The Two Saints in March
By Fr. Tirso Villaverde
St. Thomas of Canterbury, Chicago
ST. PATRICK—Feast Day March 17th
Known as the Saint of Ireland, St. Patrick was most likely born as a citizen of England. At the age of 16, he was captured from his father's home by Irish raiders and sold as a slave. For about 6 years, he was a slave in Ireland after which he escaped to France.
Eventually, he returned to England at about age 22. He then heard the call to the priesthood and at age 43 was made a bishop. In a vision, he saw the people of Ireland stretching out their hands as if they were searching for something greater. Patrick heard this as a call to return to Ireland and preach the Gospel of Jesus.
Legends about St. Patrick abound especially driving the snakes out of Ireland. Another famous anecdote regarding this saint was his use of the three leaf clover to explain the mystery of the Trinity. According to the story, St. Patrick taught this basic Christian doctrine by pointing out that just as the three leaf clover has three leaves but is a single clover, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three Divine Persons in One God. Of course, even the three leaf clover does not do justice to this teaching.
But, the main lesson that can be gained from the life of St. Patrick is the gift of forgiveness. Even though the Irish had enslaved him for 6 years of his life and subjected him to cruel hard labor, Patrick still made the courageous move to serve the people who had driven him to hardship and separation from his family. In this, St. Patrick teaches that part of the mission of Jesus' disciples is to reach out to even those who may maltreat them. If St. Patrick saw his captors still as worthy of hearing God's Good News, ambassadors of Christ are called to do the same. To those who have wronged them, Christians are still called by God to witness to the faith in the spirit of charity and forgiveness.
ST. JOSEPH—Feast Day March 19th
Little is known about St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. St. Joseph makes a very brief appearance in the gospels. In Matthew's gospel, Joseph is the main character in the story of Jesus' birth but he is silent and no words of St. Joseph have been recorded. In Luke's gospel, Joseph is mentioned by name but receives no attention. It is Matthew's gospel that gives us the details that St. Joseph was a carpenter and a "righteous man" who was unwilling to expose Mary to shame. But, his actions in the gospel of Matthew speak a great deal about his character.
St. Joseph showed extreme concern for the life of another person. For all intents and purposes, Mary was seemingly guilty of adultery. According to the Jewish law of the time, St. Joseph had every right to have Mary publicly humiliated and punished. She had been promised to him as his wife but, for all St. Joseph knew, Mary had broken that promise. It was his obligation, then, to make sure a lesson was taught and punishment was exacted.
Yet, St. Joseph to the higher road and decided to divorce Mary quietly bringing no attention to her transgression. In acting this way, St. Joseph had the hope that the actual father of the child would then come forward and claim Mary as his own further sparing her of the humiliation of being a single mother with an illegitimate child. Of course, the gospel of Matthew tells us that St. Joseph did not have to resort to this and accepted the angel's message to receive Mary as his wife and claim the child as his own.
At the same time, though, St. Joseph took a great chance in accepting Mary as his wife even though he knew clearly that she was pregnant with a child that was not his. Joseph could have jeopardized his own reputation resulting in difficulty finding work to provide for his family. Yet, Joseph trusted the will of God even though, like Mary, he did not quite understand everything.
Patron Saint of a Happy Death
St. Joseph was a necessary figure in the plan of salvation. As a son of David, St. Joseph provided the legal, cultural, religious, and social connection to the line of David from which the Messiah was destined to come. Through St. Joseph, the prophecy had been fulfilled.
Today, St. Joseph has been named as the patron saint of the Church. St. Joseph was entrusted with the life of the Christ child so it is only natural that he becomes the protector of the Church which is now Christ's Body here on earth.
He is also the patron saint of a happy death. Legend has it that he passed away peacefully having both Mary and Jesus at his side. His prayers have been invoked by many people who have reached the fearful point of their mortality. With the prayers of St. Joseph, many have embraced the final moments of their earthly lives as a welcomed friend rather than a feared enemy. Seeing death in this way, many have found peace and happiness surrounded by the people who loved them in life and continue to love them even in death.