DEACON DAVID CROSS has written a special reflection for the Year of St Joseph, based on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde…
I don’t know whether or not you’ve read any of Pope Francis’ letters to us since he took up his pontificate in March 2013? If you have, you will have noticed that he doesn’t waste a single word, sentence or paragraph.
I find this makes it extremely difficult to adequately precis or summarise any of his writings but I’m going to give it a go. Please bear with me!
On December 8, the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pius lX’s proclamation of St Joseph as the Patron of the Universal Church in 1870, Pope Francis declared that 2021 should be celebrated as the Year of St Joseph.
To help us in our prayer and reflection on the foster Father of Jesus, the Holy Father wrote us an Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde, in which he not only shares key insights on the life of St Joseph from the gospels but also outlines the relevance of St Joseph for us in our present time amid the Covid pandemic.
Drawing on the early chapters of Ss Matthew and Luke, Pope Francis says; “Matthew and Luke tell us very little, yet enough for us to appreciate what sort of a father [St Joseph] was and the mission entrusted to him by God’s providence” (Patris Corde p1). He goes on to outline several of Joseph’s personal characteristics that may be seen as implicit to the Gospel accounts.
The Holy Father suggests the following: Joseph was a just man, he was courageous, a man of faith, sensitive in his treatment of Mary and Jesus. Joseph was resourceful and creative and a tender and loving father, he was a provider for his family through his work as a carpenter, he was compassionate. Pope Francis says that Joseph was faithful, chaste and obedient, unafraid of self-sacrifice.
This is a beautiful yet unsanitised image of the vocation of fatherhood and tells us “In St Joseph, Jesus saw the tender love of God” (p2). What a marvellous vision of not just fatherhood but motherhood too. Both father and mother are called to show their daughters and sons the tender love of God.
“All too often, we think that God works only through our better parts, yet most of his plans are realized in and despite of our frailty” (p3-4), shown in how Jesus communicated with St Paul by saying “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:7-9).
We have to begin to treat our own shortcomings and those of others with tender mercy: “The evil one makes us see and condemn our frailty, whereas the Spirit brings it to light with tender love. Tenderness is the best way to touch the frailty within us. Pointing fingers and judging others are frequently signs of inability to accept our own weaknesses, our own frailty. Only tender love will save us from the snares of the accuser… We know that God’s truth does not condemn, but instead welcomes, embraces, sustains and forgives” (p4).
It is this understanding that enables us to take up our cross every day, to dust ourselves off and start again. Therefore, we should never be afraid of calling on St Joseph and the Holy Spirit to help us not just in our difficulties but in our daily endeavours.
Joseph listened to the voice of God through the psalms and through the four dreams he had concerning taking Mary for his wife, fleeing with Mary and Joseph into Egypt for their own safety, waiting patiently for the angel to return to let him know when it was safe to return from Egypt and the warning not to return to Judea but to settle in Galilee. We might conclude from this that Joseph was guided by God’s Spirit. Pope Francis points out “The Spiritual path Joseph traces for us is not one that explains but accepts” (p5).
Joseph demonstrates God’s unconditional love for each one of us in the way in which he accepts Mary unconditionally, as his wife: “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…Joseph is certainly not passively resigned, but courageously and firmly proactive, in our own lives, acceptance and welcome can be an expression of the Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude. Only the Lord can give us the strength needed to accept life as it is, with all its contradictions, frustrations and disappointments” (p5).
Just as each of us have to face life’s difficulties and daily problems head on, so did the Holy Family. Reflecting on the life of Joseph, Mary and Jesus brings a real dose of reality to our faith; “Like so many of our migrant brothers and sisters who, today too, risk their lives to escape misfortune and hunger. In this regard, I consider Saint Joseph the special patron of all those forced to leave their native lands because of war, hatred, persecution and poverty” (p6). Jesus came into our world in great vulnerability, needing to be cared for and protected. God trusted Joseph and Mary to carry out these tasks.
Pope Francis stresses the importance of work which was a key aspect of Joseph’s life; “Work is a means of participating in the work of salvation… A family without work is particularly vulnerable to difficulties, tensions, estrangement and even break-up. How can we speak of human dignity without working to ensure that everyone is able to earn a decent living? 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!” (10)
The Holy Father draws his letter to a close by saying: “The aim of this Apostolic Letter is to increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal. He reminds us of something that we all instinctively know; “Fathers are not born but made. A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child. Whenever a man accepts responsibility for the life of another, in some way he becomes a father to that person… Being a father entails introducing children to life and reality. Not holding them back, being overprotective or possessive, but rather making them capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities” (p10/11).
“In a way, we are all like Joseph: a shadow of the heavenly Father, who makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust (Mt 5:45). And a shadow that follows his Son”. (p11).
Pope Francis leaves us with a lovely prayer to Saint Joseph:
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.
I recommend this beautiful Apostolic Letter of Pope Francis to every father, mother, grandparent and young person. You will find in its pages a beautiful vision of both fatherhood and motherhood, great encouragement and affirmation. Read and reflect on it. I am sure that it will touch your life every bit as much as it has touched mine.
Deacon David Cross