Pope Francis has declared 2021 as the year of St. Joseph. It is the 150th anniversary of the declaration by Pope Pius IX. At the end of Vatican I, the pope named St. Joseph as the Universal Patron of the Church. In a stroke of pastoral genius, Pope Francis turns the attention of the Church to the personage of St. Joseph during this time of pandemic and psychological uncertainty. The apostolic letter Patris Corde (With a Father’s Heart) demonstrates his own personal devotion to St Joseph, who he has embraced throughout his papacy. What better person to have as a model to follow God’s plan than St. Joseph, knowing of his trust in God? Whenever I am administering the sacrament of Confirmation and a young man comes forward desiring to be confirmed with the name Joseph, I question him about his patron saint. One trick question that I pose is what were the last words of St. Joseph in the Sacred Scriptures? As I watch him with interest trying to remember the words of St. Joseph, I declare it is a trick question; he never spoke. He was a man of action. I ask him to imagine that God knows every human being on earth and chooses this man to be the spouse of Mary and the foster father of His Son Jesus. We then ponder on the depth of this man’s character and his abiding trust in God’s plan. I ask the young confirmand to incorporate Joseph’s characteristics in his own life.
Joseph embodies every aspect of a true father. He is the provider for the family, he is defender of the family’s well-being and he is faithful to the God’s direction in his life. In this period of our history, when the traditional family is constantly under attack, the model of St. Joseph assists us in understanding the importance of the family roles and the contribution that they make in the development of our character and well-being. Jesus himself probably worked alongside Joseph doing carpentry work and learning a trade. He recognized the value of labor and the contribution labor makes to our entire society. And Jesus also watched Joseph in the manner of his consistent faithfulness in the practice of the faith. I can think of no greater gift that a father can give his children than instilling in them a devotion to God. This practice of the faith establishes a blueprint for virtue in this world with a vision of the world to come.
Devotional practices focused on St. Joseph have been a part of the spiritual customs of many nations. In some countries, St. Joseph’s feast day, March 19, is a Holy Day of Obligation. There are cities named after St. Joseph and everyone is familiar with the “St. Joseph’s table” celebrated by the Italian community. There is a display of sweet treats very welcomed during the Lenten season.
Pope Francis has taken this moment to offer an opportunity to obtain indulgences for devotional participation during this year of St. Joseph. An indulgence is the remission of temporal punishment due to sin. Our suffering in purgatory is in some way mitigated by the indulgence. An indulgence can be applied to oneself but also to one who had died. This is a way in which we can prepare for the judgment awaiting us in eternal life, but also to assist others who have journeyed this life with us. All of us should take advantage of the Pope’s generous offer as he grants these special indulgences. We can use this moment to increase our own spiritual devotion and knowledge of St. Joseph.
It is interesting to note that Pope Francis recognizes the silent sacrifices made by so many for the sake of individuals during this time of the pandemic. They mirror in a special manner St. Joseph, who Pope Francis says: “Is the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence.” How many of our first responders, our health care workers and senior care workers, and family care workers, who protect and support the infirmed and elderly, have a discreet and hidden presence. And our priests, deacons and religious, who continued to administer the sacraments and offer spiritual support during the height of the pandemic and beyond. Those in our parish communities who assisted in sanitizing worship sites doing so quietly and without any need for recognition. They all were like Joseph performing their tasks out of love for others following God’s direction.
Joseph resigned himself to the will of God. But this was not a human resignation, rather, as Pope Francis explains, a courageous and proactive following of God’s design, especially in the way he dealt with difficulties that confronted him. Joseph’s spiritual path is not necessarily one that explains but one that accepts. This acceptance contains a trust that God is with him. Despite the contradictions that confront us during this time, we, like Joseph, are called to embrace God’s love and share his love with those we are called to serve. God is with us.
We are encouraged to recite any approved prayer or perform an act of charity in honor of St. Joseph, especially on March 19, the patronal feast, or May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. The prayer ending the Pope’s Letter is certainly approved:
Hail Guardian of the Redeemer
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary
To you God entrusted His only Son
In you Mary placed her Trust
With you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too
Show yourself a father
And guide us in the path of life
Obtain for us grace, mercy, and courage
And defend us from every evil. Amen
St. Joseph pray for us.