By Benjamin Chaya
Pope Francis declared the year of St. Joseph through the Apostolic Letter entitled Patris corde (“With a Father’s Heart”).The Letter marks the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pope Pius IX’s declaration of St Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. To celebrate the anniversary, Pope Francis proclaimed a special “Year of St. Joseph,” beginning on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception 2020 and extending to the same feast in 2021 .The spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster father of our Lord Jesus Christ is one of the least understood and appreciated saint due to the fast paced nature of the world we live in.
We are living in a world which demands visibility and this is defined by how much “noise” you make. Relevance is measured by how much you are talking, the likes and followers you have on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. The more one is followed the more one becomes “important” regardless of the moral content of the message being said. Religious figures have also been measured by the same yardstick. Magazines often rank religious leaders alongside business and other public figures in terms of world standards like presence and visibility.
Contrast the above scenario with St. Joseph. There is not one single quoted word from him in the Bible. The secular world would ask, “Then why grant him such importance as to have him declared Patron saint of the Universal Church, have his name included in the Eucharistic prayers or dedicate an entire Year to him”.
St Joseph provides powerful lessons that this article will dwell upon. Firstly he was a man of great humility. When he learnt of the pregnancy of the Blessed Virgin Mary he sought to divorce her quietly without embarrassing her (Mathew 1:19-25). Nowadays if someone hears of anything it will in no time be over the social media outlets. The urge to be the first to deliver the “Breaking News” is so great. In St Joseph we learn that we have to discern what to say and what not to say. He also provides a lesson for married couples and for those in relationships intending to get married. The thrust is to grow in love and not to embarrass each other. Sometimes a husband or wife tells co-workers or splash on social media what is happening in their marriage to the destruction of the marriage and family. Not everyone in the public gallery is your friend who wishes you well. Its better to turn to God the author of the sacrament of Holy matrimony with your marriage than to humankind.
He did the will of God no matter the consequences. We can imagine the talk that went on in Nazareth concerning Mary`s pregnancy. There was obvious gossip and insults that come with issues that people do not understand and hence end up speculating, but that did not deter St. Joseph from doing what God wanted him to do. He took Mary as his wife. How many times have we abandoned God`s work at the slightest provocation from a fellow parishioner? Often times we worry about what people will say rather than doing what is right.
St. Joseph was a man of action, rooted in God`s love. When he was told to take the Blessed Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt to escape from Herod who wanted to kill the child he did so promptly (Mathew 2:13-15). In our age there is more talk and a bit of listening with little action. Sometimes there is action but of an evil nature. We have listened to so many homilies, recited many Rosaries, litanies and Novenas and have done numerous adorations. The challenge is to translate all that into action that draws humankind to God.
In addition to the point above, St. Joseph`s quick response to the Angel`s message showed that he was a man who stayed with his family. He used the trade of being a carpenter to support the family. The crisis in the modern family which comes in many forms including drug abuse, violence and pre-marital sex is partly due to absent fathers. Some fathers are present physically but are not providing, guiding and protecting their family. There is need for fathers to model their life upon St. Joseph so as to reawaken the family.
The gospel of St. Luke recounts a scene where St. Joseph took his family to the temple in Jerusalem for the annual Jewish Passover (Luke 2:41-52). He was a man who led his family in prayer and built their faith in God. Many fathers take a backseat when it comes to issues of faith. It is often told how some fathers drop off their family at Church and come back to collect them after Mass. Male participation in Church activities is often minimal. The father should lead the family in prayer and should be the priest at household level.
The lay Catholic can draw inspiration from St. Joseph. A number of the lay faithful are of the erroneous view that being a saint is only for the priests and the religious and not possible for someone living in the secular environment. In St. Joseph we have a married man and carpenter achieving holiness admired and emulated by the Popes, Church Fathers, Bishops and the entirety of the Church. Religious orders have been named after St. Joseph and many consecrated and lay faithful have devotion to the most chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Regardless of the fact that you are a housewife, gardener, single parent, politician, teacher or doctor, you are called to holiness in your particular situation.
In the year of St. Joseph let us ask for his intercession to grow in holiness and purity amidst a world immersed in sexual sins. Pornography, adultery and other sins against the sixth commandment have destroyed many marriages, let us turn to him who lived in purity. There are numerous litanies and Novenas that can be said as individuals, families or groups invoking the intercession of St Joseph. In a period of the COVID-19 pandemic which is leading to enormous loss of lives let us seek the intercession of St. Joseph for a happy death especially in relation to those who die unprepared. The liturgical calendar has solemnities dedicated to St. Joseph like 19 March the Solemnity of St. Joseph and 1 May where the universal Church celebrates St. Joseph the worker. This calls to mind the importance of St. Joseph in the economy of salvation and in our day to day living. I will end with a quote that summaries the relevance of St Joseph;
“Some saints are privileged to extend to us their patronage with particular efficacy in certain needs, but not in others; but our holy patron St. Joseph has the power to assist us in all cases, in every necessity, in every undertaking” (St Thomas Aquinas).