St. Joseph: Model of ‘presence’ and ‘purity’ to men

By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald

Father Michael Champagne, a member of the Community of Jesus Crucified in the Diocese of Lafayette, is a son of Acadiana, so it’s not really surprising that he has led a Corpus Christi boat procession down Bayou Teche, stopping at Catholic churches along the way for rosary and benediction.

Or that he operates a mobile confessional, offering the sacrament of forgiveness in the parking lots of strip malls and health clubs, whose patrons may not have darkened the doors of a church in a month of Sundays.

There is a such a need for male spirituality in the Catholic Church today, Father Champagne told the 23rd Men’s Morning of Spirituality Feb. 24 at St. Anthony of Padua Church, that men need to assimilate St. Joseph’s humility, purity and strength in their own lives to become faith leaders within their families.

Male spirituality needed

One of Father Champagne’s favorite memories of his service with Father Jerome Frey, the late founder of the Community of Jesus Crucified (CJC), was his assessment of St. Joseph, often depicted in painting and sculpture holding a lily in his hand as a symbol of his purity.

“He’s no lily, he’s a man!” Father Frey would tell his CJC associates. “He’s a man’s man.”

“Men, it takes a man” to lead a family in the ways of faith, Father Champagne told the hundreds of men gathered for the annual seminar, sponsored by the Catholic Men’s Fellowship.

Father Champagne said stories are passed on from generation to generation in Acadiana about the absence of men living out their faith. Husbands would drop off their wives and children for Mass each Sunday but hang outside the church smoking, exchanging stories and leaning against the wrought-iron fence, decorated with fleur de lis.

That’s when the rector of the cathedral in Lafayette got smart, Father Champagne said.

“He would sharpen the fleur de lis so they wouldn’t lean on the fence,” Father Champagne said, laughing. “They got tired of standing and waiting, so they came inside.”

Since men often are uncomfortable praying, he said, “we tend to absent ourselves from things we’re not good at.”

‘The Five Ps’ of St. Joseph

Father Champagne summarized five spiritual qualities of St. Joseph as “the five Ps”:  presence, provider, prayer, protector and purity. The four Gospels do not record a single word having been spoken by St. Joseph, he said, but the context of the New Testament stories shows a man who was always present to Mary and Jesus, and never absent, he said.

Even today, Father Champagne said, he has a challenge getting more men involved in sacramental ministry in his church in St. Martinville.

“We’ve got a thousand kids in our programs and a bunch of mommas and grandmas, but I don’t have many men,” he said.

Father Champagne said the importance of presence was drummed home to him in his 10 years as a hospice chaplain, when he frequently was called in the middle of the night as someone – usually the man – was dying.

“People constantly tell me they are so grateful that I was there,” Father Champagne said. “They’re not going to remember what you said. The only time they’ll remember that is if you said something stupid. Joseph was always there. He was an eyewitness to the birth of Jesus.”

One of Father Champagne’s favorite attributes of St. Joseph was his ability to provide for the family through his work as a carpenter and as a faith leader. Often, St. Joseph the Worker is depicted fulfilling his mission as a carpenter.

But providing is more than purely physical or material.

Father Champagne said his own father made a Cursillo in Kansas City and came back home to declare: “We’re going to pray the rosary in this house. We did that non-stop. My first word as a kid was ‘Jesus,’ because we used to pray, ‘… and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus!’”

Actions mean a lot more than words, Father Champagne said, especially since the Bible is quiet on St. Joseph’s role.

“Father Benedict Groeschel said once, ‘Man, you think you’ve got it hard? How’d you like to come down for toast and coffee in the morning to the Immaculate Conception and the Incarnate Word of God – and you’re in charge! You’d need therapy,’” Father Champagne said. “Men, shut your mouth and do what you have to do.”

His former bishop, Bishop Harry Flynn, used to tell seminarians about what one of his seminary professors told them when they came to class half-asleep in the morning. He would tell them to go to the window, look out at the highway in the distance and see the cars flying by.

“And where are they going? They’re going to work. Now sit down and get to work,” the professor would say.

Children need purity

Men should protect their families from bodily harm and the growing threats of pornography. Father Champagne said when a father he knew found his young son had bought a pornographic magazine, he drove him back to the store and told him to return it to the clerk.

“A guy comes out of the store with rings and tattoos on his neck,” Father Champagne said. “He comes up to the father and has tears in his eyes. He told the father, ‘Thank you for doing what you did. I wish my dad had done that for me.’ Be a protector.”

Men struggle with purity because pornography presents a “fantasy world” of relationships. Father Champagne offered practical tips men could take immediately to escape the lure of pornography, including prayer, ridding the home of all sex-related material, taking advantage of daily Mass, the rosary and confession and practicing other behaviors when temptation to sin arises.

“You have to walk in the light – that’s why we need men’s groups,” Father Champagne said. “If you’re not being loved and you’re not loving your wife, you’re a sitting duck. Break the ritual. Confuse the defense. Stop, drop and roll. Run outside. Get out of dodge. Go wash the car. Come to the chapel and pray. Work on fasting. Work on chastity. Memorize texts of Scripture. Marinate in the word of God.”

Atlanta seminarian Grant Aasen, 22, a former punter at Georgia Tech, also addressed the gathering.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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