The short-shrifted get their day
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents were unaware of this. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents[a] saw him they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously looking for you.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them, and his mother treasured all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favor.
Today, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. The little we know of Joseph’s life is largely recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Pope Francis declared December 8, 2020 to December 8, 2021 a “Year of St. Joseph” in a public letter entitled, “With a Father’s Heart.” The letter highlights Joseph’s paternal qualities such as tenderness, courage, and selflessness. “Fathers are not born, but made,” he writes. I share this with you because I appreciate this sentiment. From all accounts Joseph accepted Jesus as his own, even though he was not his biological son. The Bible tells us Joseph was a kind-hearted man who put his whole trust in God. I also celebrate Joseph with you today because I feel he is often given the short shrift as a saint of the Church. Scholars says it’s because Joseph died before Jesus’s adult ministry. (I am pleased to report that the WNC has a statue of Joseph in St. Mary’s Chapel.)
As you know, the slang definition of “short shrift” is to pay little or no attention to a subject or person. I think this is a fair assessment of Joseph’s life. But what I didn’t know was the formal (archaic) definition of “short shrift,” and it shocked me: “Barely adequate time for a confession before execution.” One who gets the short shrift is one who is to be punished or executed—and the time allotted for that person to make peace or amends with a proper confession is either limited or forbidden. This realization has caused me to sing my “alleluias” to Christ Jesus. Because he took on our flesh and died from selfless love, we know that there is always time to ask for forgiveness and make amends.
As you consider making your annual Lenten confession, I pray you, too, will give thanks that there is never a time when God will not hear what’s in your heart. Even at our last breath, we will be heard and saved. This is the power of the cross. I want to leave with you this question: Is there is someone in your world, perhaps someone you do not know well, whom you can acknowledge with kindness and a blessing? It doesn’t have to be a “big deal.” It doesn’t even have to be out loud. Ask God to provide for that person; ask God to bless and keep them in God’s loving care. Perhaps we should consider a year for the Short-Shrifted and pray for and consecrate them, just as we pray with Joseph.
Oh God of open heartedness who liberates those whose dignity is denied, we invite your cloud of witnesses to walk with us. May their resolve, compassion, and trust sustain us through challenging days. By your grace and mercy may we find joy and confidence as we walk in your unfailing love. Amen.