Remember that Eighties’ song “I Need a Hero”? This whole year has been quite the exercise in longing for one. That’s why Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are Time magazine’s “Person of the Year.” Time thinks they have one there — and I suspect it’s actually Harris. Meanwhile, the fact of the matter is that the kind of salvation people are looking for does not come from politics, and yet still we try. That this is folly is clear in so many ways. Consider the irrational, evil, anger — the kind that loots electronics stores and makes it impossible to communicate in any kind of constructive or respectful manner — and other miseries, but here we are.
I’ve found very little helpful this year other than prayer and the kind of human interaction some of the government is advising against. One exception would be Pope Francis’s prayer service early on in the pandemic. You couldn’t have scripted it better: It was a rainy night in Rome, with the sounds of ambulances and other emergency vehicles constant. And he prayed and he prayed. And, as it happens, the number of deaths did start to go down after that point in Italy. Maybe there’s some sense there? Maybe prayer is in fact action.
In his homily, Francis kept hitting a theme that resonates to this day, doesn’t it? “Why are you afraid?” Haven’t we all asked ourselves this question throughout this year? Many if not most of us obviously fear death. There’s also the very practical and understandable fear of infecting someone who is more vulnerable than we are. “Love your neighbor” took on a new urgency, but then so should an appreciation that all of life involves some level of risk. So we should always be alert, as, in fact, Scripture mentions that we need to be.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. . . . You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.
That’s what this year has been about: priorities in this short life — and we still have a shot, though the window is closing to get it right during this calendar year. And getting it right is an ongoing process, so be humble and kind, as Tim McGraw might put it.
Pope Francis went on that day, repeating the questions about fear and faith, adding: Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient.” Of course, he didn’t point to Donald Trump or Joe Biden or any other mere mortal. He pointed to God.
Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. . . . Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God, life never dies.
December 8 is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In normal years, cities in Europe would have fireworks to mark the beginning of the life of Mary, who would be the mother of Jesus, This year, on December 8, Pope Francis declared a year dedicated to St. Joseph — not a savior, but a protector. Pope Francis has been telling of his fondness for Joseph since he came on the international scene. He made popular an image of Joseph sleeping. He has a statue of him on a table in his room, and he writes on paper things that are burdening him and gives them to Joseph to dream about in his sleep. It’s a beautiful pious practice that harkens back to Saint John XXIII, perhaps most known for opening the Second Vatican Council. He would pray: It’s your Church, Lord, I’m going to sleep. Similarly, because St. Joseph was chosen to be the earthly protector of Mary and Jesus, it’s not a leap to think that in Heaven he might have for his mission a real patronage for the Church, the Body of Christ.
It makes a lot of sense that at this time of unrest and divide, of so much anxiety entering into family life with all the uncertainties — including about school and the ability to financially provide — Francis would point to Joseph. There’s a silent confidence about him, and in this selfie age where so many rush to an opinion before knowing even basic information, someone who might help us cultivate silence and listening is a gift. And he’s a Jewish father, at a time when anti-Semitism is rearing its evil head again.
In his letter about Joseph, Francis writes:
Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.
There is tremendous power in virtue. Those who live well will be more important than all the politicians in the world. These are the true heroes.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.