Initially posted on the McGrath Institute for Church Life blog, published at the University of Notre Dame,, on March 22.
Some milestones in the Lenten season are literally a pleasure to celebrate as days for rejoicing or gaining new insight or simply making this journey of ours a bit more sentimental. When the liturgical calendar brought us the solemnity of St. Joseph, spouse of the blessed Virgin Mary, on March 19, it was traditional and meaningful to have a parish party—a feast for the senses which help incarnate Eastertime love in god’s family.
A tradition of honoring St. Joseph
This was the second annual St. Joseph’s Day Italian Fest at St. Monica Church in Mishawaka, IN—a town whose recipe of Catholic ethnic populations includes descendants of immigrants from Calabria. Folks from all backgrounds, including two accordionists named Schmitt and Doolin, had signed up for the fund-raiser to reaffirm Italy’s long history of honoring St. Joseph.
As pastor Rev. Jacob Meyer explained in the parish bulletin, “This is the day when Italians celebrate the intercession of St. Joseph for lifting a devastating famine. Let us follow in their footsteps and thank God for our own bounty and for the powerful intercession of St. Joseph, protector of the Holy Church.”
I had discovered the March 19 tradition of “St. Joseph’s Table” years ago when my family lived in Hoboken, NJ. Italian-Americans created sharable shrines comprising delectable breads and desserts.
Playing music for St. Joseph
Now, in 2019, I focused less on food than on other ways to energize St. Monica Parish’s trek toward Easter. Dave Doolin and I had prepared a repertoire of Italian-spirited music. The overtones of St. Patrick’s Day, two days earlier, gave way to love songs like “O Sole Mio,” “Three Coins in the Fountain” and “Come Back to Sorrento.”
A Solemnity dedicated to a husband seemed to deserve some emotive performances we associate with Italy, Rome and romance (sometimes via Hollywood screenplays). I wondered: Did our “set list” properly reflect an intersection between sentiment, this holy day, the story it represents and its Italian connection?
A Franciscan Media essay about St. Joseph and his March 19 feast says yes. The essay reflects on Joseph as a “just” man—that is, someone who shared in God’s own holiness as part of a mutually loving relationship. Joseph was capable of self-donating agape. He responded with trust to God’s mysterious will and empowering grace.
“The rest we can easily surmise,” says the Franciscan Media essayist. “Think of the kind of love with which he wooed and won Mary, and the depth of the love they shared during their marriage.” This just man was “simply, joyfully, wholeheartedly obedient to God—in marrying Mary, in naming Jesus, in shepherding the precious pair to Egypt, in bringing them to Nazareth, in the undetermined number of years of quiet faith and courage.”
There was nothing “sentimental,” as in sappy or passive, about this man. There was “passion” in the sense of “emotion,” or an intense “feeling or conviction,” or “ardent affection” (definitions from Merriam-Webster). He was “all-in,” despite uncertainties and challenges ahead, for the mission God gave him.
Channeling the ardent affection of St. Joseph
So I focused on the passionate quality of the music to be played at the St. Joseph Fest, drawing inspiration from the saint’s tender strength I rediscovered in this often-overlooked love story. I found lyrics (whether written by Italians or show-biz composers) illuminated the incarnation of Christ’s agape in our world.
I recommend attending any St. Joseph Fest you may discover in your area next year. Let the abundance of food remind you of the gratitude Italians traditionally express for their release from famine—a spirit well-suited to Lent’s “desert experience” of abstinence awaiting Eastertime fullness. Any accordions in that desert?
Regardless, let your festival sing to you of St. Joseph—Mary’s husband, Jesus’ foster-father and the Church’s patron for our journey. God transformed a betrothal-gone-awry into the pure, powerful and enduring love of the Holy Family. Let the notes of perseverance, expectancy, transformation and accompaniment echoing in the best of those romantic songs re-energize your hope during this season of purposeful sacrifice.
Some of the songs we selected for the festival
O Sole Mio (O My Sun, My Sunshine)
by Giovanni Capurro and Eduardo di Capua, 1898
When night comes and the sun has gone down,
I start feeling blue;
I’d stay below your window
When night comes and the sun has gone down.
Three Coins in the Fountain
by Jule Stein and Sammy Cahn for a 1955 movie
Three coins in the fountain…
thrown by three hopeful lovers…
one heart will wear a valentine…
make it mine.
Come Back to Sorrento
by Ernesto DeCurtis and Giambattista De Curtis, 1902
When I pass a garden fair
And the scent is in the air
In my mind a dream awakes
And my heart begins to break
But you said goodbye to me
Now all I can do is grieve
Can it be that you forgot?
Darling forget me not!
Please don’t say farewell
And leave this heart that’s broken
Come back to Sorrento
So I can mend.
by Renato Rascel, Pietro Garinei, Sandro Giovannini for a 1955 movie
Arrivederci, Roma …It’s time for us to part.
Save the wedding bells for my returning,
Keep my lover’s arms outstretched and yearning,
Please be sure the flame of love keeps burning,
In her heart!