St. Joseph: A Patron for Our Times
Contemplating how his witness and intercession can be most fruitful and effective in our age
Pope Francis decreed a Year of St. Joseph on the day the Church marked 150 years since Blessed Pope Pius IX declared him as patron of the universal Church. At the time, Pius IX wrote that the Church was going through “most troublesome times … beset by enemies on every side, and … weighed down by calamities so heavy that ungodly men assert that the gates of hell have at length prevailed against her” and therefore, concerning Joseph, “besought his intercession in times of trouble.”
Although it was 1870, the declaration could have been written today. Perhaps what is old is new again, or maybe it’s just that there is nothing new under the sun. Either way, St. Joseph is a patron for our times.
Showing Us the Way
More important than marking the anniversary, however, is the opportunity to contemplate how St. Joseph’s witness and intercession can be most fruitful and effective at this point in our history. St. Joseph, as our patron, keeps us safe by showing us the way.
Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
— From the apostolic letter Patris Corde
Because our own cooperation with God’s will is necessary for our salvation, St. Joseph’s witness of his own cooperation with God is a model the Church needs right now. Among other things, it is particularly worthy to contemplate how St. Joseph is here for us at a time when the universal Church needs to be healed and reformed.
St. Joseph has been praised throughout the Church’s tradition as “most chaste,” and chastity certainly is one thing that comes to mind as lacking regarding the clergy abuse crisis. St. Joseph is a defender and protector of innocence, purity and truth. As the spouse of Mary, St. Joseph’s heart was one with hers — one with her Immaculate Heart. They were a match made by God. St. Joseph’s chaste heart is what enabled him to be authentic in his mission and single-hearted in his dedication to the Lord.
The patterns of sexual abuse by clergy and coverups of such scandals make it clear that those same characteristics did not define the hearts of some clergy. We are left to contemplate: How can the Church collectively ensure that the hearts of men pursuing orders desire such an authentic dedication to Christ? And how can they be formed to live that call in the manner St. Joseph did?
As St. Bridget of Sweden observed, “So perfectly was he dead to the world and the flesh, that he desired nothing but the things of heaven.”
In the wake of the McCarrick report, which chronicles the rise and coverup of the predator and former cardinal, and the many clergy scandals throughout the world, we can rejoice in the example of St. Joseph and pray that all in leadership within the Church do the same.
Learning to Serve
Deacons, priests and bishops who hold the sacred Lord in their hands in the sacrament of the altar hold him who St. Joseph first held. What a beautiful reminder of their obligation to pattern their lives after his. Priests and bishops as spiritual fathers have the high calling to be at the service of the faithful, to help them win the world for Christ and become the saints God made them to be. And deacons are called to serve in the name of him who learned how to serve at St. Joseph’s feet.
Those who share in sacred offices must remember that much is expected of them on account of the gifts they have received. In this regard, they can look to St. Joseph’s own model of holiness for inspiration and example. As St. John Henry Newman observed, “He is Holy Joseph, because his office, of being spouse and protector of Mary, specially demanded sanctity.”
As we have seen time and again in the various scandals that have disturbed the Church to its core, other characteristics belonging to St. Joseph can be fostered and proposed as part of the solution to move forward. Keeping in mind the model of St. Joseph, then, how might he help us move beyond some of the painful realities that continue to surface during the clergy crisis?
Example of Prudence
In addition to the actual abuse, the Church is faced with the reality of denials of truth and coverups that took place intending to spare the Church embarrassment and financial loss. Some might have argued that trying to spare the Church from scandal was prudent, but we now know that the cost of concealing the truth has been far more damaging. St. Joseph, as a man “most prudent,” shows that we must embrace suffering, even for the good of others, as he did. We have nothing to fear from the truth.
As Servant of God Father John Hardon explained, “St. Joseph teaches us that prudence is correct knowledge about things to be done or, more broadly, the knowledge of things that ought to be done and of things that should be avoided.”
St. Joseph’s hidden life of prudence, in service and suffering, offers an opportunity for contemplation by our leaders as they continue to confront the clergy crisis and its effects on the Church.
There is no question that the clergy crisis has affected the faith of believers. St. Joseph, “most faithful,” had a simple, robust faith. In his experiences, he bore the cost of living for Christ — for living according to the truth. Likewise, our clergy can look to him for inspiration as they are called to do the same in the wake of the crisis plaguing the Church. We are called to live our faith boldly, not fleeing from the truth, diminishing it or concealing it. We are called to recognize, as St. Joseph’s life attests, that all things work for the good.
For, as we know, the cost of not doing so is too great. Instead of giving believers reasons to call their faith into question or even abandon it, our clergy can be inspired by St. Joseph to boldly acknowledge that we have nothing to fear if God is on our side. St. Joseph, “most courageous,” went to extraordinary lengths to protect Christ from harm, never counting the personal cost. Each of us, clergy, religious and lay faithful, are called to the same.
As patron of the universal Church, St. Joseph inspires and intercedes for all the faithful who seek to pursue the life of virtue at which the saint excelled. These qualities and characteristics of holiness we find in him apply to all of God’s children, clergy and laity, who can work together in service to the Church to bring about the healing, conversion and reform needed to emerge stronger from the clergy crisis. With the help of St. Joseph’s prayers and example, may we all be committed to this task together.
MICHAEL R. HEINLEIN is editor of OSV’s Simply Catholic. He writes from Indiana.