By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
On Dec. 8, 2020 Pope Francis decreed that the year ahead in the Catholic world would be dedicated as the Year of St. Joseph. Fully steeped in the tradition of the Church the Holy Father was commemorating the 150th anniversary of the declaration of Pius IX who raised up St. Joseph as “Patron of the Catholic Church.”
Through the years Venerable Pius XII proposed him as “Patron of Workers” and St. John Paul II as “Guardian of the Redeemer.” St. Joseph is universally invoked as the “patron of a happy death.”
Patris Corde “With a Father’s Heart” is the loveable title of Pope Francis’ letter to the Catholic Church for this year long tribute. Peering deeply into the sacred scriptures, reflecting on the church’s tradition, and responding to the challenges and crises of our times, especially the world-wide pandemic, it is the desire of the Holy Father in this letter to offer a path forward through the lens of St. Joseph’s life.
The chapter headings of this inspiring letter unfold a timeless teaching about this remarkable man, the guardian of the Redeemer. He is a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father, a creatively courageous father, a working father, and a father in the shadows (out of the limelight).
With the world still reeling from the pandemic, Pope Francis raises up countless women and men who serve in the manner of St. Joseph. “People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines, or on the latest television show, yet in these very days are surely shaping the decisive events of our history. 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… How many people daily exercise patience and offer hope, taking care to spread not panic, but shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday ways, how to accept and deal with a crisis by adjusting their routines, looking ahead and encouraging the practice of prayer. How many are praying, making sacrifices and interceding for the good of all. Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. St. Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.”
We can say with certainty that just as God had prepared Mary of Nazareth throughout her young life to be the virgin mother of the Savior, so too God had prepared St. Joseph to accept the unimaginable events crashing in on him that would have overwhelmed a lesser man of faith and courage.
The sacred scriptures provide a window into rich inner life of his faith that is recorded as a series of dreams guiding him to accept Mary into his home as his wife, to flee into Egypt, and eventually to return to Nazareth after the death of King Herod. Faith, courage, obedience, trust, perseverance, prayerfulness, compassion, faithfulness, chastity, the list of virtues born of faith in God, could go on and on to describe the foster-father of Jesus.
Cardinal Herbert Vaughan, the founder of the Mill Hill Josephite missionaries in England from which the American Josephites emerged in 1893, wielded considerable influence with Pope Pius IX to declare in 1870 St. Joseph’s universal patronage. (The Josephites continue to serve as pastors at Holy Family in Natchez.)
Cardinal Vaughan wrote profoundly that St. Joseph was a man for all times and seasons. “If you labor for your bread; if you have a family to support; if you endure privation and suffering; if your heart is searched by trials at home; if you are assailed by some importune temptations; if your faith is sorely tested, and your hope seems lost in darkness and disappointment; if you have yet to learn to love and serve Jesus and Mary as you ought, Joseph is your model, your teacher, and your father.”
At the conclusion of “Patris Corde” Pope Francis offers the following prayer for our edification and conversion, especially at this time when we anticipate the Solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19 in the heart of Lent.
Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
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.