John Cavadini presents first game day lecture on his favorite saint

Amidst the hubbub of a Notre Dame football game day, students and visitors can also enjoy events for intellectual and spiritual development across campus. Sponsored by Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life, the “Saturdays with the Saints” annual lecture series is one opportunity for such enrichment. This year’s installment, focusing on “Saints for the Year of Mercy,” began on September 10 in Geddes Hall.

John C. Cavadini, Professor of Theology and Director of the Institute for Church Life, inaugurated the seventh season of the series with a lecture entitled “Saint Joseph: A Father Rich in Mercy.” Husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, Saint Joseph is Cavadini’s favorite saint and one of the most venerated by the Church.

Cavadini began by saying that the lack of facts about Joseph’s life should not prevent the faithful from a deep relationship with him. He especially emphasized the significance of a friendship with Joseph through the Church in the context of the mystery of the Incarnation and said such a relationship will foster a greater appreciation of Christ’s whole life as a mystery.

The two infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke are integral aspects of what the Church does know of Joseph’s life. According to Cavadini, Matthew evokes “the image of a man with a rich interior life,” one who was intent on doing God’s will, even in his initial plans to divorce Mary quietly. As the Protoevangelium of James noted, Joseph’s righteousness rested on his openness to God’s will.

Cavadini then pointed out that Luke does not register a protest, worry, or anxiety by St. Joseph but rather indicates “his lively involvement in his family’s life as foster father.” He summarized these New Testament sources on Joseph by saying the two Gospel accounts portrayed Joseph as “having no terms for his involvement as husband and father, except the terms which God offers.”

In the way that Joseph exercised his offices of manhood, as both father and husband, Cavadini argued, “He is the Bible’s most explicit revelation of what it means to be a man, for St. Joseph’s identity is completely coincident by his roles as father and husband, with no remainder.”

Cavadini then drew from the works of Karl Rahner, Saint Jerome, Origen, Saint Ignatius, and Saint John Paul II as he spoke of historical scholarship and sustained devotion to St. Joseph in the early Church through the present day. He especially highlighted Origen’s emphasis on the “essential hiddenness” of Joseph and his marriage intrinsic to the mystery of the Incarnation. The conception of a child within the intimacy of an ordinary human marriage is both “unobservable and unremarkable,” and Mary’s virginity and the Incarnation was “most safely hidden by God there.”

Expanding upon the value of St. Joseph’s silent “hiddenness,” Cavadini added, “This secret of God emerges from the great silence of God, and he sees to it that St. Joseph is the carrier of that silence.” He continued, “His silence marks the total intimacy of self-gift, and even self-immolation.”

In his conclusion, Cavadini spoke of Joseph’s essential fatherhood that granted Jesus a genealogical identity, and through which “the Savior catches all of our genealogies into the Book of Life.” The paternity of Joseph is thus extended to all members of the Church, Cavadini asserted, and when one examines that fatherhood, one sees “an effacement and not a claim … silence and not speech.”

Joseph’s self-gift was at the heart of Cavadini’s assertion that the saint’s whole fatherhood is “one great work of mercy that extends onto us.” While Christians grow as Joseph’s foster children, they come to accept the Christian life as “a hidden one, a death to the noise of the world and a life in the silence of God, which is nothing other than His eternal love.”

The next “Saturdays with the Saints” lecture will take place on September 24 in Geddes Hall. Leonard DeLorenzo, Director of Notre Dame Vision, will present “Saint Teresa of Calcutta: On the Occasion of her Canonization.”

Maureen Schweninger is a sophomore living in Pasquerilla East and studying theology and sociology. She loves families, laundry rooms, and green bananas. Contact her at