On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, just last week, Pope Francis proclaimed a Year of St Joseph which will conclude on December 8, 2021. December 8 was the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St Joseph as the Patron of the Universal Church. The Pope issued an Apostolic Letter, Patris corde (With a Father’s Heart), on the occasion in order to reflect upon the unique role of St. Joseph in the life of the Church as a model for all of us. As he states, “The aim of this Apostolic Letter is to increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and imitate his virtue and his zeal.”
Pope Francis reminds us in his letter that St Joseph was a man with whom we can all identify since he is “so close to our own human experience.” He likens St Joseph to so many “people often overlooked,” especially in the current months of the pandemic, but who have assisted so many others during this time. Pope Francis reflects, “St. Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.” During this Year of St. Joseph there are special indulgences and many graces to be received.
Pope Francis has a great personal devotion to St. Joseph and has referred to him and spoken about him on many occasions during his papacy. It was Pope Francis who added the name of Joseph as the Spouse of Mary to all of the Eucharistic prayers of the Mass. One of the few things which he requested be sent to Rome from his residence in Buenos Aires after his election as Pope was an unusual statue of St. Joseph in a sleeping position. The statue is carved out of wood, about one foot and four inches long, portraying St. Joseph as dressed in gold trim dark green and red vestments which is typical of Hispanic American iconography. In his talk to the families of the Philippines during his January 2015 visit, Pope Francis attested, “I would also like to tell you something very personal. I have a great love for Saint Joseph, because he is a man of silence and strength. On my table, I have an image of Saint Joseph sleeping. Even when he is asleep, he is taking care of the church! Yes! We know that he can do that. So when I have a problem, a difficulty, I write a little note and I put it underneath Saint Joseph, so that he can dream about it! In other words, I tell him, ‘Pray for this problem!’”
As we approach the conclusion of the Advent season and prepare to celebrate Christmas, the sleeping of St. Joseph is very significant, especially as it is presented in the Gospel of St. Matthew. It is in the Gospel of St. Matthew that we read how the angel of God appears to St. Joseph in dreams to make known God’s revelation in regard to His will for him. This liturgical year, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Matthew tells us of how St. Joseph was told, in a dream, not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, since the child conceived in her was through the power of the Holy Spirit. This child would be Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. On the celebration of the Epiphany, we will hear from St. Matthew’s Gospel that it was also in a dream that the angel warns Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt to avoid the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem. It is also in two additional dreams that the angel advises him as to his eventual safe arrival to Nazareth with Mary and Jesus where the Lord is raised. It was in dreams of sleep that St. Joseph came to know the will of God and carry out a special mission as the foster father of God’s own Son for which he was chosen. This is especially endearing to Pope Francis who often speaks of the “dream of God,” and just published a book of personal reflections, Let us Dream.
As we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Christ and look to the Holy Family in a special way, it is important to realize the significance of St. Joseph in regard to the sanctity of the family. It is especially critical today to understand the true nature of marriage as a gift from God when family life faces so many challenges and threats in our culture. St. Joseph reminds us of the sanctity of marriage and family life, not only for Jesus, Mary and himself, but for all of us. At one of his addresses to the Roman Rota, Pope Francis specifically referred to marriage and the family as “the dream of God.” The Pope explained how, from the beginning, God created man and woman in His image and likeness in order that they might give themselves to each other for mutual support in life as well as for participating with God in giving the gift of life to children. The Pope described “God’s dream” in marriage as “indissoluble, unitive and procreative” which is not an ideal but a fundamental vocation for most men and women.
It is well to reflect upon the family as the direct image of the life of God in the Trinity. The love of Joseph and Mary for each other and for their Divine Son was a reflection of the loving life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. So much were Joseph and Mary involved in the life of the Trinity that Christ, the Son of God, was the union between them as He is between the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Spanish painter, Bartolomé Esteban Murílo (1617 - 1682), has given us a wonderful image of this union in a painting entitled, The Two Trinities. In this almost mystical work, the Father and the Holy Spirit hover above Mary and Joseph with the Christ child common to both Trinities. It is not an exaggeration to say that St. Joseph completes the mirror of the image of the triune God in the Trinity of the Holy Family.
As we enter into the Year of Saint Joseph, especially during the Advent and Christmas seasons, we realize how significant St. Joseph is in the very life of the Church and of the world. He made a fundamental and daring difference even though, as Pope Francis reminds us, he was considered to be on the side. We can easily identify with him and ask him to intercede for us so we may know in our lives the peace and joy which only living as God wants us to can bring. Let us dream as God and St. Joseph!
Pope Francis concludes his Apostolic Letter with the following prayer, so fitting especially at this time of year:
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 the grace of mercy and courage, and defend us from every evil. Amen.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
December 18, 2020