Pope Francis said the coronavirus pandemic has heightened his desire to reflect on St. Joseph, as so many people during the pandemic have made hidden sacrifices to protect others, just as St. Joseph did for Mary and Jesus.
“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,” the pope wrote.
He also said he wanted to highlight St. Joseph’s role as a father who served his family with charity and humility, adding, “Our world today needs fathers.”
The Year of St Joseph will continue throughout this calendar year, ending on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2021.
As Catholics pray and reflect on the life of St. Joseph throughout the coming year, they also have opportunities to gain a plenary indulgence, or remission of all temporal punishment due to sin. An indulgence can be applied to oneself or to a soul in Purgatory.
An indulgence requires a specific act, defined by the Church, as well as sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion, prayer for the pope’s intentions, and full detachment from sin.
Special indulgences during the Year of St. Joseph can be received through more than a dozen different prayers and actions, including praying for the unemployed, entrusting one’s daily work to St. Joseph, performing a corporal or spiritual work of mercy, or meditating for at least 30 minutes on the Lord’s Prayer.
In his letter launching the Year of St Joseph entitled Patris Corde, the Pope highlights “the creative courage” of St. Joseph, which “emerges especially in the way we deal with difficulties.”
“The carpenter of Nazareth,” explains the Pope, was able to turn a problem into a possibility by trusting in divine providence.” He had to deal with “the concrete problems” his family faced, problems faced by other families in the world, and especially those of migrants.
In this sense, St. Joseph is “the special patron of all those forced to leave their native lands because of war, hatred, persecution and poverty.” As the guardian of Jesus and Mary, Joseph cannot “be other than the guardian of the Church”.
“Consequently, every poor, needy, suffering or dying person, every stranger, every prisoner, every infirm person is ‘the child’ whom Joseph continues to protect.”
From St Joseph, writes Pope Francis, “we must learn… to love the Church and the poor”
A father who teaches the value, dignity and joy of work
“A carpenter who earned an honest living to provide for his family,” St Joseph also teaches us “the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labour.” This aspect of Joseph’s character provides Pope Francis the opportunity to launch an appeal in favour of work, which has become “a burning social issue” even in countries with a certain level of well-being. “There is a renewed need to appreciate the importance of dignified work, of which Saint Joseph is an exemplary patron,” the Pope writes.
Human labour, he says, “is a means of participating in the work of salvation, an opportunity to hasten the coming of the Kingdom, to develop our talents and abilities, and to put them at the service of society and fraternal communion.”
Pope Francis encourages everyone “to rediscover the value, the importance and the necessity of work and especially in light of rising unemployment due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Pope calls everyone to “review our priorities” and to express our firm conviction that “no young person, no person at all, no family should be without work!”
A father “in the shadows,”
Taking a cue from The Shadow of the Father — a book by Polish writer Jan Dobraczyński — Pope Francis describes Joseph’s fatherhood of Jesus as “the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father.”
“Fathers are not born, but made,” says Pope Francis. “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.”
Unfortunately, in today’s society, children “often seem orphans, lacking fathers” who are able to introduce them “to life and reality.”
Children, the Pope says, need fathers who will not try to dominate them, but instead raise them to be “capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities.”
This is the sense in which St Joseph is described as a “most chaste” father, which is the opposite of domineering possessiveness. Joseph, says Pope Francis, “knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the centre of things. He did not think of himself, but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus.”
Happiness for Joseph involved a true gift of self: “In him, we never see frustration, but only trust,” writes Pope Francis. Joseph stands out, therefore, as an exemplary figure for our time, in a world that “needs fathers,” and not “tyrants”.
True fathers, instead, “refuse to live the lives of their children for them,” and instead respect their freedom.
In this sense, says Pope Francis, a father realizes that “he is most a father and an educator at the point when he becomes ‘useless,’ when he sees that his child has become independent and can walk the paths of life unaccompanied.” Being a father, the Pope emphasizes, “has nothing to do with possession, but is rather a ‘sign’ pointing to a greater fatherhood”: that of the “heavenly Father”.
A daily prayer to St Joseph… and a challenge
In his letter, Pope Francis notes how, “Every day, for over 40 years, following Lauds [Morning Prayer]” he has “recited a prayer to Saint Joseph taken from a 19th-century French prayer book of the Congregation of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary.”
This prayer, he says, expresses devotion and trust, and even poses a certain challenge to Saint Joseph,” on account of its closing words: “My beloved father, all my trust is in you. Let it not be said that I invoked you in vain, and since you can do everything with Jesus and Mary, show me that your goodness is as great as your power.”
At the conclusion of his Letter, he adds another prayer to St Joseph, which he encourages all of us to pray together:
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.