[Homily: St. Alfonsus Theological and Missiological Institute (SATMI) Graduation Mass, March 19, 2015]
As we come together this afternoon in Eucharist, you look back on your SATMI experience with gratitude. You give thanks to the Lord for your graduation this day from theological studies at SATMI. You give thanks not only at the threshold of the most sacred week of the year in Christendom; you celebrate graduation also on the Solemnity of St. Joseph.
I hope your hearts are filled with gratitude for the professional training and vocation that is yours as servants of the Word of God, spoken into our world and made flesh. But I hope today you give special thanks for the transforming presence of this Word in your personal lives, this Word without whom you would not have been created, this Word that has been spoken to you individually, warming you with its personal intimacy, disturbing you with its urgency, transforming you with its power, filling your human dreams with divine mission, shaping your deepest desires, calling you to the vocation that is yours in the service of this Word.
This special presence of God creating you, calling you, disturbing you in your comfort zone, transforming you, sending you, that was the presence of God in the life of St. Joseph. He was a simple man; he was a laborer, a carpenter, a just man, a devout Jew. He was a skilled worker, a respected craftsman. He fell in love with a woman, Mary. He desired intimacy with her, children of their own. She was to become his wife, the mother of his family. But suddenly she was with child, not his. Suddenly the Word of God was specially present in his life: Do not be afraid. Still take Mary into your home. This Child is of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God disturbed his life, his life plans. But it was compelling, transforming, even exhilarating. It made him protector of Jesus and Mary, spouse of the mother of God, foster father of the Son of God, watchful defender of the Christ, quiet custodian of the Word of God himself.
On this day, you call on St. Joseph as a special patron for you as you recall the manner in which the Word of God entered into your life – then as a student, or as a teacher, or as a young professional, or as an NGO worker – disturbed you, called you, and transformed you. In the commitment of your mind and spirit, your body and soul to his service, the service of the Word, he became incarnate in your lives. Some of this was not easy. Saying yes to the Lord; saying, “Let it be done to me according to thy will, and not mine!” was quite demanding. Studying the teachings of the Church, their roots in Sacred Scripture, their enfleshment in living traditions, their moral implications, their pastoral significance in a confusing world, their imperative to mission has not always been a bed of roses. Abstract dogmas and abstruse theories and dry opinions have seemed so alienating, so unsettling, like being exiled into the deserts of Egypt. But you have stayed the course. From the alienation of lifeless concepts, you have hopefully been recovered by grace in the living presence of God in his Word forming you, shaping you, hammering your sometimes hardened hearts into hearts of flesh, making you into compassionate servants of his Word in a world that honors it, but disobeys it, that is hungry for it, but rejects it, that needs it desperately, yet ridicules it. The Word of God has incarnated itself in your lives, and even as this may be celebrated today, it is good to consider its consequences deeply at the threshold of Holy Week.
The Word of God has incarnated itself in your lives, so that through you – through your preaching, your teaching, your living – he may continue to incarnate himself in our world. That is largely a world of faith. But it is faith that is often stunted by lack of proper nourishment, stymied by misguided devotions and superstitions, faith yet infantile in a rapidly secularizing and rationalistic world. It is faith that is professed but often denied in practice, faith that is on Sundays and in the church and before pious altars in our homes, but not in the workplace, not in the bars and casinos, not in the business relations and secret liasons, not in the disposition of power and distribution of wealth and favor. It is faith that is denied, dead, in its coldness to the poor, the excluded, the suffering. It is faith that is merely conceptual, merely propositional, pure vanity, torn away from its true object, i.e., faith in God, or faith in Jesus. It is faith therefore that is unable to draw strength from the strength of Jesus, or draw love from the love of Jesus, or draw compassion from the compassion of Jesus. Bereft of Jesus, it is purely inward turned, claiming to reach God and to speak for God, but abandoned to itself, to ego, to vanity, unable to go beyond itself. It is faith therefore that can dialogue neither with the world nor with other religions in the world. It is in this world of eroded faith that you look forward with confidence to the service of the faith. First, in the genuineness of your own belief, in your personal connectedness with God which keeps him present in your lives and so in our world. Second, in your being able in faith to respond to what the Word of God, which is a Word of Compassion, responds to: the poverty, the exclusion, the injustice, the wars, the violence, the wounded, the refugees, the boredom, the self-interest, the greed, the humanitarian heartlessness that plagues our world. Finally, in your being able in faith to dialogue with peoples of other faiths, or even with people of no faith. In this manner, your theologizing shall be based not on your abstract theorizing but your lived struggle to interpret, utter, the incarnate God’s Word responding to human individuals and human communities in our secularized yet religiously diverse world.
St. Joseph protected the Word of God in its human fragility. He defended the Word of God from cruel persecution. He labored so that the incarnated Word of God could grow in wisdom, age and grace till it asserted itself: the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free… Today this passage is fulfilled in your presence.” (cf: Luke 4:18-21). As you celebrate your graduation, may St. Joseph aid you as servants of the Word in protecting, defending, and incarnating the Word of God in our world. Through St Joseph’s intercession, may we all grow in wisdom, age and grace before God and the human community.