To the Band of Brothers: March 19, 2024

Fr. Willie ‘87 | President
Today we celebrate the feast day of St. Joseph. What a glorious day. The Church so clearly understands how impactful St. Joseph is that it takes a liturgical break from its regular Lenten practices and makes room for him. You will notice at Mass, we will sing the "Gloria," use incense, and even bring back the bells to celebrate his feast day appropriately. While all saints of the Church are patrons of one thing or another, Joseph is so big Pope Pius IX proclaimed him in 1870 patron of the Universal Church. That's a big task, but one that fits formidably on the great man's shoulders.

This feast day has also brought to mind my grandfather. When he passed away in 2021 at the age of 98, I preached a homily at his funeral. I would like to share it with you because I think it is appropriate on this occasion.

Here it is:
I've been writing this homily for six years. Ever since my grandmother passed away, I began to pray and occasionally write the homily for my grandfather's funeral mass. I imagined being right here at the pulpit at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, surrounded by its pastor and various Jesuit priests, looking out into a sizable crowd of family members and friends, mustering up the nerve to preach a few words of consolation to all of you. Curiously enough, what I didn't imagine was the peace and consolation I feel right now as I deliver these words. Peace and consolation and gratitude… those are the words that best describe what I felt the moment I was told my grandfather passed away.

Peace because his death was exactly that… peaceful. Every day for years, I prayed to St. Joseph, patron saint of a happy death, that my grandfather would pass away peacefully. Wouldn't you know it, on December 8, 2020, the feast day of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis in his apostolic letter "Patris Corde" declared 2021 the year of St. Joseph in honor of the 150 years since St. Joseph was declared Universal Patron of the Church. Even better, now in March, the month of St. Joseph, just a week before his feast day on March 19th, the Lord granted my grandfather a peaceful death. It's fitting for various reasons.
First, St. Joseph was the model husband.

Joseph loved his wife. While the gospel of St. Matthew tells us he was a righteous man and the gospel of St. Luke describes him as being law-abiding, they both indicate he loved Mary and was very devoted to her. It was this loving relationship that set the scene for taking on the great responsibility of taking care of and raising Jesus. Joseph understood his role as guardian of the Son of God and his mother. So was my grandfather. Anyone who knew anything about him, knew he loved nothing more on this earth than his wife. Not Cuba, not Spain, not golf, not soccer, not anything more than his wife, my grandmother.
I am happy to say that more than his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, he loved his wife. They were married for 72 years. Often, he would tell me that the day he got married in the chapel of El Colegio de Belén was the most important day of his life. From the moment my grandmother passed away, he longed to be at her side. He wondered why he lasted so long after she passed, but he quietly and humbly carried the burden of being without his love for several years.

Second, Joseph loved his son.

Joseph was a builder. A carpenter by trade, he skillfully used his art to build things for others. He worked hard in that trade in order to take care of his family. It was from the sweat of his brow that he was able to gain the name of "redemptoris custos," guardian of the redeemer. He passed his trade on to his son, taught him how to sustain himself. How many hours did he and Jesus spend together in the shop working on a project? How often would they hammer, saw, chisel, and sand together conversing about being a man, being religious, respecting and loving others? How often did he teach Jesus how to be a man, teach him manners, take him to Temple, read and explain to him the holy scriptures? My grandfather was a builder, an engineer by trade and through his profession, was able to provide for his children, took them to Mass every Sunday, raised them to be good and respectful.
Third, Joseph suffered exile.

When the Angel Gabriel in a dream informed Joseph he needed to take his wife and the child and flee to Egypt, he had to experience what it was to pick up and leave. Joseph traveled to a land he didn't know, where people spoke a language he didn't understand, in order to secure a better life for his family. He didn't mope, he didn't drag his feet, he didn't feel sorry for himself and lament what he had lost. He wasn't bitter or angry. He simply faced the reality in front of him and focused on securing the welfare of his wife and child. So did my grandfather. Not only did he suffer exile from Spain during the Spanish Civil War, but he also had to leave Cuba abruptly. He left everything behind and fled. He didn't complain, he didn't lament, he wasn't bitter. He simply did what he needed to do to secure the welfare of his wife and children.

St. Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death because when he died, sitting by his side, were his wife Mary and his son Jesus. He was in great company. Four days before he passed, I sat with my grandfather and had my final conversation with him. At one point he said to me, "I know my day is almost here." I asked, "Are you ready?" "Yes,' he said, "but I think I need some help to get up there." "Who do you think can help you," I asked. "La Virgen," he responded. Then he paused and added, "Y tu abuela."

I couldn't help but notice the peace in his feeble voice. He realized that finally the moment he had been waiting for was soon approaching.

Auspice Maria.
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Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain.  The task of educating students was assigned to the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose teaching tradition is synonymous with academic excellence and spiritual discipline.  In 1961, the new political regime of Cuba confiscated the School property and expelled the Jesuit faculty.  The School was re-established in Miami the same year, and over the next decade, continued to grow.  Today, Belen Jesuit sits on a 30-acre site in western Dade County, only minutes away from downtown Miami.