Lessons Learned From Joseph
By Sister Angela Battung RSG
Sister Angela, from Tuguegarao City, is a regular contributor to Misyon. You can learn more about the Religious of the Good Shepherd at www.goodshepherdsisters.org.ph
‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22: 19).
When I read the account of the Last Supper, I almost feel the tension and heaviness in the Upper Room. Jesus is saying, ‘goodbye,’ not a final farewell, because he promises to come back. But his disciples are slow to understand. Jesus knows each one of them well and he loves them. In their own way, the disciples love Him, too. The Last Supper was Jesus’ way of expressing his love for them and for us.
In his encyclical on the Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope John Paul II writes, ‘The Eucharist is a priceless treasure; by not only celebrating it but also by praying before it outside of Mass, we are enabled to make contact with the very wellspring of grace.’ Communion with Jesus is a communion with grace, grace that he gives to us through his Church: through people, through friends, a loved one, or a stranger.
Joseph is an old man and most of those who know him love him. My pre-teen students at Sunday school in our parish, The Canadian Martyrs, are very fond of him. One Sunday, the students and I decided to raise funds for Development and Peace to give to the poor children in Africa. We served a ‘poor man’s meal’ of bread and soup and accepted donations.
Joseph came and the students decided the meal was ‘on the house’ for him. He loves to tell stories so he told some about street-life as we washed the dishes and cleaned up. He shared with us his experiences of looking for food in the back-alleys of restaurants, sleeping on doorsteps, corners of houses, under trees or on park benches. ‘Winter is very difficult but God always helps me survive.’ I was told that Joseph was a retired head of a high school, so he had a substantial pension from the government. Why he chose a difficult and dangerous lifestyle no one knew.
One day, I went to a beautiful, luxurious retirement home with wall-to-wall carpeting and lovely paintings on the wall to pick up a donation of clothing for the poor. I met Joseph coming out of the elevator; he was a resident there! He laughed at my confusion and amazement saying, ‘This is my temporary abode, I’m moving soon.’
He would attend daily Mass, receiving Holy Communion, saying ‘Thank you my dear Friend’ instead of ‘Amen.’ He explained that Jesus was a wonderful friend who loved him and gave himself completely to him. ‘Sister, we not only receive Jesus from the priest or minister of Holy Communion. In Communion we give and receive from each other when we show our love for God with a smile; then we make it easier for Jesus to work through us and among us.’
Jesus, broken and given to us, giving us the privilege of sharing God with each other, and living out his command to love and accept each other. Joseph, my theologian and philosopher friend! No wonder he is loved by those who know him.
In winter, he had a beautiful knitted woolen sweater that had ‘menu’ ‘written’ on the front: egg yolk, coffee stains, tiny bits of mashed potato, drippings of gravy, noodles . . .
He taught me many things, such as the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer to explain to me what trust in the Father is: ‘I ask God and God provides. One day, I was cold and hungry; someone gave me half a sandwich and a bottle with a few drops of wine.’
‘Is that all God gave you?’ I asked sarcastically. He looked at me sadly, ‘Sister, you should know the meaning of praying for one’s daily bread; you are always sure of having your three meals everyday. Do you recognize God’s hand in what comes to you so easily everyday?’
One day, he told me about the time he felt so lonely and discouraged that He wanted to die. He sat in the park, frozen and miserable. He had a piece of stale bread and an empty bottle. He planned to eat the bread, break the bottle and then slash his wrist.
Something inside him made him look up . . . a lonely star up there in the dark sky. He felt better – ‘Joseph, a star and God makes three! I am never alone. Joseph, a bird in summer and God makes three, Joseph, a blade of grass in the spring and God makes three. Joseph, a smiling baby and happy children and God makes a community! Joseph, God’s gifts, friends, grace and prayer every moment!’
Thank you Joseph! God, Joseph and Angela makes three! We are always ‘enabled to make contact with the very wellspring of grace’!
‘Lord, you have been a refuge for the needy in distress, a shelter from the storm’ (Isaiah 25:4).
You may email Sister Angela at email@example.com or write her at: Good Shepherd Sisters, 1166 Tower Road, HALIFAX, NS B3H 2YB, CANADA.