Joseph, Preserver of the Bread of Life and the Wheat of the Elect
By Martin Nchedo Umeatuegbu
Our ongoing reflections on the Foster-Father of Jesus, St Joseph, precisely the second and third in the series have constantly kept in touch with the opening antiphon of the _Little Office of St Joseph_, where several titles are given to him as salutations. Our point of consideration in the present reflection shall be the third title accorded to this holy man, which the aforementioned _Little Office_ professes as *_cui Panem vitae et frumentum electorum conservasti_*, which means that Joseph is a man *_who didst preserve the Bread of Life and the Wheat of the elect_*.
Here we see a conglomeration of two parts that form a solemn title joined by the conjunction, _”et”_ (and). A careful perusal of those makes one see an important marker – that both the words, “bread” and “wheat” come after the verb, “preserve”. Therefore, this reveals the secret of Joseph. But before attempting to understand what this means, it is truly right and just to first explicate the word, “elect.” Who are they? When it is said that one is counted among the elect, it implies that one is among those who have been chosen. That is to say, the elect are those chosen for the dispensation of specific and special offices. It requires one who is greater than them to choose them, hence by his authority, the one who chooses them knows what the office is all about, and in fact, by choosing them, makes them to participate in both what he does and in who He is.
In a like manner, we are counted among the elect because God through Jesus Christ has chosen us to participate in the eternal life. This His choice of us is through Baptism, for in receiving this Sacrament, we become initiated as followers of Jesus Christ, while at the same time, the same Jesus Christ reconfigures us into Himself.
That is why we commonly bear the name, _Christians_. The same Jesus goes further to feed and nourish us by His Body and Blood in the Eucharist from Bread and Wine. This Bread is what the _Little Office of St Joseph_ speaks about.
But how does this concern and connect to Joseph? How is he a Preserver? How can Jesus give us His Body as Bread of Life (see John 6:51) and then entrust its preservation to another person? Does this not appear absurd and contradictory? An insight to Joseph’s office can be gained from the pericope of the Gospel of Luke where the hagiographer informs us that in obedience to the decree of Emperor Caesar Augustus that a census be done, at the same time Quirinius was governor of Syria, Joseph took his pregnant wife, Maria to David’s town known as Bethlehem so as to be registered.
While they were there, it became the time for Maria to be delivered of her child (see 2:1-7). An important information to be marked here is the name of Jesus’ town of birth, _Bethlehem_. This Hebrew word means _House of Bread_, for by etymology it comes from _beth_ (house) and _lehem_ (bread).
Indeed, it is not accidental that Jesus is born there, but rather providential, for if He is to give us His Body as Bread of Life, then God truly willed and planned it that this reality would be reflected from His moment of Birth to that of His Death. There is an allegorical meaning of this Bethlehem. It therefore, makes a deeper allusion and reference to the Church that would be founded by Christ – this Church possesses the Eucharist, His Body the Bread of life as vehicle of Grace and salvation.
Hence, while Bethlehem could be seen as an archetype of the Church, the Church becomes a the New Bethlehem insofar as Bread is concerned. Joseph, stands in this Church as a preserver of this Bread as he stood in Bethlehem to be sure that the Child Jesus was preserved. The scenario of visit of the Magi can help us understand who Joseph is as preserver, where Matthew informs of the visit of the Magi to adore Jesus whom they gave the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (see 2:1-12).
The Magi could not have presented the gifts if Joseph did not welcome and receive them, for he did so on behalf of his Son Jesus. As he knew the value of those gifts and how best Jesus can use them, so does he know how Jesus his Son values our hearts when we approach Him. As the gifts of the Magi did not harm the Baby Jesus but glorified Him, so do our hearts ought to. This is what it means to preserve the Lord’s Body, and Joseph’s example teaches us this. The figure of Joseph preserves the Bread of life by teaching us how to contemplate and approach the Eucharistic Lord by solemn reverence. Just like in the case of the Magi, perhaps they did not know how to apply those gifts, but Joseph being Jesus’ father alongside Maria, His mother, knows.
This speaks to our world filled with noise, distraction and loss of the sense of the sacred. Like Joseph and Maria, when we approach the Eucharistic both for reception and adoration in the Chapel, the Lord asks us to bear in mind the humility of Joseph His Father in carrying Him both in his hands and heart.
He equally draws our attention to Joseph’s tranquility in adoring Him in meditation. Joseph preserves this same Bread that is the wheat of we the elected people by his example of _veneration_ which is contrary to _desecration_, and which is to be emulated by every _generation_. As God through Jesus made Joseph Glory of the Patriarchs and the Steward of His Holy Church, so also has He made Him Preserver of the Bread of life in that same Church by example of reverence. Here, Jesus does two things: the first is that He has given the Church by divine institution the power of _anamnesis_ – representing His Paschal Mystery of Death and Resurrection in the Bread of life through the hands of priests on the altar.
The second is that He directs us to Joseph to make a _mimesis_ to imitate his holy example of giving God His true place in the altar of our hearts. By this He tells us to *Go to Joseph* for he teaches us how to preserve God’s presence in our hearts in a way that gives no way for sin.
In making this _mimesis_ (imitation), let us be consoled by the words of the Doctor of Grace, St Augustine of Hippo who teaches that blessed are those who imitate the saints, for when they see us imitate their virtues, they are more inclined to pray for us (Sermon 225). Let us therefore approach Joseph in humility asking him:
O St Joseph, Preserver of the Bread of life and the wheat of the elect and faithful spouse of Maria! Pray for us who have recourse to You!