On the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of Saint Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church, Pope Francis issued an interesting apostolic letter called Patris Corde, with a Father’s heart. Within the context of his proclamation of a yearlong celebration dedicated to Jesus’ foster father this apostolic letter reminds us once more of the importance of fatherhood.
In his letter Pope Francis mentions seven characteristics of Saint Joseph which, when applied in daily life, help a great deal to heal and restore the father figure within our society as well as in the Church. First, Joseph is a beloved father. In other words, “he was the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus. And, in so doing, he made himself available, as Saint John Chrysostom said, “at the service of the entire plan of salvation.” In his teachings Saint Paul VI identified how Joseph enfleshed his fatherhood “by making his life a sacrificial service to the mystery of the incarnation and its redemptive purpose. He employed his legal authority over the Holy Family to devote himself completely to them in his life and work. He turned his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of himself, his heart and all his abilities, a love placed at the service of the Messiah who was growing to maturity in his home.”
Moreover, Saint Joseph is that tender and loving father who taugħt Jesus “to walk, taking him by the hand; he was for him like a father who raises an infant to his cheeks, bending down to him and feeding him (cf. Hos 11:3-4). In Joseph, Jesus saw the tender love of God: ‘As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him’ (Ps 103:13).”
Thirdly, Saint Joseph is an obedient father, since he humbly accepted God’s saving plan for him which entailed that by his obedience he surpassed his difficulties and spared Mary. As Pope Francis tells us in his apostolic letter, “in every situation, Joseph declared his own ‘fiat’, like those of Mary at the Annunciation and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.”
Joseph is also presented as an accepting father, who “accepted Mary unconditionally.” In his homily at the Esplanade of Catama (Villavicencio) on Friday 8 September 2017 during his apostolic journey in Columbia, the Holy Father highly extolled the nobility of Joseph’s heart when he said: “The nobility of Joseph’s heart is such that what he learned from the law he made dependent on charity. Today, in our world where psychological, verbal and physical violence towards women is so evident, Joseph appears as the figure of a respectful and sensitive man. Even though he does not understand the bigger picture, he makes a decision to protect Mary’s good name, her dignity and her life. In his hesitation about how best to act, God helped him by enlightening his judgment.” Hence, Joseph’s most holy example teaches today’s fathers that the spiritual path that they are to follow is not the one that explains but rather the other that accepts. Yes, contradictions, frustrations and disappointments are part of daily life too! That is why we need the gift of fortitude to accept and welcome them.
Another characteristic which suits perfectly well Saint Joseph is that of being a creatively courageous father. This important trait is shown in Joseph’s life story because when at times a superficial reading of the infancy narratives is done it may tend to give the false view that “the world is at the mercy of the strong and mighty.” However, “the ‘good news’ of Gospels shows that, for all the arrogance and violence of worldly powers, God always finds a way to carry out his saving plan.” Hence, Saint Joseph was entrusted by God “to plan, to be creative, and to find solutions” himself.
Joseph’s responsibility, adaptability and availability, prepare us to admire his commitment to human work. In fact, as Pope Francis tells us in this beautiful and very thought-provoking aposotlic letter, “Saint Joseph was a carpenter who earned an honest living to provide for his family. From him, Jesus learned the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labour.” Adding to this, “Saint Joseph’s work reminds us that God himself, in becoming man, [not only] did not disdain work” but was committed to work as a dedicated worker would. Hence, “let us implore Saint Joseph the Worker to help us find ways to express our firm conviction that no young person, no person at all, no family should be without work!”
The final aspect outlined by the apostolic letter about Saint Joseph is that he is a father in the shadows because, as the novel about Saint Joseph’s life, The Shadow of the Father, by the Polish writer Jan Dobraczyński, says, “in his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” On the lines of Our Father in Heaven, and certainly by his grace, Joseph was able to take up the responsibility of caring for Jesus, introducing him to the life’s reality, helping him to decide for himself to cherish his freedom and discover new possibilities, in other words, he was truly a father for Our Lord Jesus because he never made himself the centre of attention but sought millions of ways for better serving Jesus and Mary. Joseph was a man full of trust. His patient silence helped him to make himself a splendid self-gift for his family. Joseph was an exemplary father for Jesus because he was “a ‘sign’ pointing to a greater fatherhood.”
Let us daily pray for fathers to live up their very important calling by praying to Saint Joseph this beautiful prayer composed by Pope Saint John XXIII, a great devotee of this great saint.
St. Joseph, guardian of Jesus and chaste husband of Mary, you passed your life in loving fulfillment of duty. You supported the holy family of Nazareth with the work of your hands. Kindly protect those who trustingly come to you. You know their aspirations, their hardships, their hopes. They look to you because they know you will understand and protect them. You too knew trial, labor and weariness. But amid the worries of material life your soul was full of deep peace and sang out in true joy through intimacy with God’s Son entrusted to you and with Mary, his tender Mother. Assure those you protect that they do not labor alone. Teach them to find Jesus near them and to watch over him faithfully as you have done.
How much our world desperately needs fathers like Saint Joseph!