Religion

Saint Joseph, Man of the Year

Detail of Dream of St. Joseph by Gerard Seghers, c. 1625-1630. (Kunsthistorisches Museum/Public domain/via Wikimedia)
Pope Francis has declared the next year dedicated to Jesus’ foster father, who in his quiet heroism speaks to our moment.

This is the year of Joe. Not Biden. But the main man in the Nativity scene nearest you (since Jesus there is but a baby, albeit Divine). Earlier this month, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, Pope Francis delivered the news of a year dedicated to Saint Joseph. So we are already a few weeks in.

What the spiritual prescription in these coronavirus times — months of so much hiddenness. Quiet heroism. The little things have taken on a new importance. A year ago, going to the grocery store didn’t seem an act of courage. Neither did getting out of bed in the morning, not in the same way. Charity has taken a front seat. And so has fear. Saint Joseph could have been consumed by fear — it’s quite the news he got about Mary’s pregnancy. Could our cynical times receive such news? And yet, here we are at Christmas, and that’s exactly the invitation — to a renewed humility. An understanding that our newfound universal encounter with weakness in the pandemic is such tremendous strength.

“We must learn to look upon our weaknesses with tender mercy” is how Pope Francis puts it in his proclamation of the Year of Saint Joseph:

Even through Joseph’s fears, God’s will, his history and his plan were at work. Joseph, then, teaches us that faith in God includes believing that he can work even through our fears, our frailties and our weaknesses. He also teaches us that amid the tempests of life, we must never be afraid to let the Lord steer our course. At times, we want to be in complete control, yet God always sees the bigger picture.

So much of what the pope says is so relevant to so much of what we are living through. For instance: “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 an inability to accept our own weaknesses, our own frailty. Only tender love will save us from the snares of the accuser (cf. Rev 12:10).”

Tender love has myriad practical implications. That Joseph is the foster father of Jesus is resplendently relevant. With over 400,000 children in the foster-care system in the United States today, gazing on Saint Joseph in a crèche scene reminds us of those children who do not have stable, permanent, loving homes — a forever family, as it is often called. Even God Himself was raised in a family, with his mother at his side even at his death. If you have a moment to give thanks this Christmas, to see your children smile — or scream — under the lights of a tree, remember, there are children whose trauma and maltreatment has scarred them. The miracle of a tender heart in their lives could be like the Bethlehem star showing them life. It’s something to consider.

And about the other Joe in the news. It can be music to my ears to hear Saint Francis of Assisi cited, as the president-elect did after the Electoral College made his win official. “For where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith, where there is darkness, light,” he said, quoting the famous peace prayer. The prayer is a plea to God for the grace to be a vessel of tenderness — the kind of merciful love that is the reason we celebrate Christmas. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 1:16). I’m going to hope against hope that somehow his baptismal reflex will kick in and he will take a look at the kind of unity that could be ushered in if he embraced the Gospel of Life, as proclaimed by John Paul II, whom Biden also recently quoted. I’m praying for Year of Saint Joseph miracles for our next president.

In search of a COVID-19 test the day after our big snowstorm in New York, I happened upon some graffiti: “Laugh, cry and honk your [heart] out. Our country is saved. Thank you Joe and Kamala.” Even the person who wrote that doesn’t really believe it. But exuberance is a reflection on how much people are over this year, and a reflection on so much about our politics. In words on Saint Joseph, Pope Francis repeats what the Jesus says to Saint Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor 12:7–9). That’s the kind of humble approach we need for a revolution of tenderness that will save us — it’s not up to us. It’s up to God, and to our cooperation with good, not evil.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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