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 December 8, 2020 to December 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.
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.”
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.
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.”
Adapted from the podcast “Sunflower Seeds” by Sr. Melannie Svoboda, SND