basic needs, in turn, causes further environmental destruction in vicious cycles of depletion.

As we reflect on the gift of our vocation as Sisters of St. Joseph and Associates/Companions, the call to be “protectors” in imitation of St. Joseph, in the environmental and social realities of our time is perhaps especially personal. Our vocation has at its heart the call to protect all of creation.

As we enjoy the images of Joseph in this special liturgical season perhaps we can stretch our limited understandings of tradition, just as Joseph, in his time, was called to engage his deeper questions and listening, to find the courage to risk the next steps in a world of inevitable change and profound need. For as historian of Christianity, Eamon Duffy, has written, tradition is never static. It is “a source of confidence in launching into the uncharted future; a future that in all its complexity and contradictoriness, is abundant evidence that change is a sign of life.” This Christmas may we be filled with the life of Christ and of God’s ever-changing, good creation.