St. Joseph: A man of our times
On March 19, we celebrate St. Joseph, the father who, with Mary his wife, raised Jesus, guiding Him to the maturity that would prepare Him to take on the mission given to Him by His Father in heaven. Joseph is the quiet presence protecting Jesus and Mary. In his role in Jesus’ life, he reminds us of the wonder of the Incarnation. Jesus, the Son of God, in becoming man, took on our human nature. He “worked with human hands; He thought with a human mind, He acted with a human will, and with a human heart He loved” (Gaudium et Spes, 22,2.). We often see pictures of Jesus beside Joseph in the carpenter workshop, with Joseph carrying on his craft and sharing his knowledge with Jesus. So, too, we remember that, in the affection of Joseph, Jesus learned of the tender love of God.
St. Joseph is a man for our times. Pope Francis has proclaimed this the “Year of St. Joseph.” One hundred fifty years ago (December 8, 1870), Pope Pius IX declared Joseph patron of the Universal Church. Now, in the midst of the pandemic which has so affected our lives, Pope Francis wants to lift up this quiet man whose steadfast faith and abundant love played such a pivotal role in salvation history. In the pandemic, we have become aware of the great importance of the ordinary people who sustain our lives and shape the decisive moments of history. Pope Francis calls to our attention the contribution of those who have kept our society going: “Doctors, nurses, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caregivers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests, men and women religious, and so very many others. They understood that no one is saved alone.” St. Joseph could easily stand among these people, the man who can go unnoticed but the one who can be relied upon as an intercessor, a support and guide in times of trouble. In honoring him, we acknowledge all who quietly help us.
In his letter announcing the special year (With a Father’s Heart) Pope Francis reflects on seven ways in which we can learn from St. Joseph. These provide us all a point of reflection in these days of Lent.
- St. Joseph is “a beloved father.” The greatness of Joseph is that he was the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus whom he loved “with a father’s heart.” He expressed his fatherhood by making his life a sacrificial service devoted to the care of the family entrusted to him.
- He is a “tender and loving father.” In Joseph, Jesus saw the tender, compassionate love of God. Even in his fears, Joseph found that God was full of compassion and mercy. We encounter God’s mercy especially in the sacrament of reconciliation.
- He is an “obedient father.” Joseph was troubled by Mary’s pregnancy. He decided to dismiss her quietly. The angel spoke to him of God’s will in a dream. When he awoke, Joseph obediently took Mary as his wife. He became the protector of Mary and Jesus.
- He is “an accepting father.” In accepting Mary unconditionally, he protects her good name, her dignity, and her life. He shows himself a respectful and sensitive man. His spiritual path is not one that explains but accepts. That does not mean that he was passively resigned but, rather, courageously and firmly pro-active. God had told Joseph, “do not be afraid.” With the Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude, he finds strength to accept life as it is, with all its contradictions, frustrations, and disappointments. Things happen in our lives that we do not understand. With Joseph, we ask that God will help us to confront the way things are, even when they do not turn out as we wish.
- He is a “creatively courageous father” which is seen especially in the face of difficulties. Confronted with the threat of death for the infant Jesus at Herod’s hands, Joseph left in the night with his family for Egypt. Joseph was able to turn a problem into a possibility by trusting in divine providence. St. Joseph is the guardian of the Church because Mary is the mother of the Church and the Church is the body of Christ. “We must learn to love the child and His mother, to love the sacraments and charity, to love the Church and the poor.”
- He is a “working father.” From him, Jesus learned the value, the dignity, and the joy of what it means to live from one’s own labor. To work is to cooperate with God Himself in becoming a creator of the world. Particularly in this time of financial challenge, we must find ways to provide work for all, particularly the young.
- He is a “father in the shadows.” Joseph’s fatherhood of Jesus was “the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father.” He carried out his role as father without making himself the center of things. He gave of himself for the family entrusted to him. His fatherhood points beyond himself to the greater fatherhood of God.
Pope Francis gives us the year of St. Joseph in the hope that it will encourage us to implore the intercession of this great saint and imitate his virtue and his zeal. St. Joseph, guardian of the Holy Family, pray for us!