Feast of St. Joseph and The Value of Unobtrusive Integrity

“Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet, and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support, and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.” ~ Pope Francis, Patris Corde

The feast of St. Joseph falls on 19 March every year.  To Christians, St. Joseph is not only the patron Saint of the sick and of the dying but also the patron Saint of the family. The name of St. Joseph is of special significance to me as I received my entire primary and secondary education at St. Joseph’s College Colombo (the largest Catholic school in Sri Lanka), and I live in Canada whose patron Saint is St. Joseph, and in the city which has the largest church in the world dedicated to St. Joseph – The Oratory.  St. Joseph’s Oratory attracts thousands of locals as well as foreign tourists each year.  St. Joseph is considered by Catholics as the patron of the universal church – so declared by Pope Pius IX in 1870 – and his life is featured in the New Testament in the Gospels of Mathew and Luke.

Although Joseph lived in the first Century AD, veneration of the Saint in the western world is reported to have begun only in the 14th Century when an order of mendicant friars – the Servites – observed his feast on 19 March. In 1479 Pope Sixtus IV introduced the feast to Rome.

Joseph was from Nazareth, Galilee, a region of Palestine.  He descended from the House of King David. He married Mary and found she was already with conception. Mathew recalls in his Gospel (Matt 1:19): “ being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame” Joseph decided to divorce Mary quietly, when an angel appeared and informed Joseph that the child in Mary’s womb was the son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit.  Soon after the birth of Jesus, an angel appeared and advised Joseph of the impending danger of King Herod the Great of Judaea’s decision to have violence committed on the infant Jesus, whereupon Joseph fled with the family to Egypt, only to return to Nazareth after Herod’s demise. 

Perhaps the most relevant significance of Saint Joseph in the modern world is the integrity he presented. “integrity” is a complex word carrying many nuances, one of which is that it stands for “doing the right thing even if no one else is watching”: in other words, practicing unobtrusive goodness. In the words of Pope Francis: “The greatness of Saint Joseph is that he was the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus. In this way, he placed himself, in the words of Saint John Chrysostom, ‘at the service of the entire plan of salvation”.  The definition of “integrity” in Webster’s Dictionary is “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values: incorruptibility; the quality or state of being complete or undivided”.  St. Joseph is recognized as the epitome of masculine holiness, particularly as an example for modern culture.

Martha Beck, in her book The Way to Integrity: Finding a Path to Your True Self defines integrity as “wholeness” which  denotes peace and goodness both from without and within. In other words, doing the right thing for the right reason.  This way, Ms. Beck seems to suggest that we could transcend what culture sells us to find “integrity, and with it, a sense of purpose, emotional healing, and a life free of mental suffering. Much of what plagues us—people pleasing, staying in stale relationships, negative habits—all point to what happens when we are out of touch with what truly makes us feel whole”. This translates to independence from psychological suffering.

Part of integrity was love of family for Joseph. Father Gary Caster, author of  Joseph: The Man Who Raised Jesus says: “Joseph has confidence in what God the Father is asking him to do. He doesn’t hem and haw: ‘Maybe we shouldn’t go [to Egypt]. … Just what is God asking me to do? Joseph immediately does everything the Father tells him to do through the angel. He’s not wishy-washy, doesn’t overthink things, doesn’t insert himself [his will].”  Joseph was also imbued with righteousness and justice, which are aspects of integrity. Br, Subal Rozairo, in his article St. Joseph: Patron of the Universe and Social Justice says:“ St. Joseph comes across to us as a model of many virtues. He was an authentic person who showed by his simplicity that he was not afraid because he knew God was with him. He was not controlled by external forces. He faithfully and joyfully attended to the little but fundamental things of caring for Mary and Jesus. In his simple lifestyle, he was rich in relational trust with the father to whom he utterly surrendered himself. Of all his virtues justice, simplicity, and integrity are the featured ones”.

The righteousness, social justice, and integrity that St. Joseph was known for percolated through the ages from the Gospels of Mathew and Luke to modern day philosophers such as Immanuel Kant  and Friedrich Nietzsche – the former of whom introduced the categorical imperative of universal righteousness.  Immanuel Kant was of the view that  every human being is an end and not a means.  This philosophy is based on a sense of duty to human dignity and that the duty should be performed with kindness.  This is what made Adolf Eichmann’s assertion before the Nuremberg Court tenuous – that he did everything with a sense of duty irrespective of moral restraint – unacceptable. Kant also said that one should judge a person not on how they acted when times were good, or when they felt like being kind or caring and that the true measure of kindness in a person was in how they behaved when they didn’t want to, and when there was nothing to be personally gained for them. This epitomizes what St. Joseph stood for.

Fast forward to modern times, one wonders how Nelson Mandela – the epitome of Kant’s ideal and Nietzsche’s Uber mensch – would have treated refugees or immigrants in today’s context. It has been said of Mandela: “Mandela was an amazing leader and example of love, forgiveness, and kindness and one of the things that made him so remarkable is that upon his release in 1990, not only did he not express anger, or hatred towards his jailers, he actually befriended them. In fact, he invited one of them to attend his 1994 presidential inauguration and to the 20th anniversary celebration of his release from prison. Both James Gregory, and Cristo Brand, Mandela’s jailers spoke of the deep respect they had for this man. Brand went from being pro-apartheid as a young man to someone who stood with Mandela against racial segregation, and oppression”.

One cannot gainsay that if St. Joseph were to be asked to point to an ideal human being in modern times, the great Saint would turn towards the likes of Nelson Mandela.  Unfortunately, such people are few and far between in this modern world.

Christmas Isn’t Just a Day, It’s a Frame of Mind!


Christmas is about belonging, inalienable belonging, the belonging that is literally our birthright. So, the wisdom of Christmas is primal. It transcends its particular mythic vehicle — the story of the birth of Christ. Christmas is the season to give love.

It is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25, a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world. A feast central to the Christian liturgical year, it is preceded by the season of Advent or the Nativity Fast and initiates the season of Christmastide, which historically in the West lasts twelve days and culminates on Twelfth Night; in some traditions, Christmastide includes an octave. Christmas Day is a public holiday in many of the world’s nations including Bangladesh and it is celebrated religiously by a majority of Christians, as well as culturally by many non-Christians, and forms an integral part of the holiday season centred around it.

The traditional Christmas narrative, the Nativity of Jesus, delineated in the New Testament says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in accordance with messianic prophecies. When Joseph and Mary arrived in the city, the inn had no room and so they were offered a table where the Christ Child was soon born, with angels proclaiming this news to shepherds who then further disseminated the information.

Although the month and date of Jesus’ birth are unknown, the church in the early fourth century fixed the date as December 25. This corresponds to the date of the solstice on the Roman calendar. Most Christians celebrate on December 25 in the Gregorian calendar, which has been adopted almost universally in the civil calendars used in countries throughout the world. However, some Eastern Christian Churches celebrate Christmas on December 25 of the older Julian calendar, which currently corresponds to a January date in the Gregorian calendar. For Christians, believing that God came into the world in the form of man to atone for the sins of humanity, rather than knowing Jesus’ exact birth date, is considered to be the primary purpose in celebrating Christmas.

The celebratory customs associated in various countries with Christmas have a mix of pre-Christian, Christian, and secular themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift giving, completing an Advent calendar or Advent wreath, Christmas music and caroling, lighting a Christingle, viewing a Nativity play, an exchange of Christmas cards, church services, a special meal, pulling Christmas crackers and the display of various Christmas decorations, including Christmas trees, Christmas lights, nativity scenes, garlands, wreaths, mistletoe, and holly.

In addition, several closely related and often interchangeable figures, known as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and Christkind, are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season and have their own body of traditions and lore. Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity, the holiday has become a significant event and a key sales period for retailers and businesses. The economic impact of Christmas has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world.

Christmas in Bangladesh falls in the winter season. Of course, Christmas in our country has great spiritual meaning and is not as commercialised as in the developed countries of Europe or Northern America – this is probably a reason why in every country there are so many interesting local traditions and cultural differences. As in the most Christian cultures in Europe and the Americas, having Christmas dinner with friends and relatives is the most popular activity after attending the church. Christmas is usually an official public holiday in our country, so people use the opportunity to spend time with their friends and family.

On the day of this occasion, the sun shines and everything seems so alive. All that vitality is brought to life even more by the festivity of Christmas. Just like any other place in the world, the preparations for the celebration of Christmas begin way in advance. Some Christian businesses are closed for the whole month of December. Even though Christmas in our country has many differences from Christmas in the rest of the world, the actual traditions and festive spirit are quite similar. Houses of the Christian community are well decorated. Elaborate Christmas dinner and carolers bring Christmas spirit and festivity in the wind.

Many families set up a decorated Christmas tree in a corner with lights and ornaments, surrounded by gifts for everyone at home. The Christians say the first decorated Christmas trees appeared as far back as the 14th century. Christmas trees are a popular decoration as are tiny sparkling lights in windows and on walls. However, the Christmas tree is usually only put up in the homes only in the morning of the 25 of December. For them, Christmas Day is a day of good eating, exchange of gifts to add up enjoyment. The women wake up bright an early morning, ready for a busy day full of tasks, making sure everything is neat and set up before visitors appear.

On Christmas Day, children and adults, representing the angels in the fields outside the Churches, go from house to house singing carols. Church services are held on Christmas day where people dress in their native attires or Western costumes. Later on, there is a grand feast in every Christian home.  Families eat together with close friends and neighbours, and gifts are exchanged. In the evening, the children and adults do traditional dancing. The teenage kids and adults sing and play the drums. Friends and family members sing the jingle and party till midnight.

Christmas in Bangladesh is celebrated with great enjoyment and fun. It is a festival which is celebrated by all the people of all ages of the Christian community. The people celebrate the birth of Jesus on this day. Though Christmas around the world is celebrated in different ways by different countries. Customs differ around the world for observing Christmas, but they all centre on celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Thus, all around the world, people have taken the celebration of the birth of Jesus and made a Christmas that fits with the culture of their own country.

Christmas is a happy, festive time filled with great spiritual significance. Caroling, feasting, and gift giving along with the prayers and wishes – the Christmas is celebrated with high spirits all over the world including Bangladesh. Though the mode of celebration, the dates and the traditions vary, the main spirit remains the same everywhere. Although Christians only form a small minority of the population in Bangladesh, her long history as a British colony has seen many traditions remain.

This auspicious occasion is a prime festival of Christian community and hence, is celebrated zestfully around the world including Bangladesh. Christmas conveys his message of love, tolerance and brotherhood. Though, it is a religious festival of Christians, it has a special significance in everyone’s life of the Christian community in Bangladesh.

The festival of Christmas reflects the cultural unity of Bangladesh as on this auspicious occasion. This cultural unity sets an excellent example of brotherhood and humanism.

Though the country has only small population of Christians, it celebrates the auspicious occasion of Christmas with passion and pomp. The unity in diversity of Bangladesh can be seen during the celebration of Christmas. Bright light, great food and lavish parties are synonymous to Christmas celebration in our country.

Christmas brings love and happiness to the family. This is the occasion when friends and family members gather in one place and celebrate the bond of togetherness with love. Being the birth anniversary of Jesus Christ, this festival has great significance in Christianity. On the day of Christmas, prayers are offered to the almighty at the Church in a traditional manner. Christmas is the time to be jolly and spread festive cheer among one and all.

Christmas is the celebration to mark the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The customs and traditions associated with a particular festival reflect historical connection and human emotion attached with it. Different countries celebrate this ceremony through different customs. Winston Churchill veritably wrote, “Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection.” Love comes down at Christmas; love all lovely, love divine; love is revealed at Christmas; and stars and angels give the sign. We make a polite expression of our desire for welfare of the Christian community in Bangladesh and across the world and good luck to them on the auspicious occasion of Christmas.

And Wishing you a Christmas that’s merry and bright!

Christmas – The Feast of Light and Peace


Someone once wondered why in every manger displayed at Christmas there was a bright light on while the rest of Bethlehem was in pitch darkness.  Christmas reminds me of when the three wise men followed a shining star that took them to the newborn.  Christmas is the story of light, as is Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, and of giving;  So is Deepavali, the festival of lights for the Hindus.

To me, the most significant symbol of the nativity commemorating the birth of Jesus is the light displayed in the manger innovatively by the creators of Christian imagery. 

Light is life against death.  Light is hope that we have against darkness; against the evil and danger that lurks in the dark. Would the Christmas of light come to us this Christmas wherever we may be?

On 25 December each year the world celebrates the feast of Christmas, when Jesus – also called the Prince of Peace – was born.  It is said in Isiah 9.6 : and the world rejoiced and cried out, “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!”  In other words, the spirit of Christmas should essentially bestow peace on earth and goodwill to all humanity.  The spirit of Christmas is also “truth” as mentioned in the Holy Quran – that Jesus stood for the word of Allah, or truth: records that “though Jesus is mentioned by name in twenty-five places in the Holy Quran he is also addressed with respect as: “Ibne Maryam” – son of Mary; as Masi (Heb) Messiah – translated as Christ; “Abd-ullah” servant of Allah; “Rasul -Ullah” – Messenger of Allah. He is spoken of as “the word of God”, as “the spirit of God”, as a “Sign of God”, and numerous other epithets of honour spread over fifteen different chapters. The Holy Quran honours this great Messenger of God, and over the past fourteen hundred years Muslims continue to hold Jesus as a symbol of truth”.

One interpretation of the words of the Old Testament and the Holy Quran is that Jesus – The Ruler of Israel – ruled through peace and truth.  This is so pertinent in the current context of the world – of fake news; disingenuity and self-service on the one hand and the brutal destruction of humans and cities on the other. The symbolism of Christmas, particularly in its original setting, brings to bear the real significance of the event as a harbinger of peace and happiness and the heralding of understanding and compassion particularly of those in power toward their fellow beings.

Once upon a time, in the lonely darkness of the mountain lived a little girl with her family, fearful of the secrets of the night which brought invaders who purveyed evil.  They were hiding from evil, with no food and shelter.  The cold winter chill was gnawing at their emaciated bodies and bones.  That night they came and took her away, far beyond this earth.  The snow was falling in thick flakes around her and the wind was howling, stopping every now and then as if to catch its breath.  She felt lonely and sad.  Some distance away, as if suspended in the sky was this white dove who invited the little girl on his back.

The dove rose
towards plumes of white cloud
searching the heavens
for children of God
On his way they  met a child
his face in smiles and eyes so wild
a mix of sadness and of joy
was stamped on the countenance of the boy
“Are you God’s child?” inquired the dove
“I am the child of eternal love”
“Pray why is’nt there peace on Earth?”
they inquired  with no mirth
“your world does not want peace, dove
nor do they want eternal love
the boundaries you have striven to make
do not admit of give and take
and only those who do suffer
from war and strife would prefer
that peace prevails for all mankind

The dove took the little girl far away from the darkness of the night, into the light.  The next morning the little girl was found dead at the foot of the mountain, ravaged by the evil visitation of the night.    

The purity of Christmas  gives  us solace from a world of inequity, corruption and evil. The symbolism of Christmas, particularly in its original setting, brings to bear the real significance of the event  as a harbinger of peace and happiness and the heralding of understanding and compassion particularly of those in power toward their fellow beings.  Christmas is  a time for introspection; of self examination for self worth.  It is a time that all of us should  demonstrably show our  capacity to shed differences and work toward the common human goal of peace.  The Christmas season calls us to nurture our boundless spirit of giving, particularly to those in distress. 

It is recorded that Jesus talked of famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places (Matt. 24:6-8).  This is part of human existence and an unfortunate reality.  In the case of the current pandemic, there is one word that will help the world and that is “restraint”.  Science advises us that we must restrain ourselves from succumbing to the temptation of celebratory gatherings at Christmas.  We must also restrain ourselves from flouting directives whether they be given by our employers in training sessions or by public authorities.  However, this is not enough.  There is one more word that is inextricably linked to our audacious hope of the return to global health: “responsibility”.

Christians believe that Jesus was born to redeem us from sin and the imperfections of social debauchery.  This is the message of Christmas.

We have cling to our audacity that the birth of the Prince of Peace will bring the World together in the New Year and from the ashes of a divided world will rise a united humanity with mutual respect and the abhorrence of self service among nations.   Emer de Vattel, in his 1758 treatise Droit de gens – The Law of Nations– enunciated this fundamental principle: “A nation then is a mistress of her own actions as long as they do not affect the proper and perfect right of any other nation – – so long as she is only internally bound, and does not lie under any external or perfect obligation. If she makes an ill use of her liberty, she is guilty of a breach of duty…”

Vattel’s statement meshes well with what President Obama said in his book  The Audacity of Hope where he says: “We will need to understand just how we got to this place, this land of warring factions and tribal hatreds. And we will need to remind ourselves, despite all our differences, just how much we share: common hopes, common dreams, a bond that will not break”. 

Let us hope the child of eternal love will keep a light on that shines bright,  bringing us hope in the coming year.