Every year Lent overlaps with the month of St Joseph, but every few years the beginning of Lent coincides with the beginning of the month: an invitation from Divine Providence to look up towards this extraordinary man whom the Son of God Incarnate chose to call “Papa”, seeing in him the image of His Eternal Father. St Joseph is certainly the perfect model and guide for Lent, for he is our model of prayer, and Lent is about making progress in prayer as it is about learning how to curb our appetites and make amends for past sins.
St Joseph learned to pray in the company of Jesus and Mary. Amazingly, he taught the Infant God how to use the inspired psalms in prayer, and at the same time, he contemplated on the Face of Christ the love He has for His Father and which leads us beyond ourselves into the unfathomable depths of communion with Him in prayer. That is why St Teresa of Avila says that if anyone wants a model to look up to in order to learn prayer, if anyone wants a patron saint for prayer, it is to St Joseph that they must go.
St Joseph says nothing in the Scriptures. The only word we know he said was “Jesus”, for he it is who, as legal father, gave Him His Name. In that capacity, he is the continual reminder that of all the words we may pronounce in a day, the ones of greatest value are those which include the Name of Jesus, which flow from His grace, and lead to imitate Him, and those which are in no way ordained to the glorification of Jesus are not worth being pronounced. All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by him (Col 3:17).
The imitation of Christ includes penance, and that is the great effort which Holy Church calls upon her faithful to make during Lent. Why do we do penance? First and foremost to atone for past sins. As one of the orations for the blessing of the ashes puts it: “O God, who art moved by humiliation and appeased by satisfaction: incline the ear of Thy goodness to our prayers and mercifully pour forth the grace of Thy blessing on the heads of Thy servants sprinkled with these ashes: fill them with the spirit of compunction, fulfil their rightful desires and confirm and maintain in them the gifts Thou hast bestowed”. Our penances appease God, who is justly outraged because of our sins. And the ceremony of the ashes, by which the Church pours forth a special virtue into these burnt leaves by means of her prayer, gives us an additional grace to offer up our penances that they may truly become a satisfaction pleasing to God.
Penance also serves the purpose of uniting us with the passion of Christ, towards which we now turn the gaze of our souls. Good Friday looms on the horizon and appears as the awful day on which the God-Man Himself made, through the Holy Spirit, the ultimate satisfaction to the Eternal Father, but we are called to unite our own little pains and difficulties and self-denial with His, thus giving them the power to expiate also the sins of others, according to the word of St Paul: I complete in my flesh the sufferings that are wanting to the Passion of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church (Col 1:24). The passion of Christ is complete in the Head of the Mystical Body, but it must be lived out in His members, that is to say in us, today and each day of our lives.
Finally penance, united with prayer, serves the purpose of obtaining some special favour or grace. One can offer a fast or any other form of self-denial in order to obtain the resolution of some doubt or to have an indication from God as to what to do next. United with prayer, such penance is one of the most powerful means saints had recourse to in making important decisions.
At this stage in the foundation of Notre Dame Priory, on this first day of March, we are starting a Thirty Day Novena to St Joseph for the very important intention of finding the spot in Tasmania chosen by Almighty God for the definitive establishment of our monastery. We are provisionally located in Lindisfarne, a suburb of Hobart, in a house provided by the archdiocese. But we must in the coming months find other accommodations. There are many potential sites, with pros and cons in all of them. In the end, the decision will fall to myself as Prior of the community, and I am having recourse to the advice of many good and competent persons. But please unite with us; unite your penances with the novena which will consist of reciting each day of this month the Litany of Saint Joseph for this intention. Beg our good patron St Joseph to show us the way, to open the doors, to provide us with all that we need in order to come to the best possible decision, and also that we will have the financial means of achieving it. In that way, our Lent will find us united with the Passion of Christ, and under the protection of Our Lady and Saint Joseph, and I am confident that our prayers will be answered and that we will be able to come to a decision about our next move.