Today is the feast of St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus. I make that clarification because Joseph isn't exactly a rare name. In my family alone, if you say "Joe", a few guys turn their heads to see whom you are talking to.
Even though I feel a bit more patriotic for Ireland (seeing as my last name is Irish) on St. Patrick's day... and do the "wearin' of the green", eat corned beef and cabbage, and all that fun stuff.. I hold a special place in my heart for St. Joseph's feast day. St. Joseph is the patron saint of the Diocese of Buffalo, and also the patron of the parish/school I grew up in... St. Joseph's in North Tonawanda. Sadly, the parish and school are now closed.
I have fond memories of our annual St. Joseph's Day table and celebration when I was in school.. before our school merged with the other two Catholic schools in N.T. We would be preparing all week... making homemade loaves of bread shaped like hearts and canes... peeling apples and making apple sauce (as this is a meatless meal.. since it takes place during lent)... and even making paper lilies (symbol of St. Joseph's virginity) to decorate the statue of St. Joseph in our Church.
We'd be doing all this during school time.. it was a big community event... then we'd have the celebration on his feast day, the last half of the school day. We'd have a Mass and long procession, then the actual meal in the school hall. We'd have a special collection at Mass and at the dinner... all proceeds of which went to the poor.. as is tradition with St. Joseph's tables. It is a part of our Catholic heritage that has crumbled and dissolved over time. People still see what externals of the faith remain, but are too busy or too lazy to LEARN why we do them, and what they mean.
I was happy to see my current parish of St. Anthony's, originally a parish for Italian immigrants in the city of Buffalo, still going all our for St. Joe's feast day. As you can see from the very fuzzy cell phone picture I snapped last Sunday before Mass started, a statue of St. Joseph was set up in a place of honor, with red, white and green candles before it, representing Italy. For Catholics.. it's much more than Italian pride... it's a celebration of faith, tradition and charity -- sharing food with friends and family.. and raising money to help the poor. The money raised from St. Anthony's version of St. Joseph's table went to the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund.
I didn't even mind... that much... that the choir played a hymn to St. Joseph instead of "Hail Glorious St. Patrick".... I sang that hymn on the way home. :)
When my former school closed two years ago, I was gifted with a statue of St. Joseph. We kept a statue of St. Joe or the Holy Mother in each classroom. It meant so much to have one of these symbols that had been in one of the classrooms since the 50's as a memento of a school experience I hold so dearly in my heart. I brought the statue upstairs and put him in the dining room (I live downstairs from my parents and two siblings) to remind my family of our heritage.. not just as Italians.. but as members of a living tradition and community... faults and all.. we are still a universal (the meaning of Catholic) family.
I remember a woman once saying she used to ask St. Anne to bring her a husband with the humorous prayer "St. Anne.. St. Anne.. bring me a man. St. Anne, St. Anne.. as fast as you can!". Me? I ask St. Joseph to keep an eye out for me. Sure, he was heterosexual.. and I don't hold that against him... but he knew what it meant to be an awesome husband and father... so I ask him to keep his eyes open for me to find my own husband. I know the Vatican might not like me saying that out load.. but heck.. they have enough to keep them busy right now.