Reflection on St. Joseph
In the Church, every Year we have feast of St. Joseph. It is March, the month when in our Congregation, through novena, fasting and pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Guardian of Families in Kalisz, we are preparing for the celebration of the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
It was in this context that I had the thought to share with the Sisters that what I have experienced recently.
When Sister Provincial Superior called me in the spring of 2019, I was at school, I had a “window” between lessons. The conversation concerned postgraduate studies organized by the Child Protection Center at the Ignatius Academy in Cracow. I was surprised because after over twenty years in catechesis, having many household chores, I did not take into account such an eventuality. I thought, are there no younger Sisters in the Province? And the name of the course was also not attractive: prevention of sexual violence against children and youth! At the same time, I felt that this wish was a kind of challenge for me. I saw the continuity between the issues of the suggested postgraduate studies and the earlier preparation for teaching, not only religion, but also family life education. The Provincial Sister also said that the representative of the Child Protection Center sent through the Consultation information to the Major Superiors of Religious Affairs and a request to send representatives of their congregations for such training in connection with the increasingly revealed problem of sexual abuse in the Church. So I took up the challenge. Later it turned out that the majority of our faculty are middle-aged people. You can see some life experience was necessary to bear the burden of the issues discussed.
How does this have to do with St. Joseph? Now, That Guardian of the Church was God’s Son’s first Guardian. He gave Jesus a home and a sense of security when as a child he was most vulnerable and exposed to many dangers. And as a righteous man he took Mary with him, although he needed God’s intervention to make such a decision and, not fully understanding everything, he protected life, he protected man.
When reports on the abuse of minors by clergy (and not only) appear in the media over and over again, their authors are rather not for the good of the Church. Listening to the sisters’ reactions to this type of material in the communities, one can often hear about a campaign, fight or lies directed at the Church. However, this relatively new situation can also be viewed a bit differently, because the problem has existed for a long time and is not isolated. It appeared in earlier centuries, and in recent decades, clear actions in counteracting crimes within the scope of the sixth commandment against minors were undertaken by St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis. Let us try to see in these events an opportunity to move from a clerical culture that favors concealing abuses, to an evangelical culture, where every human person with whom Jesus identifies himself counts more in the words:
They made the smallest of these cities ”(Mt 25:40). It is also an opportunity to move from a misunderstood culture of discretion – protecting the perpetrator and blaming the victim, to a culture of transparency – building a sense of security and respecting the dignity of every human being. Such a path can be difficult, but it serves the credibility of the Church. In this way, the words of Christ prove true: “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32).
Our place in the Church is with the weakest, with whom the world cares the least. This has been the case since the time of the Founder and the first Sisters of Mary Immaculate. Hence, the Patron of our Congregation is a model for us how to protect children, young people and women against violence, not only sexual but also in other forms, also in cyberspace. Looking at St. Joseph We do not find in the Bible a single word that he spoke. This is how he teaches us to listen. Listening to God and listening to man – listening attentive, compassionate, supportive, which leads to providing concrete help to specific people. This is what victims of violence need to listen to with respect, understanding, without showing strong emotions, and let them believe that they are telling us the truth. They expect help or at least some hints or indications. Saint Joseph appears to us as a man subject to religious and secular law. In this way, we learn from him, to respect and comply with applicable law. In terms of sexual abuse, it is related to the skillful response to attempts to reveal or visible symptoms of abuse present in our charges or people with whom we cooperate. It is also about taking appropriate action in cooperation with appropriate representatives of the Church and state bodies.
It is also worth bearing in mind that the perpetrators and accomplices of sexual abuse also include women, mothers, teachers and carers. Therefore, let us be transparent all the more, let us live evangelically by following the words of the Lord Jesus, which have proved so successful in the life of St. Joseph and his Immaculate Bride: “So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Mt 18:14). Let us try to protect children, because our Lord identifies with them: “whoever accepts one such child in my name welcomes me” (Mt 18: 5). Often the victim becomes the perpetrator. Thus, by conducting preventive activities, we contribute to a gradual reduction in the scale of the phenomenon causing so many human tragedies, which victims often start talking about only years later, as adults, because earlier shame and helplessness shut their mouths off.
To conclude my reflection, I would like to ask you to pray for victims of violence, especially victims of sexual violence – its unfortunate effects come after years also due to the disbelief of the environment that something like this could have happened. Working in many institutions as a catechist, I have personally encountered students who are victims of sexual violence in the family … Such wounds heal for a very long time, sometimes throughout ones life. Now, looking at the image of Saint Joseph in our home chapel every day, I am moved by the loving care with which he holds a small, defenseless Jesus in his hands. It is an invitation for me to care for those whom I serve, like the Guardian of the Son of God.
Sr. M. Michaela