St. Joseph is saint for our times — a wounded, violent culture in misery.
Pope Francis began his Petrine ministry — was inaugurated as pope — on the feast of St. Joseph.
In case we missed that, fast forward a few months and one of the first times we saw Benedict XVI out and about was in the Vatican Gardens, as he joined Pope Francis in consecrating the Vatican to St. Joseph and St. Michael in July 2013.
In that opening homily, Pope Francis said:
In the Gospel, we heard that “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife.” These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: “Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model.”
He described just how it is he lived, providing a meditation for these days about a man who can often be forgotten because of how exemplary he was in quiet trust and humility:
How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care.
As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus. …
Joseph is a “protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason, he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions.
In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!
One of our chief sins is making idols of ourselves, being slaves to self-reliance when our freedom is best used in understanding God is our hope, not ourselves. And so, Pope Francis, in that inaugural homily, went on to begin in on a theme he’d expand upon in his encyclical “Laudato Si” (“Praise be to you”):
The vocation of being a “protector,” however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone.
It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world … and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about.
It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness.
Part of the key to understanding St. Joseph is seeing his quiet leadership. There’s a confident trust about his fatherhood. Knowing and learning from this could have resplendent implications for family and faith at a time when our culture is inundated with stories about men behaving badly. St. Joseph is a saint for our wounded, violent culture in misery.
The tender love of St. Joseph could care for us in intercession and lead us out of our current low expectations for interactions between men and women and the flourishing of masculine virtue.
Pope Francis, of course, is not the first to emphasize our need for St. Joseph in our times. In 1989, John Paul II issued the apostolic exhortation “Redemptoris Custos” about “The Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church.”
He wrote that with Mary, St. Joseph is the “first guardian” of the “divine mystery” of the Incarnation. He continued:
Looking at the gospel texts of both Matthew and Luke, one can also say that Joseph is the first to share in the faith of the Mother of God and that in doing so he supports his spouse in the faith of the divine annunciation. He is also the first to be placed by God on the path of Mary’s “pilgrimage of faith.” It is a path along which — especially at the time of Calvary and Pentecost — Mary will precede in a perfect way.
We need Mary and we need Joseph. They show us how to live and work together. They lead us to the life of the Trinity by how they live and love together in faithful trust.
When the two fathers of the Church put the Vatican under his protection in a heightened way, we should have all been rattled to attention. The depths of the spiritual warfare being waged is legion, as we are told, and as we know from living life today and reading the headlines and feeling the pain and watching what heavy burdens people bear in addiction and all kinds of affliction that torture the body and soul.
We need a tender, truthful Church, as Mother, showing us how to be mothers and fathers. As Mary brings us to Jesus, St. Joseph keeps us with Mary and his adopted son, Jesus. We’re reminded that we have a responsibility that no one is orphaned — even feeling alone or discarded or dismissed. We need St. Joseph to teach us and pray for us.
Pope Francis is famous for asking people to pray for him, from his first moments as Holy Father. When he does that, he’s being a St. Joseph to us, bringing us to Mother Church in prayer, keeping us doing some of the most important work there is: keeping prayerful confidence in our Almighty Father to save lives and heal the gaping wounds men and women walk the world with today.
The victory is won and we are called to help people see their way out of Satan’s chains. St. Joseph helps us. And Pope Francis has been pointing this out to us since day one of his pontificate.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review and a contributor to Angelus.