Two saints praying for Diocese of Sioux City
March 13, 2008
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
One of the first things I did after I found out that I was to become the seventh Bishop of Sioux City was to call Francis Cardinal Stafford. He had been my bishop when I was a priest in the Archdiocese of Denver and now he was serving the Holy Father at the Vatican. He is presently assisting Pope Benedict XVI as head of the office that deals with the sacrament of penance.
After congratulating me, Cardinal Stafford asked me who the patron saint of my new diocese here was in northwest Iowa. I told him I would find out. I discovered that it was only a few years ago that Daniel Cardinal DiNardo had designated two, not just one, patron saints of our diocese: Our Lady of Guadalupe and Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary, Foster father of Jesus and patron of workers. I understand that the choice of Mary and St. Joseph were in part to honor the presence in our local church of both Hispanic and Vietnamese faithful.
What a blessing we have in our diocese to have these two saints praying for us before the throne of our Heavenly Father. In my private chapel at my home, I have the images of these two saints, Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Joseph displayed. I ask for their intercession for all of us and all we do here in northwest Iowa.
As many of you know, the Feast of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary, is usually celebrated on March 19th. (The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker is celebrated on May 1st) This year, however, the Holy Father has asked the Church throughout the world to celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph on Saturday, March 15. This is because the 19th of March this year falls within Holy Week. This week is a solemn preparation for the events of the three special days of our faith: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I invite and encourage all the faithful of our diocese to honor St. Joseph in a special way on Saturday. Ask him to intercede for us and help us to be like him in obedience and faith in Godís will.
I recently discovered that a group called the National Fellowship of Catholic Men (www.catholicmensresources.org) has chosen March 15 as a Catholic Menís National Day of Prayer. They are asking that all men participate in this national day of prayer in honor of St. Joseph, a model for all men with respect to their manhood, fatherhood, discipleship, work, and roles within their families. Please refer to their web site. They have chosen St. Joseph because “he represents the saintly integration of faith in both his private and public life. For him, there was no conflict between the sacred roles of believer, spouse, parent and worker. He is a perfect example of a fully integrated man and, therefore, a perfect model of our lay vocation and what each of us is called to be.” Saint Joseph has always been a special personal model for me. I still remember that I received my first holy communion on his feast day (May1st) many years ago.
One of my favorite images of St. Joseph is of him in his workshop, teaching the young Jesus his craft. This image seems to encapsulate so much of his own deep faith. He shows his obedience and prudence in the care with which he handles tools and materials. He teaches the eager boy the properties of the wood, how to cut and shape it with masterly ease. I imagine him being interrupted by a customer; he is patient and devout as he haggles not so much about the price, as about pride of workmanship, and respect for divine talents used generously for the good of others. Another time, perhaps someone comes to commission a valuable statue for a pagan temple. St. Joseph politely but firmly refuses the work and later explains carefully to Jesus the meaning of the First Commandment.
I remember my own youth, and the time I spent in my fatherís butcher shop. There are many lessons learned from my father about his work as a meat cutter. One of them is that he taught me and showed me that “the customer is always comes first.” He responded to a customerís request immediately. My dad always apologized if a customer had to wait too long to be served because there was a line of people waiting to order their special cuts of meat. My dad taught all of us kids that when we worked at the store, we were to serve the needs of those who shopped. People were important. It is a lesson that has served me well in my priestly ministry.
As he teaches Jesus to know and love the natural strength, resilience, and beauty of the wood he is shaping, St. Joseph shows both him how to look up from natural to supernatural goodness, from the created world to the Creator whose Word brings all things into being. This same Word, now taking on a human life and growing in human understanding, follows the mind of his foster-father as he points out the generous love of the Father. So we too learn from the simple, resolute faith of this humble, strong, just man how to love God, from the gifts He so generously gives each of us.
St. Joseph is the patron of the Universal Church, and in a special way also of our own Diocese of Sioux City. We are all in some sense apprenticed to him in faith; we look to him for an example and an active instruction on how to live in the divine life of the son he accepted when he wed the young Mary.
Saint Joseph, as husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus is a saint very relevant to our time. As families are attached in so many ways, we look to him for strong faith and trust. His example of love and obedience to Godís will is one that all of us can follow.
Please join me in reflecting on part of the beautiful Litany of Saint Joseph:
Joseph the just, pray for us.
Joseph most chaste, pray for us.
Joseph most prudent, pray for us.
Joseph most strong, pray for us.
Joseph most obedient, pray for us.
Joseph most faithful, pray for us.
Mirror of patience, pray for us.
Lover of poverty, pray for us.
Model of artisans, pray for us.
Glory of every domestic Church, pray for us.
Guardian of virgins, pray for us.
Pillar of families, pray for us.
Solace of the wretched, pray for us.
Hope of the sick, pray for us.
Patron of the dying, pray for us.
Terror of demons, pray for us.
Protector of the Holy Church, pray for us.
Patron of the Diocese of Sioux City, pray for us
May these last days of Lent find you growing in grace and holiness. I am praying for you and count on your continued prayers for me.
Your brother in Christ,
R. Walker Nickless