The Power of Family Life

Saint Joseph and the child Jesus

We celebrate the Feast of Saint Joseph as the foster father of Jesus and the husband of Mary this month on March 19. From the Scriptures, we know very little about him. What was written can be pieced together to give some sense of who he was and what he might have been like.

He was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55) and a member of the working class poor. We know this, since when Jesus was circumcised in the Temple he offered two turtledoves as a sacrifice, which was acceptable in those days for those who could not afford to sacrifice a lamb (Luke 2:24). He did, however, descend from royalty, the “House of David,” who was King of Israel (Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38).

Yet Joseph was humble and compassionate. He protected Mary from being accused of adultery and stoned to death, because she was pregnant and unmarried. Instead of revealing her pregnancy, he planned to send her away, but then he listened to the angel in a dream who told him of God’s plan that Jesus should be born of Mary and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:19-25). Knowing this, he married Mary and became a father to Jesus.

Throughout his life, Joseph protected and cared for his family. When an angel told Joseph that Jesus was in danger of the King, he left everything he had, including family and friends, and took Mary and Jesus to Egypt, until it was safe to return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:13-23). He, along with Mary, looked for Jesus for three days, until they found him in the Temple (Luke 2:48). And to all who knew the Holy Family, Joseph treated Jesus as his own son, for Jesus is referred to in the Scriptures many times by the people, “Is this not the son of Joseph?” (Luke 4:22)

We know that Joseph was not at Jesus’ crucifixion. Many historians and theologians believe that Joseph died before Jesus began his public ministry, and the apocryphal gospels place the dates for Joseph’s birth and death as 90 BC in Bethlehem and AD 18 in Nazareth.

Though we have to piece together phrases and scenes from the gospels to create in our minds the person of Joseph, we know that he represents important qualities that support family – qualities that we all hope are emulated in all of our families today: humility, compassion, protection, respect, care, sacrifice, and love.

Archmere’s community is built on the strength of individual families over the years, as well as the charism of Saint Norbert. In a way, Norbert wanted to emulate the Holy Family as he conceived living a spiritual life in community in the 12th century. He gathered ordained, religious men and women, as well as lay men and women to live in community in Premontre, France in the late Middle Ages. His concept of one community of the faithful would not survive the ecclesiastical structure of the Church, which separately acknowledged the community of priests and brothers from the religious community of Norbertine nuns. Yet, in spirit and in charism, they were founded as one community, building on each other’s strengths and gifts, reflecting the dynamic of a biological family. Over the years, many Norbertine communities would flourish around the world, each a reflection of the people and culture that created it.

I have heard Archmere referred to as a “family” and, particularly, the Patio, as “a home,” originally built for the Raskob family of 13 children. I believe that a more accurate and enriching description of Archmere is a community of families, each contributing its own unique histories, talents, and contributions to strengthen the Archmere genealogical tree.

Figures from the 2002 U.S. Census indicate that only 7% of the population in the United States is part of “traditional” families, where the father works outside the home, and the mother runs the household with children living at home. Another 16% of the population is dual income parents with children, and 13% is dual income couples with no children. The remaining 64% of the population is in single parent households or other family configurations. Since 2002, I would imagine these figures have become even more pronounced in non-traditional family composition.

On Thursday, February 2, 2017, Archmere hosted a visit by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life and Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, along with Rev. Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, President of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. These men were appointed by Pope Francis on August 15, 2016, to, in the words of Pope Francis, “help families live out their vocation and mission in the Church and in today’s world.” Their work would be accomplished with study, research, and teaching in dialog with “scientific institutes and academic institutions, including relationships where there is an ecumenical or interreligious element, whether Christian or pertaining to other cultural or religious traditions. To bend down over the wounds of humanity in order to understand them, to care for them, and to heal them is the task of the Church that trusts in the light and the power of the risen Christ, that is able to deal with tension and conflict, as does a ‘field hospital,’ a Church that lives, preaches, and carries out its mission of salvation…”

We, at Archmere, are fortunate to have a faith tradition that holds up for us the Holy Family as an example of family life that represent important values for us to admire and adopt into our own life experiences. And we are blessed to have Pope Francis address the challenges of family life and provide for us an inviting and welcoming opportunity to talk about the challenges and opportunities in sustaining the nurturing and life-giving power of family life.

Traditions Change But The Story Stays The Same


Last evening, I met with our Pastor to review the plans for the liturgies of Holy Week in our parish. This marks my 21st year planning Holy Week services at my current parish, and my 41st year participating as a liturgical musician. I reflected on that stretch of more than 40 years and though about what things had changed and what had remained the same.

For the most part, the order of the services has remained the same. While there have been adjustments to the language of the prayers and responses, as well as interpretation of some of the rituals that alter the environment slightly, for the most part, the services of Holy Week continue to tell the fantastic story of Jesus’ triumphal arrival in Jerusalem, His Last Supper with His closest followers and friends (the apostles), His betrayal, passion, death, and finally resurrection. The drama of these events captured so beautifully in recited prayers and music remains as profound and richly meaningful as ever. In fact, perhaps with age (my age!) the story becomes even more meaningful.

What has changed is the number of people attending these services from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. I have noticed in the 21 years that I have been at my parish that the number of people who attend Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil services is getting smaller and smaller. It seems that other obligations are crowding out Holy Week. Many institutions, for example, do no close for Good Friday, as once was the custom for most. And spring vacation plans seem to be on the rise for many families, who use time off from school or work to travel as a family – a very important time to be together and take a break from the fast-paced daily routines that often do not give family members a lot of time together.


If you were raised in a household with strong ethnic traditions, as I was, Lent, Holy Week and Easter seasons were punctuated with signature foods and dishes that had special meaning – from the fish served on the Fridays of Lent and the special delicacies made for Saint Joseph’s Day, which often falls during Lent, to the Easter breads, pies, and dishes of fresh greens and meats to celebrate the holiday. Food preparation rituals during Holy Week had a specific timetable, so that dishes could be prepared in various stages in between Holy Thursday Mass, Good Friday services, and the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil. I can remember my mother baking the last loaves of Easter bread in the oven in silence from noon to 3 p.m. on Good Friday before leaving for Church.

For me, growing up in this Church and home environment during these holy seasons was special. It seemed as though time slowed down. The daily routines were interrupted and replaced with sensory rituals that engaged your emotions.

Will these experiences be lost to more and more people over the years? And if so, will they be replaced with anything as meaningful and powerful?

Or am I too presumptuous to think that everyone finds the Church’s celebrations and, in particular, my family traditions to be so meaningful?

I recognize that people of different faiths and personal beliefs have various ways to be in touch with the spiritual and the divine. And I am sure that Holy Week is not the only time one can be hyper-focused on his or her faith and beliefs. It just happens to be a very special time of year for me. So perhaps I should be less concerned about the size of the congregation at religious services, and more focused on the words found in the Gospel of Matthew:

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
(Matt. 18:20)

Wishing you and your families a Blessed and Happy Easter!