I’m rather partial to St. Joseph, considering that I bear his name and was baptized on his feast day of March 19. And so I felt a special thrill when Pope Francis announced Dec. 8 that we would be celebrating a special year dedicated to this amazing saint.
It came as a surprise, with nothing out of the Vatican recently to suggest that Joseph was even on the Pope’s mind. The news came in the form of an apostolic letter entitled Patris corde (With a Father’s Heart), marking the 150th anniversary of a papal declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church.
During this special year, lasting until Dec. 8, 2021, Catholics are urged to pray to St. Joseph and reflect on his unique contribution to our understanding of Christian belief and tradition.
Canadians have a particular affinity to Joseph as he is also Patron Saint of Canada. His role as the earthly father for Jesus of Nazareth reminds us of the many ways we, too, can live out God’s call for us to be disciples of Christ.
Pope Francis points out some of these in his letter: beloved, tender father; a pivotal figure “at the crossroads of the Old and New Testament;” model of strength and devotion as husband to Mary, the mother of Jesus; and obedient servant of God.
I’ve always been struck by the fact that Joseph, despite his significant presence in Christian tradition, is, in the Gospel narratives, somewhat on the sidelines. He is, in fact, silent; nary a word comes from his lips in the accounts of the evangelists. But, at key moments, he is there and is instrumental in saving the lives of Jesus and Mary to ensure the mission of Christ to the world continues to unfold.
Pope Francis offers an insight about Joseph that resonates well for our time. Joseph is “an accepting father,” assuming parental responsibility for Jesus even though he is not the child’s father. He “accepted Mary unconditionally,” despite what must have been a considerable shock upon learning she was pregnant and he was not the father. The gesture is not just gallantry, but an important act of love even for today, “in our world where psychological, verbal and physical violence towards women is so event,” the Pope says in his letter.
Time and again, Joseph has to set aside his own plans to respond to events that are not of his making. He leads the family out of Israel when faced with the threat to the life of the infant child posed by Herod. When Jesus is 12 and strays from his parents to talk to the wise men, Joseph drops everything to find him and ensure he is safe.
Francis argues that the life of Joseph demonstrates the spiritual gift of fortitude so he is able to “accept life as it is, with all its contradictions, frustrations and disappointments.”
As such, Joseph is a model for us, demonstrating courage and creativity in meeting his responsibility to provide for the needs of his family, in the face of trying challenges.
This time in our history — a time of pandemics, terrorism, violence against the weak and those who are different, of civil discord and economic upheaval — is one of trying challenges. Who better than St. Joseph to help see us through?
Joseph Sinasac, Publishing Director, Novalis