As 2020 comes to an end, we know that sadly the trials and challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic will not.
For me, and I know for many of you, this long year has brought us face-to-face with basic facts: that life is fragile and uncertain, that powers beyond our control can suddenly disrupt our plans and hopes, that sickness and death can come into our lives at any time.
In the light of faith, however, this encounter with our weakness has become an opportunity to deepen our awareness of our dependence on God. In this pandemic, we remember the promise of mercy and eternity that we have in Jesus Christ, whose love is stronger than death.
This challenging year calls us back to the truth that what matters is seeking God’s will for our lives, following his commands, fixing our hearts on heaven as we carry out our duty to love here on earth.
So, we approach Christmas this year with renewed hope.
Christmas is the feast of the living God who comes to be with us. In his humility and love, he takes on our human flesh, in all its vulnerability and weakness.
The saints remind us that Christ was born to die for us, to deliver us from death forever. The crib of Christmas begins a path that leads to the cross of Good Friday. His whole life — from his incarnation to his resurrection — are united in the single mystery of God’s personal love for each one of us.
We need to remember that, especially this year when we have seen so much loss and sorrow. The coming of Jesus means that death is no longer a barrier, but a gate that opens into the kingdom of heaven.
Pope Francis has declared this coming year, from Dec. 8, 2020, to Dec. 8, 2021, as the “Year of St. Joseph.” This is a powerful gesture by our Holy Father and I encourage you all to read his beautiful new letter, “Patris Corde” (“With a Father’s Heart”).
In many ways, we can look to St. Joseph as “the person for 2020.” He can show us how to live with courage and confidence in Christ in this year when our faith and hope have been truly tested.
As we hear it in the Gospels, Joseph’s life is a series of frustrated expectations, of plans and priorities he was forced to abandon.
He finds his wife carrying a child that is not his own. He is forced by government decree to travel a long and difficult journey in the final days of her pregnancy. On the night Mary is set to deliver, they cannot find anywhere to stay, and the baby is born in a place where animals are kept.
After that, a tyrant king sets loose a persecution, and Joseph is forced to lead his family into exile, and to make a new life for them as refugees in a foreign land.
Joseph knew fear, anxiety, and danger. He endured his sufferings without complaining, without giving in to sadness or discouragement.
He prayed and listened for God’s voice, he let himself be guided by the angels. Like Mary, in every circumstance he wanted to know God’s will — and he wanted to do it.
Joseph is silent in the Gospels, not a single word of his survives. We hear only of his deeds: “Joseph … did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.”
By his witness, he teaches us to accept the hard realities in our own lives with the obedience of faith, trusting that in all things God is working for the good of those who love him.
Joseph and Mary were not privileged or powerful. Neither are we. Yet each of us is here because God wants us to be here.
He calls each of us to place our lives in the service of his plan of salvation. We do that, just as Joseph and Mary did, by putting Jesus Christ at the heart of our lives and our families.
Like Joseph and Mary, we serve God by faithfully carrying out the demands and duties of love in our roles as children and parents, brothers and sisters, as friends and neighbors, coworkers.
There is an ancient prayer to Joseph that includes this beautiful line that recalls the silence of Christmas: “I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while he reposes near your heart.”
This was Joseph’s secret. He kept Jesus near to his heart. Always. Let us do the same.
As this long year of plague continues into the new year, pray for me and I will pray for you.
Let us ask Mary and Joseph to help us remember — that with God all things are possible. He will strengthen us always if we stay faithful, if we stay close to him.