The events of 2020 have left the world desperate for some heavenly aid. It was a welcome announcement, then, when Pope Francis declared on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8th) a year dedicated to the intercession of a special saint.
One of the treasures of the Catholic faith is the realization that we have a vast community of saints to ask to pray for us. In light of the widespread effects of COVID-19, it would have been appropriate for the Church to give special attention to a patron against plagues, such as St. Rosalie or Pope St. Gregory the Great. Or perhaps she could have called upon the powerful archangel, St. Michael, to help us battle the forces of evil seen at work in the world. It would have even made sense to point people in these difficult times toward St. Jude, the patron saint for hopeless causes. Yet the Holy Spirit inspired a different route, and on December 8th we found ourselves entering an official “Year of St. Joseph.”
My heart was still pondering over this declaration a few nights later as I watched a couple of dozen teenagers sprawled across a sticky gym floor. They were writing intently on little pieces of paper with golf pencils, spilling their hearts out to God about the challenges of the past year. There was not a single blank or scribbled on paper found abandoned at the end of the night. Instead, our prayer basket was effortlessly filled to the brim with questions, petitions, and acts of surrender that we planned to take to Adoration over the weekend.
As we transitioned into a reflection on the birth of Jesus, a comparison was made between the Holy Family’s experiences and our own. The teens acknowledged that we often associate the first Christmas with sweet and cozy images, but forget that it all started with an unexpected pregnancy, a relationship on the verge of divorce, and a search for shelter in a strange land, isolated from friends and family. Then the Holy Family’s lives were threatened, not by a virus, but by the jealousy of King Herod. They were forced to flee into Egypt for an indefinite amount of time. All of this was accompanied by the daily challenges of raising a family in poverty without the support of a faith community since they were far from their house of worship, the Temple. Not exactly the type of images we typically see on our Christmas cards! Though it did sound similar to some of the images being reflected in our own homes.
And yet the first Christmas is a story that we look back on with hopefulness and warmth. Why? Because Christ was present. His Presence shone hope on every circumstance and was the secret strength of the Holy Family. In particular, it was the strength of St. Joseph. Leave it to the “mouths of babes” to help unfold for me the wisdom of the Holy Spirit...As we dove deeper into the Nativity story, it was St. Joseph who emerged for them as a special hero. Though there is not a single recorded word attributed to this man, they were inspired by his actions. They noted how strongly he relied on God to help him care for his family amid scary and ever-changing circumstances. They noted, too, how he had every opportunity to lose faith along the way, but instead, he grew in trust and obedience. And one detail that they found especially important was that St. Joseph found time to sleep through all of the chaos! In fact, it was while resting and dreaming that St. Joseph received his clearest inspirations and the reassurance that God was in control.
Turns out St. Joseph is exactly what our world needs right now. Not a soldier, nor a healer, nor a miracle-worker, but a father. When Pope Francis announced the year in St. Joseph’s honor, he also revealed an Apostolic Letter titled Patris Corde (“Heart of the Father”). In this letter, he elaborates on the virtues of St. Joseph’s briefly recorded life, and how he made tangible the love of our Heavenly Father and still continues this mission today. Pope Francis writes: “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.” He presents St. Joseph as an example of how to love heroically in our own homes, how to love the Church, and how to lean on God’s grace to help navigate the crises of the current age. He ends the letter with a prayer:
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.
As we embark on this Year of St. Joseph, on the 150th anniversary of him being declared Patron of the Universal Church, let us learn from him like little children. Let’s find hope in Christ’s presence, trust God in life’s most difficult moments, serve our families with a heroic love, and rest confidently in God’s promises.
For more information about the Year of St. Joseph and the opportunities for obtaining a plenary indulgence, visit:
Kendel is a Florida native with degrees in Theology and Psychology. She serves as a parish director of youth and young adult ministry and is currently learning how to navigate this role at a new parish and in a new town during the time of COVID. As if this wasn't exciting enough, she is also planning a wedding and rediscovering her love for writing. She always finds that God is writing a way more exciting adventure for her life than she could have ever written for herself. She is choosing to hope that this will all make for a cool saint bio one day.