Today is the Feast of St. Joseph; the man who taught God to be a man.
Wading into the theology and imagery here would be intense work, so I’m going to limit myself to one subject (well, kind of).
More and more it seems to me that God works in fractals: patterns repeated all the way up and down the ranks of Creation. In the Holy Family, specifically, I see a pattern of the Church Militant as a whole (note: I don’t know whether this is anywhere in theology. I’m sure it is, but as far as I know I’ve never read it, so I present the idea under correction). On the one hand you have the Immaculate Mother of God, from whom Christ entered the world. In Mary we have a type of the clerical aspect of the Church: the Bishops, Priests, consecrated religious, what we usually mean when we think of ‘the Church.’ Those who are specifically tasked with bringing Christ to the world through prayer, teaching, and the Sacraments.
On the other hand, you have St. Joseph, her chaste spouse and a righteous and just man, who guards and provides a home for her and her Son. This would be the laity, who receive Christ from the Church and who love, guard, and provide for her, and who create the social context in which she can do her work. Together, they raise up Jesus in the world.
Unfortunately, the specific role of the laity has become rather blurred lately. We’ve been raised to believe that it is wrong to try to build our house specifically for the Church. Rather than laboring for her sake, we are to labor for our own sake and pay a reasonable alimony and child-support to her. We are not to initiate Christ into the world of men by inviting Him into our work and trade, but may have visitation rights on weekends and special days.
The current state of the Church, it seems to me, is one of separation, where St. Joseph is expected to keep a little apart from Mary and Jesus, not to bring the child into the workshop or be seen around town with Him. He may give a place in his home to his wife and child, but the home is to be his and his alone, their presence there is conditional.
In fine, as we have (ostensible) separation of Church and State, so we have separation of Faith and Life. Religion is something to be done on special occasions, but not to interfere in the real manner of business. Fractals again; the pattern of a society is the pattern that most of its subjects will imitate and vice-versa.
Honestly, I think this isn’t just due to religion being publicly frowned upon, but also due to the perhaps well-meant effort to get the laity more ‘involved’ in the liturgy. That blurs the line between the respective duties of clergy and laity and creates the impression that the best way to serve Christ as a layman is by trotting after the clergy in their duties. Especially when this is coupled with the “don’t bring your religion into my anything-but-church” message we get from the secular world.
Personally, I believe that different roles are served best when they’re allowed to be most fully themselves, not when they are invited to imitate or share in another role. I am not a priest, and it’s unlikely (though not impossible) that I’ll ever be one. I don’t believe that taking an active role in the liturgy would in any way contribute to my duties as a Christian layman. Rather, I would best fulfill those duties by bringing my life as much as possible in conformity with Christ; by bringing Him into whatever my day-to-day responsibilities are and seeking to turn them to His advantage as much as possible.
What that specifically looks like for me, I’m honestly not sure, but that’s hardly relevant to the point (by the way, these sorts of posts are usually about what I think I myself need to hear. So whenever I write things like this, you shouldn’t picture me standing on a pulpit dictating to you the reader, but rather standing in front of mirror talking to myself while you listen from the other room, wondering if you need to look up the number for that psych hospital).
If we wish to imitate St. Joseph, I think what we need to ask is how we can care for the Church and how we can direct our day-to-day lives to Christ.
St. Joseph, Foster Father of God, most Chaste Guardian of the Blessed Virgin, Pray for Us