“In the greatest story ever told, he really just has a couple of walk-ons, and he doesn’t even have any lines. So he wasn’t someone that I paid a lot of attention to.”
So says Deacon Greg Kandra about his early impressions of St. Joseph, the quietest member of the Holy Family. But over time, the deacon’s views slowly changed. He now finds Jesus’s earthly father to be the most relatable member of the Holy Family, and he shares his views in the new book “Befriending St. Joseph: Finding Faith, Hope, and Courage in the Seven Sorrows Devotion.” We discussed the book recently on “Christopher Closeup” (podcast below).
Deacon Greg credits Monsignor Joseph Funaro, the pastor for whom he worked at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs church in Queens, New York, with increasing his understanding of St. Joseph. Msgr. Funaro made the saint for whom he was named a part of parish life through celebrations of his feast day and novenas.
“Whenever he preached about him,” said Deacon Greg, “he liked to make the point that St. Joseph was not perfect. And he’s the one member of the holy family who is not sinless. He was flawed, and he had problems, and he is very much like the rest of us… So it helps to look at him, I think, as a very humble, ordinary, flawed, challenged human being on this remarkable journey.”
For St. Joseph, that journey included a lot of unexpected happenings involving a loss of control of his own life. Since people nowadays like to be in control of everything, but very rarely are, Deacon Greg finds a lesson in this aspect of St. Joseph’s life as well.
He said, “Joseph is a reminder that sometimes the best thing to do is to let go and let God, and to trust that He’s taking you where He wants you to go. You think of all the different moments in Joseph’s life where things didn’t go the way he had probably planned. I’m sure he imagined this very tranquil, happy life, living with Mary in Nazareth with his little carpenter shop and just living happily ever after. He had no idea how God was going to enter his story and his life. He was going to have to go to Bethlehem, and then to Egypt, and then back to Nazareth…God kept throwing monkey wrenches into his life. Instead of fighting it…he completely trusted in God [with] tremendous leaps of faith again and again and again. It gives me a lot of hope and a lot of inspiration to think about that.”
Since not a lot is known about St. Joseph, Deacon Greg creatively and imaginatively fleshes out the Bible’s stories involving him, taking into account the stresses he dealt with and how they relate to us today. “It was very moving to me to realize that a lot of the things that all of us go through, a lot of my insecurities, a lot of my worries and doubts and fears, Joseph probably had them too,” observed the deacon.
For instance, when pondering the story of Jesus’s birth in a stable, Deacon Greg wonders if Joseph struggled with feelings of failure: “Here is the son of God coming into the world in abject poverty. How heartbreaking that must have been for Joseph to realize that he wasn’t able to give them a proper home at that moment, that this innocent, beautiful child had to come into the world under these circumstances and feeling like maybe there was something else he could have done that might have made things different. I think every parent at one time or another wants only the best for their children and constantly is wondering, am I doing enough? Have I given them enough? And I think Joseph probably felt that also. That’s something that I think should give us a lot of comfort knowing that we’re not alone in this.”
Regarding the subtitle of the book about the “Seven Sorrows Devotion,” Deacon Greg admits that it’s not a prayer tradition many people are familiar with, even though it’s been around for a long time. He explained, “The roots of it are several hundred years old. There were a couple of Franciscans who were in a shipwreck. While they were clinging to the wreckage and praying to be saved, they prayed to St. Joseph. [He] appeared to them and helped them to safety. He said, ‘Pray the Our Father and the Hail Mary and meditate on seven moments of my life, and this will be the grace that you need.’ So there’s seven key moments of Joseph’s life. They roughly parallel the seven sorrows of Mary, which more people, I think, know, and the times that he felt great sorrow and pain and anxiety in his life, but also found through that a sense of joy and possibility and hope. It’s a way for us to look at those moments in his life – and those similar moments in our own lives – and also find consolation and hope.”
Regarding his hopes for people who read “Befriending St. Joseph,” Deacon Greg concludes, “I hope that they see him as a figure of flesh and blood, a person very much like ourselves – and that they see him as our entry into the Holy Family. Like I said, [he is] the member of the Holy Family who is really the most like us and someone that we can turn to, who will intercede whenever we have any difficulties or challenges or concerns. There’s the old saying, go to Joseph. I think more of us need to think about that and need to take this seriously and turn to him with faith and hope and trust.”
(To listen to my full interview with Deacon Greg Kandra, click on the podcast link beginning at 14:53):