From my childhood on, I have known that March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was an important day. It was significant not only for the Church, but it had a special place in our family. If there was even a hint of springtime warmth, Mom would begin planting her garden on this day each year.
Forty-eight hours earlier, the cultural celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, which liturgically is an optional memorial, garners much attention. However, as the patron saint of the Universal Church, St. Joseph’s Day warrants the greater designation of “solemnity.” Later, as I acquired a better understanding of the relationship among prayer, Church and liturgy, the distinction between how the two saints are recognized was clear.
By announcing a Year of St. Joseph, Pope Francis, may be recognizing that the pandemic has been a long, cold, seemingly never-ending winter, is urging us to look for the first hints of spring. Those hints might be in the form of long-awaited vaccines and in our full capacity, in-person participation in the Mass, of everyone who desires to be able to assemble as a faith community.
As life opens up in the weeks and months ahead, St. Joseph can be our guide as we make our way through the uncertainties before us. He served as protector, provider and guide for our Lord and our Blessed Mother. When he faced uncertainties, he accepted them, knowing that his faith in God would sustain him.
Consider the enormity of St. Joseph’s responsibilities. He was called upon to protect, provide for and guide the One who came to proclaim the Kingdom of God and who in turn entered into his passion death and resurrection in order to save us.
If God had given him a job description, it might have noted that St. Joseph’s role would be critical in facilitating and supporting the whole work of salvation.
Consider, too, that God spoke to St. Joseph in dreams. He learns of Mary’s pregnancy and is told to take her as his wife; he is warned to take his wife and child from Bethlehem to Egypt; he is told it’s safe to return to Israel; and then warned again to go to Galilee instead of Judea. And he follows through immediately!
If I were in that situation, it would be a challenge for me spiritually to respond so quickly, wondering if it was my own imagination or natural instinct rather than accepting that God was really speaking to me.
But St. Joseph was so integrated as a human being in his holiness and sanctity that there was nothing unruly about him. Not even his dreams. They reflected his cooperation with the Father and communion with the Holy Spirit.
In “Patris Cordes,” the apostolic letter proclaiming the Year of St. Joseph, Pope Francis noted that St. 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.”
During this year, let us recognize that St. Joseph is vital to our Church and to us. He is someone to whom we can turn, someone who can help us to navigate the experiences of human frailty, whether they are due to the pandemic, political turmoil, economic challenges or anything else that obstructs our reaching the spring we seek.
Prayer to St. 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.