By Fr Serafino M. Lanzetta
Let me introduce this topic with a question: did Jesus reveal to St Joseph his desire to institute the Holy Eucharist? Perhaps during the years of his hidden life in Nazareth? Or before the beginning of his public life, e.g., before Joseph fell asleep in God? It is not easy to answer this question, nor is it easy to get some clues from the Gospel accounts. Let us try, however, to investigate the issue with a reason that is open to the central theological element of fittingness. It was certainly fitting for Jesus to reveal to the one who after Mary his Mother was closest to him the secret of secrets, the love of his Heart, the desire of all desires: the Holy Eucharist. Jesus will say in the Gospel of Luke (22,15) with a truly singular and paradigmatic construct: “Desiderio desideravi hoc pascha manducare vobiscum antequam patiar”. Literally, recalling also the original Greek form that follows the same construction, where the verb “to desire” and the noun “desire” are linked to reinforce each other, we have: “I have desired with great desire to eat this passover with you before suffering.”
We can well imagine that this great desire animated Jesus from his earliest years and that he, therefore, did not hold back his heart from confiding it to Mary his mother and then to Joseph his father. It must have been this “Eucharistic desire” confided to Joseph that motivated the holy Carpenter in a very special way to make himself one with his Son and his Bride. Especially in being always generous in the offering of himself – an offering of desire and love – so that all men might be saved. If according to St. Augustine, desire is the “thirst of the soul”, and according to St. Thomas Aquinas, “desiderium ex amore” – to desire one must love, hence “amor praecedit desiderium” – love precedes desire. Therefore, St. Joseph must have – at the very least – grasped by virtue of his love that thirst of his Son’s Heart and with him desired what he desired. But it is also very fitting to suppose that Jesus revealed to him his intention of instituting the Blessed Sacrament, the Love that precedes all desire.
Joseph indeed wanted to become Eucharist with Jesus and Mary. Like his Bride, he conformed himself to that mystery with his desire, even before it was instituted. His was a communion of love and desire, of love that being the soul of desire sets love on fire. A spiritual communion lived with Jesus throughout his life that was intertwined with Mary’s spiritual communion so as to become a desire for oblation in Jesus. Joseph, like Mary, made the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist his own. His life was a daily preparation for the sacrifice of Calvary, at which he was absent, but after having already arranged everything: he handed over to his Bride his oblative contribution, his fatherly price, asking her to carry it in his name on the mountain of the Crucifixion. Joseph entrusted to Mary all his desire to be one with Jesus in her and through her, so as to become one host with Jesus. There is a passage in John Paul II’s encyclical on the Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (no. 56), which could apply not only to Mary but also to Joseph. Here it is:
“Mary, throughout her life at Christ’s side and not only on Calvary, made her own the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist. When she brought the child Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem ‘to present him to the Lord’ (Lk 2:22), she heard the aged Simeon announce that the child would be a ‘sign of contradiction’ and that a sword would also pierce her own heart (cf. Lk 2:34-35). The tragedy of her Son’s crucifixion was thus foretold, and in some sense Mary’s Stabat Mater at the foot of the Cross was foreshadowed. In her daily preparation for Calvary, Mary experienced a kind of ‘anticipated Eucharist’ – one might say a ‘spiritual communion’ – of desire and of oblation, which would culminate in her union with her Son in his passion, and then find expression after Easter by her partaking in the Eucharist which the Apostles celebrated as the memorial of that passion”.
It would be enough to exchange in this quote the name “Mary” with that of “Joseph” to have the same result with the exception of Joseph’s participation in the Holy Mass celebrated by the Apostles. Joseph made the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist his own through Mary. In the temple he is next to his Bride and hears Simeon’s words that become a sword also to his heart. Those prophetic words:
“He is here for the ruin and resurrection of many in Israel and as a sign of contradiction – and to you also a sword will pierce your very soul – so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:34-35),
cannot but pierce his soul as well, seeing himself above all defenceless at the culminating moment of the “ruin and resurrection of many”, but completely resigned to the Father’s will. He prepares himself day after day for Calvary. He knows that he will not be there physically, but with the desire he is always there where the Son and his Bride are. The more love grows, the more the desire grows. Joseph experiences Calvary throughout his life as a preparation for his final spiritual oblation – for the Eucharist which he receives as a spiritual gift of a love consummated until his death. Joseph glimpses at the Eucharist, lives it out day after day, adores it and conforms himself to it in what is most proper to it: its sacrificial dimension. Desire and offering go always together and are one in the life of our Holy Patriarch.
Father Tarcisio Stramare adds another Eucharistic pearl to the mystery of St. Joseph. His reflection begins with Joseph being sold by his brothers, who providentially, in times of famine in Israel, became prime minister of the Pharaoh of Egypt and was able to provide bread for his brothers. When the famine was also felt in Egypt, Pharaoh ordered the Egyptians: “Go to Joseph; do what he tells you” (Genesis 41: 55). The famine then raged throughout the world, but Joseph, as a good minister, was able to provide not only for Egypt but also for all the people of the earth. The text adds:
“The famine raged over all the earth. So Joseph opened all the storehouses where there was grain and sold it to the Egyptians. The famine grew worse in Egypt, but from every country they came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was raging throughout the land” (Gen 41:56).
Joseph of Egypt is just one figure of our Joseph, true minister of the Son of God and dispenser of the true grain, the true bread – Jesus himself. Father Stramare reflects on the gesture of “breaking bread” to put on the table, performed many times by Joseph at home and in front of Jesus. The bread that Joseph broke was “for” Jesus. But Jesus was also aware that that “broken bread” was him. Father Stramare writes:
“Joseph was aware of this in his heart, although he did not know how much or how. He had sensed it in the words addressed to Mary on the occasion of the presentation of Jesus in the temple: “A sword will pierce your soul too” (Lk 2:35). He had feared it in his hasty flight to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murderers. He had suffered it in the anguished (v. 48) search for Jesus who had remained in the temple, where the twelve-year-old had replied: “Why are you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” […] What about St Joseph’s feelings of adoration towards the divine Presence, which were already revealed in his decision to leave his wife, who was recognised as being “with child by the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:18), and then expressed at the moment of Jesus’ birth, he who was the first to hold him in his arms, making him the sacrifice of his entire existence with paternal love?” [San Giuseppe. Fatto religioso e Teologia, (Ancona: Shalom: 2018) 512-514].
This enlightening thought, which finds support in the preference for the thesis of St Joseph’s humility before the mystery of the incarnation, is also expressed by the Eucharistic saint, St Peter Julian Eymard, who describes it as follows:
Joseph “penetrated, so to speak, the coarse garment of Jesus: his faith penetrated the Sacred Heart and, illuminated by the divine light, he saw in advance all the states through which Jesus would pass, and he adored them and united himself to the grace of those mysteries. He worshipped Jesus in his hidden life; he worshipped him in his passion and death; he worshipped him even then in the holy Tabernacle. Could Our Lord have hidden anything from Saint Joseph? The holy Patriarch therefore received the grace of all the states of Jesus, including that of adoring the Blessed Sacrament, ours” (quoted in Ibid., p. 514).
The Holy Carpenter is therefore a “minister of the Eucharist” because he prepared Jesus to “break bread”, to break himself, his body for us, offering him the example of his daily and indomitable sacrifice. In his offering, Joseph worshipped his Son’s offering, all united with it. He was, with Mary and through Mary, one with it, one heart with it. With his heart, in desiderio, Joseph worshipped Jesus, the “broken bread”, and already “saw” that mystery which the Son would establish on the night he was betrayed. Thus he is our model of adoration of the Holy Eucharist. That Ite ad Ioseph – Go to Joseph has in this manner its proper foundation.