Homily for the Feast of Saint Joseph – 2024

by Anne Shepard, OSB

Mr. Chhay walked into a hardware store in Rock Hall, Maryland, in the mid, 1970’s looking for a simple tool. My brother Jim, the manager, saw him and asked “May I help you?” “Yes, I need a tool.” “What kind of a tool do you need?” “I fix watches. I need a very little tool.” Jim learned that Mr. Chhay was a recent arrival from Cambodia, who with his family, moved to the eastern shore of the Potomac. Because he asked for a special order item, Jim told him to return in a week. Jim ordered a full set of screwdrivers and handed them to him. “How much?” “No cost, Mr. Chhay, welcome to America.” This parallels the arrival of the Nguyen, Pham and many other families that experienced horrendous hardships while fleeing their country during and after the Vietnam War when families were forced to leave their
homeland. They left with nothing.

Rock Hall, Maryland, is a small town where people know one another. Not long after Mr. Chhay received the materials he needed to do his repair
work, Jim saw him tinkering outside his home fixing a Volkswagen. A while later there was a sign on the car “for sale $2,000.” The next time Mr. Chhay was seen fixing cars, his sign was on a four-door sedan. He eventually left the car repair business and opened his own Cambodian restaurant in which he employed his family and some friends. What this young immigrant entrepreneur did was start small and sell, fix, and then sell again, and he turned out to be a successful businessman. He and his wife raised seven children, all of whom attended Catholic schools and are doing well as educated and accomplished professionals. When I was asked to talk about Saint Joseph tonight, the first story that came to me was the one of Mr. Chhay.

Simple, hardworking, a refugee, provider and protector of his family- a man of enormous faith, just like St. Joseph. We are told Joseph was a righteous man, a man of honor who wanted to spare his wife publicly, an upright man who protected Mary from punishments from the law. Joseph swallowed public criticism, wore the mantle of shame himself, and moved forward according to the tools and gifts he was given and always doing as the angel of God commanded. In reading the gospel accounts of Jesus’s ministry, we see many subtle references to paternal instructions and influences.

“Therefore I tell you do not be anxious about your life, what you eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, nor what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” “Now that you are healed, go home…” “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”(Don’t carpenters sometimes wear goggles to avoid getting specks in their eyes?), and there are multiple references to gardening and the land.

Tomorrow we will honor St. Joseph, the patron saint of China, Canada,
Korea, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Peru, and Vietnam. Additionally, he is the patron of the Universal Church, families, fathers, expectant mothers,
travelers, immigrants, house sellers and buyers, craftsmen, engineers,
working people, Regarding the latter ones mentioned, I suggest that we
lean on him to intercede for us for help in discerning our campus plans and building issues. We should not worry about the outcome of the planning. Our patron Saint Benedict gave us “tools of good works”. He suggests that the enclosure of the monastery is our workshop. As Michael Casey wrote in his Seventy Four Tools for Good Living: “The first thing about a workshop is that it is a place to work…It is a place in which the need for spiritual combat repeatedly reasserts itself. And it’s a long struggle. This is why Benedict emphasizes at the end of chapter four that we need to keep at our task, to persevere, to put into practice the crucial monastic virtue of stability. We will need to keep investing that effort in the spiritual craft over a long period if we are able to have much hope for any real progress.”

 Our community history is one of trusting the collective wisdom of our sisters. We are faithful to monastic prayer from which we garnish our strength. We have moved into the future together each time we were called to do so. We are women of faith, intelligence, determination and courage. We maximize and share the gifts and tools we have been given.

We have not quite two weeks left in Lent. Saint Joseph, Mr. Chhay, and our two Vietnamese sisters remind us that there is new life in moving forward. They are examples of the embodiment of the paschal mystery. Their trust in God resulted in new life and prosperity.

Let us proceed, then, in this final stretch of our penitential season with the Gospel, the Rule of Benedict, and most importantly each other.


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