‘The greatest husband and father in the history of the world did not shower his family with material things. St. Joseph gave them something of much greater value: He gave them himself. Every moment of every day, through his love, his sacrifice, his labor, he gave them himself. They knew that they always came first in his mind and in his heart, never second.”
With a stirringly beautiful Mass on Wednesday morning, John J. McCartney, a retired physician from Long Island, was laid to rest. He was the father of Dorothy McCartney — research manager at National Review and longtime researcher for the late William F. Buckley Jr. and for Firing Line — and of her brother, John, a Roman Catholic priest. Fr. McCartney presided and delivered the homily at his father’s Mass of Christian Burial, focusing not only on the well-lived life of Dr. McCartney, but also on the call of the Christian man, the fatherly vocation of all men (biological fathers or not), and what exactly life is all about.
The complete homily follows. R.I.P. – KJL
“Ite ad Ioseph.” Those words, in Latin, come from the first reading of today’s Mass. The Church has traditionally used them to encourage her sons and daughters to seek the prayers and assistance of the greatest saint in Heaven after our Blessed Mother. “Ite ad Ioseph”: “Go to Joseph.”
Today, as a Catholic family, we come together to offer this funeral Mass for my father, John Joseph. In the course of his 93 years, he lived various vocations, each of which was given to him by God: the vocation of son, of brother, of physician, of uncle, of husband, and finally the vocation of father. We who are assembled here today each knew him by the way in which he lived one or more of these different vocations. We are grateful for the many graces God gave him, enabling him to say “yes” to these vocations, to be able live them in such a faithful, dedicated, and at times even heroic way. And so, this funeral Mass becomes an ideal moment to reflect upon the vocation of Christian fatherhood, and on the role of my father’s patron, St. Joseph, in our Catholic faith.
We think of the life of St. Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth. We think of the few stories we have of him from Sacred Scripture: While betrothed to Mary, Joseph discovers that she is to be the Mother of God; he fears he is not worthy to be her husband until he is reassured by the angel, and so takes her as his wife. Joseph is present at Bethlehem, witness to the greatest event in human history, the birth of God on earth. Later, again obeying the voice of an angel, he guards and provides for the mother and child on the dangerous yet life-saving journey to Egypt. At God’s command, he returns to Palestine when the danger is past and settles in the small village of Nazareth. Joseph is the one, according to Jewish law, who gives the child His name, Jesus. He is there in the Temple to hear the old man, Simeon, prophesy that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart (and how those words must have pierced the heart of Joseph, as well). Finally, he is present at the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple, when, along with his spouse, Mary, he hears their Son utter those mysterious and profound words: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
After this, St. Joseph, without ever speaking a word, disappears entirely from Sacred Scripture, except for a few passing references during the public ministry of our Lord, calling Him “the son of Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth.”
Although no spoken word of his is recorded by the Bible, St. Joseph speaks to us very clearly indeed. He speaks to us in the faithful way he lived the vocations God gave to him: as worker, as husband, and as father.
We can know something of St. Joseph’s greatness by the importance of these vocations God called him to. The two greatest possessions of God on earth, the Blessed Virgin Mary and His own Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, God the Father chose to place in the care of this simple, humble laborer from a rather obscure village in Galilee. The most important task in salvation history, after those of Jesus and Mary, was assigned to St. Joseph. He would be husband and father, guardian and provider, and head of the little family the world will always call “Holy.”
Think of the weight of this awesome responsibility placed on the shoulders of this man. Despite the many graces God certainly gave him, St. Joseph could have said no; he could have rejected his vocation. But he did not. With complete faith and trust in God, St. Joseph said yes. Each time God speaks to him in Scripture, St. Joseph renews that yes, and acts immediately to carry out God’s will. In the quiet of his silence, St. Joseph is a man of deeds, rather than words.
The Father of Jesus, and the Father of us all, is our Father in Heaven. And when God the Father had to choose a man, a human being, to represent His fatherhood to His Son here on earth, he chose Joseph, the son of Jacob. Long before Jesus taught His apostles to pray using the word “Abba,” meaning “Father,” He addressed that title, as a little boy, to the carpenter of Nazareth. Jesus discovered human fatherhood through His life with St. Joseph. For our Blessed Lord, St. Joseph was truly the human face of the Eternal Father. This was one of St. Joseph’s most important vocations, to faithfully mirror the loving fatherhood of God, and so to bring that fatherhood down from heaven to earth, and make it visible.
Every Catholic man should always be aware, whether he is the father of a family or a spiritual father, that like St. Joseph, he too is called to represent the fatherhood of God to all, but especially to those under his care.
My father’s middle name was Joseph, and he was an extraordinarily devout Catholic man. Like his patron’s, his was a simple faith, based on simple prayer and deep belief. My father had no doubts about the truth of his Catholic faith. He loved the Holy Eucharist and never missed Mass. Throughout his life he had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and a tremendous love of our Blessed Mother; he prayed her rosary every day. During his working life as a doctor, it was his practice to pray the rosary in the car in the mornings before his first house calls — to pray for the patients he would treat, and to ask for the wisdom he would need to heal them. Like my mother, Dorothy, my father would want all of us in this church to commit ourselves to praying the rosary every day. As he said to me shortly before he died: “Remember always to have great devotion to the Blessed Mother. It’s very, very important.” He was blessed to have died on August 22, the beautiful feast of the Queenship of Mary.
Prayer was so important to my father; he prayed constantly, as the Church intends. When he was in practice, if he had a particularly difficult decision to make he would excuse himself from the patient for a moment and step into the next room. And there, alone, he would pray to the Divine Physician for wisdom and guidance. And then he would return and make his diagnosis. He said it never failed. And with this lively sense of the presence of God with him every day, my father was a man with a profound sense of his vocations. He understood that a vocation is a calling by God; not something we choose for ourselves, but something we are chosen to do. And because vocations come from God, they can only properly be lived with His supernatural help. My father never called himself merely a “doctor”; he was a “Catholic doctor.”
My father was also given the vocation to be a brother, and like Joseph of the Old Testament, God gave him many of them. In the words of Scripture, “He loved them to the end.” He had the vocation to be a husband to Dorothy, and a father to my sister, Dorothy, and to me. But there are simply no words to describe how he lived those vocations to us.
Over these last days, as his brothers came to visit him, and as my sister and I were able to spend so much time with him and to care for him, my father spoke constantly of the innumerable blessings God had given him in the course of his life. He really was aware of them, and stood in awe of these tremendous graces. But he never took his salvation for granted. He understood that to those to whom much is given, our Lord will expect much. He prayed for, but also trusted in, God’s mercy, and so he did not fear death, because of his great love and deep faith.
In the year 1562, St. Teresa of Avila founded her first reformed Carmelite convent in Spain, and named it after St. Joseph. In her autobiography, she describes how the name of that first foundation was chosen by Our Lord Himself when he appeared to her in a vision:
“One day after Communion, His Majesty earnestly commanded me to strive for this new monastery with all my powers, and He made great promises that it would be founded and that He would be highly served in it. He said it should be called St. Joseph and that this saint would keep watch over us at one door, and our Lady at the other, that Christ would remain with us, and that it would be a star shining with great splendor.”
What our Lord asked St. Joseph to do for St. Teresa and her Carmelite nuns, He has also asked him to do for us. The world in which we live, with its noise and temptations, is a difficult place in which to encounter Christ. So God has placed St. Joseph at the entrance door of His House, the Catholic Church, to protect it and to defend it from the troubled world outside.
But St. Joseph does not bar the door, he merely guards it. He stands on the threshold, one foot within and one foot without. He beckons to us to come inside, and there, under his protection, we are able to leave the cares of the world behind. By our act of will to enter there, we give our Blessed Mother permission to open her door, the Gate of Heaven, by which our Lord enters into the world through her. It is there, between Mary and Joseph, just as it was in Bethlehem, in Egypt, and in the holy home in Nazareth, that we will encounter Christ.
And so we come to see the importance of this great saint to each one of us, to the Church, and to the world. This special role which St. Joseph plays in the Church, God intends to be played by every Catholic man as a part of his vocation as well. We are to do battle with the world to make sure that nothing interferes with the ability of those we love to encounter Christ. Like our patron, we are to lead by example, not words. “Ite ad Ioseph,” go to Joseph; pray to him, and ask for his guidance and protection. Imitate St. Joseph in his virtues — his fidelity, his constancy, his love, his gentleness, his strength, his courage, his faith, his manliness.
The greatest husband and father in the history of the world did not shower his family with material things. St. Joseph gave them something of much greater value: He gave them himself. Every moment of every day, through his love, his sacrifice, his labor, he gave them himself. They knew that they always came first in his mind and in his heart, never second.
Today, the world needs an increase in devotion to St. Joseph, because we need more men like St. Joseph in the world. And this is especially true now that the number of those men has been diminished by one.
We pray for my father, John Joseph, at this Mass today, as we will in all the days to come, to assist him on his final journey. And we believe that, at its end, he will approach a familiar door, a door through which, in prayer, he has entered so many times before; a door which will be opened for him by his own patron, St. Joseph, the patron of workers, the patron of fathers, and the patron of all Catholic men. And may he hear that great silent voice finally speak, and say to him: “Welcome, John, to the place my Son has prepared for you, in our Father’s house.”
– The Rev. John J. McCartney is pastor of St. Matthew’s Church in Dix Hills, N.Y.