St. Joseph is the perfect model for those striving to live out, in a distinctly Christian way, the truism that “actions speak louder than words.”
Following his example, the Oblates of St. Joseph in California sprang into action with two initiatives to counter the culture of death with the culture of life — the Holy Spouses Society and the ministry of Saint Joseph, Patron of the Unborn.
In 2000, at their headquarters and Shrine of St. Joseph Guardian of the Redeemer in Santa Cruz, they placed a 7-foot bronze sculpture of St. Joseph with a new title: Patron of the Unborn. At this outdoor shrine-within-a-shrine, he is seated on a curved bench and holds an unborn baby at six months’ gestation. He faces another curved bench, welcoming mothers and fathers to respect the life of their unborn children, reaching out to those who have participated in abortion. (The sacrament of reconciliation is available every day at the shrine.)
“We saw a strong connection, seeing St. Joseph’s protection of Jesus during the period when he was in the womb,” explains Father John Warburton, provincial of the Oblates of St. Joseph. For the image, the Oblates turned to sculptor Thomas Marsh.
Marsh memorialized the power of Joseph’s masculine gentleness. “The woman knows her baby is safe in the loving hands of St. Joseph, but, also, the baby is reaching up to the light, so, ultimately, the baby is safe in the light of Christ,” says Marsh. “Joseph is the transition.”
But there are also aspects of seriousness and melancholy in Joseph’s face, reflecting his grasp of the tragic nature of abortion.
This slightly secluded, prayerful garden setting is also a place of comfort and healing for mothers and fathers who have lost a baby through miscarriage or stillbirth.
“It’s a very quiet ministry — no fanfare,” points out Father Warburton. Still, the actions taken to create the work speak loudly enough. The curved walls semi-enclosing the prayer spot contain stones with names of the unborn babies.
“The name becomes part of the healing process, in truth and love and acknowledging the child as a person with eternal destiny,” explains Father Warburton. “There is the tragedy of the life being shortened by abortion, but, the truth is, the parent has an immortal soul, and so does the child. The relationship needs to be established; these children are alive in God.”
One Saturday Mass is said each month at the shrine church for the unborn children who have died through abortion or miscarriage. After Mass, a procession winds to the memorial wall, where new stones with names are blessed and dedicated.
Since not everyone can afford a name stone, the shrine memorializes for free the names of any and all preborn babies in their Book of Innocents, which rests on a pillar next to the altar for the Saturday Masses.
The shrine took on added significance for Marsh and his wife, Siobhan. In August 2001, they lost a baby through miscarriage. Says Thomas, “We had never realized how profound a reaction there would be to that death.” They named their child Michael, and Marsh engraved the stone himself. He and Siobhan visited the shrine a number of times to pray and ponder their loss before moving to Virginia in 2006.
“When I sat down and looked at St. Joseph holding this sweet little baby with his hand extended to Jesus,” recalls Siobhan Marsh, “I knew Michael was taken care of. For whatever reason, this was God’s plan. I didn’t need to worry about the baby any more. He was in the best place anyone of us could ever hope for. The feeling of relief and joy I had was unbelievable.”
Real Love for Life
“Any good father exercises his fatherhood by first of all loving his children’s mother,” points out Oblates of St. Joseph Father Larry Toschi. “By Mary and Joseph being united in love, Jesus is raised in a home filled with love.”
That is one of the pillars on which Father Toschi founded the Holy Spouses Society in 1985. He wished to heal marriages and also prepare engaged couples according to the Church’s teaching on the two-fold and inseparable purposes of marriage: love and life.
Marriage-prep programs he had worked with weren’t teaching the purposes of marriage, and short homilies and confessional times weren’t enough to get across the teachings or explain how contraception destroys marriage.
Father Toschi turned to John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World), along with his theology of the body, as well as the Catechism and Church teachings, to launch the Life-Giving Love workshop weekend, which then inspired the society. The workshop is mandatory for engaged couples at his parish of St. Joachim in Madera.
The result? Many of the engaged couples begin practicing chastity. “They prepare spiritually for the remaining months” before their marriage, says Father Toschi. “Many have testified how their relationships deepened after they stopped having [marital relations] out of wedlock.” Some go on to join the Holy Spouses Society.
The Life-Giving Love retreat is one of the eight commitments husbands and wives make as members of the Holy Spouses Society. This is a onetime event. The other seven are ongoing: Celebrate the feast of the Holy Spouses, Joseph and Mary, on Jan. 23 (on the liturgical calendar of the Oblates and others) by attending Mass together; pray at least part of the Holy Spouses’ Rosary together weekly; enthrone a picture of the Holy Spouses, either the Oblate shrine version or another suitable one, in their home; live marriage as a call from God; respect children as the greatest fruit of marriage; uphold the Church’s teaching on the two inseparable ends of marriage, union in love and openness to procreation; and forswear artificial contraceptives.
Concludes Father Toschi: “I do believe this is the key to building a future for our Church and for the world — having couples who understand and live God’s plan for their marriage and raise their children within that plan.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.
INFORMATION OSJoseph.org (831) 471-0442