2021: The Year of St. Joseph

On December 8, 2020, Pope Francis published an Apostolic Letter called Patris Corde, in English With a Father’s Heart. In it he recalls the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. He also proclaims the year of St. Joseph, from Dec. 8, 2020 to Dec. 8, 2021. What are a few of the things the Pope says about St. Joseph in his letter?

The Pope begins by highlighting Joseph’s ordinariness. He was an ordinary man, living in an ordinary time and in an ordinary place. Yet, he rose to the occasion by taking Mary as his wife and raising Jesus as his own. The Pope says, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, it’s important to underscore the importance of ordinary people who have risen to the occasion with love and courage to be of help to others. St. Joseph is like so many other people of our own day who go “unnoticed” and are “a daily, discreet and hidden presence” in our world, people who are helping to make this world a better place.

St. Joseph is the patron of many different kinds of people, says the Holy Father. He is the patron of husbands and fathers. He is also the special patron of those who have been forced to leave their homeland due to war, persecution, or abject poverty. Joseph also teaches us the value and dignity of work. He used his skills to make door frames for houses, tables and chairs for families, yokes for farmers’ oxen.

One of Jesus’ predominant images of God is Father, Abba. How did he come up with this central metaphor for God? It had to be not only his pondering of scripture, but also his experience of his own father, Joseph. Says Pope Francis, “Joseph was the earth shadow of the heavenly father.”

One thing that impresses me about St. Joseph is his humility. In many of the traditional paintings of the first Christmas, Joseph is often off to the side or in the background. Joseph did not have to be center stage. He was content to play a supporting role in the great drama of salvation. Being where God wanted him to be was more important than being where he wanted to be. Being faithful was more important than being popular or powerful.

Joseph’s life had more than his share of stress. The trip to Bethlehem was no walk in the park. It was an arduous trek across inhospitable lands with a young wife who was nine months pregnant. The flight into Egypt had to be even more traumatic. When we see the weary, fearful faces of today’s refugees, we catch a glimpse of what this flight must have meant for Joseph and Mary.

What enabled Joseph to handle these hardships and challenges in his personal life with such courage and grace? It was his faith in a God he believed to be both powerful and good. A God who was intimately involved in his life and in the life of the world. Joseph’s hope lay not in his own intellectual prowess, not in having the best religious and political leaders, not in finding the perfect human community. No, his hope lay in the mercy and fidelity of God.

Michael Card has written perhaps my favorite song about St. Joseph. It’s called simply, “Joseph’s Song.” The song captures Joseph’s apprehension and awe at the birth of Jesus. He muses over and over again, “How can this be?” as he beholds this little baby. We sometimes ask this same question under very different circumstances. We ask it when we witness injustices, divisiveness, violence, hatred, pain, and sorrow. But we also ask “How can this be?” when we witness our heroic medical professionals on the front lines of this pandemic… when we see strangers distributing food and clothing to those in desperate need… when we see ordinary people standing strong when being tempted to compromise their personal integrity.

Pope Francis includes a prayer to St. Joseph in his Apostolic Letter. That prayer ends with these words: “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.”

Does anything stand out for your in this reflection?

What do you admire most about St. Joseph?

If you could meet St. Joseph in a park, and you could have a short conversation with him (both of you socially distant and wearing masks, of course!), what question(s) would you ask him? What do you think he might answer?

PS: As you know, my blog is “broken.” It hasn’t let you respond to these reflections for several months. But the good news is this: my community is in the process of launching a new website—of which my blog is a part. This means my blog should be “fixed” and up and running again—hopefully by April. I really look forward to reading your responses once again. I miss hearing from you! Meanwhile, thank you for your patience!

Here is Michael Card’s beautiful song. We ordinarily sing it at Christmas time, but I think it’s a good song for the whole year. The lyrics include these words: How could it be this baby in my arms… is the Son of God?… Father, I know this child is not my own… not of my flesh, not of my bone…But let this baby be the son of my love… Father, show me where I fit into this plan of yours… All my life I’ve been a simple carpenter… How can I raise a king?… The Son of God the angel said… how could it be?

Thank you for reading “Sunflower Seeds.”

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