Father. Patron. Guardian.

On December 08, 2020 the Holy Father declared a year dedicated to St. Joseph. The timing could not be better. Today, a time when crises has beset many facets of our faith and freedom, when what we hold most sacred and dear to us is being threatened, we can hear the voice of Venerable Pope Pius XII exclaim, ‘Ite ad Ioseph’: ‘Go to Joseph’.

St. Joseph is often overshadowed in the Christmas narrative as we focus so closely (and rightfully) on the birth of Jesus the Christ, God Made Man. In the Gospels he speaks not. Rather, he is a man of action. He takes Mary as his wife. He finds a place for Mary to give birth to Jesus. He welcomes the shepherds and the pagans who have come to acknowledge and marvel God. He protects the family from the harm of Herod. He returns to Nazareth and spends the rest of his earthly life raising the Son of God, teaching him the value of work, how to pray and how to live a life of faith. Through his quiet example there is much he can teach us about obedience, about being a man and a father, about work, and about being a stalwart protector of that which is most valuable — Mother Church, just as he was of the Mother of God and of Jesus Christ. For this reason we should have special recourse to turn to him throughout this year.

In his Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde (‘With a Father’s Heart), Pope Francis provides many salient reflections why this year, more than any other, we must Go to Joseph. Through the many aspects he brings to the forefront about this great Saint, St. Joseph as an obedient father, a creatively courageous father, and a father in the shadows are three that I find myself reflecting on initially.

One of the greatest virtues we can learn from St. Joseph is obedience. There are two places I have meditated on this in my own reading of scripture. The first is in the silent action of Jesus. Joseph was obedient to the Will of God. In four instances when God spoke to Joseph through an angel we read that “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (St. Matthew 1:24). Additionally, we can see Joseph’s obedience reflected in the upbringing and life of Jesus. When after the Passover is celebrated in Jerusalem, Jesus stays behind while Joseph and Mary journey back to Nazareth, they notice Jesus is not with them. They return to Jerusalem and find him three days later. Upon finding him we read, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart” (St. Luke 2: 51). 

Pope Francis reiterates in his letter, “During the hidden years in Nazareth, Jesus learned at the school of Joseph to do the will of the Father…”Saint Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of fatherhood” and that in this way, “he cooperated in the fullness of time in the great mystery of salvation and is truly a minister of salvation” (Patris Corde, pg 6).

Let us visit the ‘school of Joseph’ over this year in meditation and prayer. Let us seek to follow the Will of God over the will of self-interest or political affiliation.

The Holy Family, Chapel of the Holy Family, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI

Pope Francis reflects at length on St. Joseph as a creatively courageous father. I find much consolation in this meditation. Joseph was instructed by an angel of God’s will. Joseph was not given a playbook on how to carry out those instructions. At a time when it appeared kings and principalities sought to stomp out the Incarnation, St. Joseph maneuvered these challenges and provided for the Holy Family with creativity. In much the same way we may feel the powerful are exerting extreme pressure to stomp out faith and freedom. God always finds a way, “provided we show the same creative courage as the carpenter of Nazareth, who was able to turn a problem into a possibility by trusting always in divine providence” (Patris Corde, pg. 8).

I have spoken in previous posts about the importance of trusting in God’s Divine Providence. When we make an act of hope, faith, and charity we in essence give ourselves over to doing God’s will, believing that God will provide and that we will find creative solutions to fulfill His Will. On our Catholic pilgrimage we have been entrusted to safeguard Jesus and Mary — now the Sacraments and the Church. We can draw great consolation in St. Joseph who, as Pope Francis points out, “could not be other than the Guardian of the Church, for the church is the continuation of the Body of Christ in history, even as Mary’s motherhood is reflected in the motherhood of the Church” (ibid, pg. 8).

We must continue to guard with great care the Church, the poor and afflicted, the sick and the dying. Despite all the travails of the current day let us turn to our Guardian to be creatively courageous in fulfilling the Will of God.

Angel, stained glass window, St. Alphonsus Parish, Chicago, IL.

Finally, as Pope Francis reminds us, we can draw deep from the well of St. Joseph’s example of self-sacrifice and self-gift he demonstrated in the Gospels. “Our world today needs fathers. It has no need for tyrants…it rejects those who confuse authority with authoritarianism, service with servility, discussion with oppression, charity with a welfare mentality, power with destruction” (ibid, 10).

A vocation is born out of a desire to give of oneself completely to the point of self sacrifice; not to control but to guide. To build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. To lead others to walk in freedom, find their true vocation and walk their pilgrimage to heaven. Indeed, as Pope Francis concludes, “In a way, we are all like Joseph: a shadow of the heavenly Father, who ‘makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’ (St. Matthew 5:45). And a shadow that follows his Son” (ibid, pg. 11).

Let us go to Joseph! Over the course of this year grow closer to him. Let us make him our confidant, our Patron, our Guardian, and implore his intercession on our pilgrimage as we strive to imitate what he teaches us by his example. 

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