Pope Francis declared the Year of St Joseph, running from 8 December 2020 to 8 December 2021. This is a rare opportunity for us to focus on this great man who is often described as “standing in the shadows”. Joseph becomes our guide to visit the important moments of the life of Mary and the childhood of Jesus. Though operating in obscurity, Joseph leads us to a deeper understanding of Church, work, family, husband, fatherhood and prayer as we delve into some important aspects of his life. Every time we do we this have a refreshing encounter with who we are as Church in the world today. As this is also the Year of the Eucharist, Benediction forms an integral part of our devotions.
This year is an invitation by Pope Francis to celebrate St Joseph. It is an opportunity that the Church and the faithful should appropriate fully. Archbishop Stephen Brislin leads the first of the monthly reflections. It is titled: St Joseph in the context of the Church today. For your convenience, and as an aid to the Deaf, the text of his reflection is offered below the video.
ST JOSEPH IN THE CONTEXT OF THE CHURCH TODAY
In this time of vacuum of leadership in the world many are searching for role models, someone who can inspire us. The candidates presented to us through the media are most often film stars, modern singers, those who have made a fortune through their innovations, sportsmen and women, and occasionally charismatic politicians. We admire their skill in whatever field they succeed in, often we admire their lifestyle and many enjoy “following” them on social media platforms. But frequently we are also let down by our supposed heroes. They disgrace themselves through dirty-dealing and cheating, leaving us rather disillusioned.
The difficulty is that when we look for heroes or for role models, we often look only at the superficial – their looks, wealth, skill, competence and prowess in certain fields, sometimes even secretly delight in their shenanigans. But if we put our hope and trust in people there comes a time when they will disappoint us. Our trust can only be in God who never disappoints us. As we hear in psalm 117: It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in men; it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. No matter how good a person may be, they always have the potential to fail us in one way or another.
That said, it is not bad to have role models – young people need them especially. But it all depends on what you look for in the person. For example, do we consider moral values or even, for that matter, basic human values? Do we consider spiritual values? Do we ever pause and ask ourselves whether potential role models are kind, have a sense of justice, are they self-giving and willing to be of service to others? Do we ask whether they care about the poor and stand in solidarity with them? Is it important for us that our heroes be people of prayer and faith, who submit themselves in humility to their Creator acknowledging that their giftedness is from the Creator?
It can be so wonderful to hear what young people have to say. On occasion, at a Confirmation, I ask the Confirmandi who their role model or hero is. It is not uncommon for the response to be: my father, my grandmother, my uncle, and so on. It is heartening that despite the often-time shallowness of the our current times, young people still apply their minds and see beyond the exterior of a person and recognize deeper, Christian qualities and values. The fact is, heroes are all around us – they are not the rich, glamorous or famous, but ordinary people, who live good and ordinary lives, and who fulfil their responsibilities to others faithfully and with deep love. They are not the sort of people that books will be written about, or long obituaries in the newspaper. They will not be remembered for centuries to come, although they certainly will be kept and treasured in the hearts of those who have known them.
Pope Francis has said something similar in talking about St Joseph. In his Apostolic Letter Patris Corde , commemorating the 150th anniversary of the declaration by Pope Pius IX of St Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church, Pope Francis writes, “our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked. People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines, or on the latest television show, yet in these very days are surely shaping the decisive events of our history”. This is who St Joseph was, an ordinary man who has often been overlooked, and yet who helped shape the destiny of the world. Unlike millions of so-called heroes through the centuries, who after their day of fame have faded into history, we still remember St Jospeh and celebrate his life. Surprisingly we know very little about him. Events of his life are related in five episodes in the New Testament, but we never hear one word spoken by him. The point is that there are heroes all around us, but we search for them in the wrong place and using the wrong values – just as we search for God in the spectacular yet he is to be found in the ordinary.
While the information about St Joseph’s personality, history, character and nature is scarce, it is amazing what can be gleaned from the little that is said about him in the Bible, and we are able to see a picture of the type of person Joseph was. We know that he was a prayerful, God-fearing man, a worker, a husband and father who cared for and protected his family – in doing so, he exhibited courage and trust in God’s providence. He was a refugee, one who could abandon himself into the hands of God with confidence and who humbly accepted God’s will in all things, something we are called to do as disciples of Jesus.
But perhaps the most important aspect of Joseph’s character was his simplicity – he was not a high-flyer, a leader of society, a particularly wealthy man or a major leader, although of royal lineage. Like so many saints and martyrs in the history of the Church he was a simple, uncomplicated person. Someone who got on with what was asked of him and fulfilled his responsibilities and obligations. As with many of the saints we remember and honour, he probably born into an ordinary and humble family, not necessarily poor, but also not especially rich. Their riches were not to be found in a “bank balance” but in the spiritual values of God’s Kingdom. They were rooted in their faith in God and their willingness to serve him in the ordinary every day events of life. In a world so gripped by materialism, as disciples of Jesus we should to simplify our lives, to unravel the knots as Pope Francis has put it.
Everyone can learn from St Joseph and see an example of holiness and faith in him. But especially men and boys should recognize in him an excellent role model of what it means to be a man. In the confusion of today’s world, characterized in our own country by violence – especially against women and children – by infidelity and a lack of appreciation of marriage and family, by using using others, by lack of loyalty and the forsaking of responsibility, Jospeh shines as a true man in the image of God’s original creation. Boys are often socialized into erroneous concepts of what a man is – “macho”, afraid to show feelings, a player among women, a person who is not afraid to trample underfoot those who stand in his way. Such erroneous images of “manhood” has sad consequences. St Joseph was a true man and an example of Christianity. A husband who loved and cared for his wife, doing everything he could to ensure justice for her and save her from any embarrassment. He had a sense of decency and respect for women. and the Church should be a light leading society to respect for women.
He was a loving father who raised and guided his child Jesus. Pope Francis notes in his Apostolic Letter, Fathers are not born, but made. 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. Whenever a man accepts responsibility for the life of another, in some way he becomes a father to that person. Joseph was such a father – not the biological father of Jesus at all, yet he took responsibility for him and helped Jesus grow “in wisdom and in divine and human favour” (Luke 2:52). Sadly, so many of our children grow up with an absent father, or living with a father who creates terror rather than love. Pope Francis has noted that the family is the foundation of co-existence and a remedy against social fragmentation. Of course, many women, or grandparents, do a valiant and spectacular job of raising children in severely adverse conditions. But thousands of children suffer from deprivation, abuse and without a role model. Ministry to men is can play a role in this regard because they can be excellent role models for children and young people in the Church.
Fundamental to all the human qualities that Joseph exhibited was his faith. He would never have been able to recognize God’s will that came to him in dreams, unless he was a person in close communion with God. Without faith, he would not have been obedient to what God asked of him but would have tried to find ways around it in order to remain in his comfort zone. Without faith he would have lacked the courage to act on God’s will and to face the dangers of Herod and exile. Because of his faith, his heart was tender and compassionate and he cared for Mary and Jesus with deep self-sacrificial love. We too, as we face the many challenges to our fundamental beliefs as Christians, need to strengthen our faith.
In the light of all of this, it is no wonder that St Joseph is not only the Patron Saint of the Universal Church, but is also Patron Saint of workers, of homes, of families, of fathers, of carpenters and of a happy death. In the coming months you will hear a lot more about St Joseph in Scripture, as a worker, refugee, husband, family man, father, man of prayer and a friend at the time of death. I hope that you will accept him as a model for Christian life and that we will all learn simplicity from him. My heartfelt thanks goes to Fr Ivanhoe and the parish of Bothasig for organising these reflections to celebrate the Year of St Joseph.
+Stephen Brislin 19th March 2021
Archbishop of Cape Town