Feast of St. Joseph
by V. Rev. Chrysostom Baer, O.Praem.
Just inside the doorway from the abbey cloister to the chapter room, there hangs an icon of St. Joseph written by our own fr. Philip. Not unlike the secco in the center south shrine here in the nave, the carpenter of Nazareth is depicted with the Christ child on his shoulders. Just a few days ago I looked at the icon and thought, “Carries the Son of God on his shoulders for fun—Terror of Demons.”
The contrast seems incongruous. With lighthearted joy St. Joseph plays with his Son; with intense fury demons seek the damnation of mankind. St. Joseph is concerned with his work so as to feed his family, shelter them, and clothe them. Satan and his minions are obsessed with a cosmic struggle they know they will lose forever. St. Joseph is a man of flesh and blood, doomed to age and weariness and death. The devils are pure spirits, subsistent intellects, incapable of extinction. Why then should this humble handyman from a useless town in a backwater client state at the borderlands of the civilized world cause in the demons something akin to stark dread?—where the panic is existential and unmitigated precisely because they’re pure spirits?
We see in the mosaic of the triumphal arch that Satan has a long, long tail—so long, in fact, he is the largest creature depicted on the wall. And it swept a third of the stars from the sky. A third of the angels followed their leader—into hell for their punishment and onto earth for their revenge. The fallen angels are still pure intellects, not material beings so amazingly stupid they wouldn’t understand anything at all if it weren’t for their bodies—like man. Yes, pure intellects, and order is a work of reason. The demons understand and submit to order, to authority. They have no choice.
In a diocese, the exorcist ex officio is the diocesan bishop. He or the local ordinary, for example the vicar general, who draws his authority from the diocesan bishop, delegates a priest to perform an exorcism “who has piety, knowledge, prudence, and integrity of life,” as Church law says. If you don’t have this delegation, you can say all the same prayers, but the demons know they don’t have to obey you, and then things will turn…bad—very bad indeed.
The diocesan bishop, however, is the Vicar of Christ for the diocese he governs. It is Christ’s own authority he shares, even over demons. God-made-man shares His power and authority with His high priest who in turn delegates another priest. The demons draw the straight line, and they can’t argue with it.
But whom does God obey? St. Joseph, even more than His Virgin Mother. Joseph is the head of the Holy Family. Yet in his role, he sets the example that his Son will later enunciate: “The greatest among you must be your servant.” Hence, the new invocations in the litany of St. Joseph rightly call him “Servant of Christ” and “Minister of Salvation” because Jesus is salvation. So, the Son of God obeys mere man, who in turn uses this authority at the service of the Son of God. And the Son of God honors the man for the service.
And at this point, the demons’ perfect vision goes cross-eyed. They understand, sort of, but they really don’t get it. Yet they know that if this man throwing God up on his shoulders gives the word, they’re in deep trouble. And there’s nothing they can do about it: at his name, they fall into sheer terror. Just look at that shrine in the nave. What is Jesus doing on Joseph’s shoulders? Toppling idols, and “the gods of the heathens are demons,” says Scripture.
He who had custody over Christ in the flesh has custody also over Christ in His Mystical Body. His authority endures unchecked, unabated, undiminished. We are still protected by him, carried on his shoulders, carried along the path to heaven, and wherever he takes us, the demons see him coming and blanch in terror.
At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Jesus says to the twelve: “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” After signaling to John who it is, but not hearing the answer, Peter hears Jesus say to him: “Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.” One imagines that Peter understood Jesus to be answering John’s question by identifying him as the soon-to-be traitor.
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