“When all the land of Egypt became hungry and the people cried to Pharaoh for food, Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians: ‘Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you.’” — Genesis 41:55
The words of the Old Testament echoed into the New when St. Joseph took Mary, already carrying the Son of God in her womb, to be his wife.
Although none of the four evangelists record any of St. Joseph’s words in their Gospel accounts, Matthew and Luke clearly and deliberately note the actions of the righteous and obedient protector and provider for Mary and Jesus.
Catholics revere St. Joseph as the patron saint of fathers, foster parents, workers, refugees, immigrants, people seeking shelter, all who hope for a happy death, and as of 150 years ago, the Universal Church.
“Him Whom countless kings and prophets had desired to see, Joseph not only saw but conversed with, and embraced in paternal affection, and kissed,” curial officials stated in a decree on Dec. 8, 1870. “He most diligently reared Him Whom the faithful were to receive as the bread that came down from heaven whereby they might obtain eternal life.”
“It has now pleased our Most Holy Sovereign, (Blessed) Pope Pius IX, in order to entrust himself and all the faithful to the Patriarch St. Joseph’s most powerful patronage, ... has solemnly declared him Patron of the Catholic Church,” the Church’s Sacred Congregation of Rites stated at that time.
“Go to Joseph”
Pope Francis marked the 150th anniversary of that declaration by calling for an entire year dedicated to St. Joseph.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight accordingly approved a slate of monthly themes for the diocese’s observance of the Year of St. Joseph:
The diocesan communication team will help bring light to each of these monthly themes through various communication channels, including social media, the diocesan and parish websites and The Catholic Missourian.
Hope and gratitude
In his Christmas homilies, Bishop McKnight encouraged the faithful to be like St. Joseph by overcoming any fear of their calling from God.
The bishop said the Mystery of Christmas has the power to lift people up and change their lives, especially at times like these in which a pandemic that has brought heartbreak and loneliness to many.
“Because of the severe isolation, some of us are tempted to depression, despair and discouragement,” he said. “In these dark times, Christmas restores our sense of hope and our sense of gratitude.”
The bishop cited as an example how the marriage of Joseph and Mary was nearly broken before Jesus’s birth, for Joseph at first could not understand what was happening.
God provided the necessary inspiration.
“Their plans and their dreams were for the birth of the child,” the bishop stated.
Even the frustrating circumstances the couple endured in Bethlehem resulted in “the most beautiful birth ever.”
“Who is not moved by the simple and humble manger scene, which depicts so eloquently God reaching as far down as possible in order to raise us up?” Bishop McKnight asked.
He said St. Joseph’s trepidation was real and well placed.
“He had almost given up because of Mary’s pregnancy,” the bishop noted. “He had a reverential fear for the great mystery of her child, not anger for Mary being pregnant, as is sometimes thought.”
But the angel visited Joseph in a dream and said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.”
The angel was actually urging him not to be afraid of his own calling from God — “his appointed task as son of David, spouse of the Virgin, and father to Jesus,” the bishop said.
As a devout Jew, Joseph knew the messianic sign that had been prophesied by Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a Son, and they shall name Him Emmanuel,” (Isaiah 7:14).
“Now, seeing Mary as both virgin and mother, he stands before the fulfillment of that prophecy,” said Bishop McKnight. “He feels his own unworthiness, and holy fear overcomes him.”
The angel keeps Joseph from allowing that laudable reverence to detour him from his appointed task.
“And so, the mystery of Christmas changed Joseph into SAINT Joseph, Husband of Mary and Foster Father of Jesus!” the bishop stated.
In like fashion, as God’s people continue to face unprecedented challenges together in the Church, in this country, within families and in this time of pandemic, “we have the message of the angels, reminding us to be not afraid, for God is always with us,” said Bishop McKnight.
“In this special year devoted to St. Joseph, may we follow his saintly example of humble trust and confidence in the merciful providence of God,” he exhorted.
Prayer and action
The Vatican tribunal that deals with matters of conscience also issued a decree Dec. 8 stating that plenary indulgences will be granted to Catholics not only through prayer and penance, but also through acts of justice, charity and piety dedicated to the foster father of Jesus.
By God’s grace, participation in a prayer or action that has an indulgence attached to it brings about the necessary restoration and reparation without the suffering that would normally accompany it.
It frees a person from the punishment their sinfulness warrants as it is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven.
Among the conditions for receiving an indulgence are a spirit detached from sin, receiving sacramental confession as soon as possible, receiving Holy Communion as soon as possible and praying for the Holy Father’s intentions.
However, the decree also highlighted several ways to obtain the indulgence throughout the year, including to those who “meditate on the prayer of the ‘Our Father’ for at least 30 minutes or take part in a spiritual retreat of at least one day that includes a meditation on St. Joseph.”
As a “just man,” the document continued, who guarded “the intimate secret that lies at the bottom of the heart and soul,” St. Joseph practiced the virtue of justice in “full adherence to the divine law, which is the law of mercy.”
“Therefore, those who, following the example of St. Joseph, will perform a corporal or spiritual work of mercy, will also be able to obtain the gift of the plenary indulgence,” it said.
Indulgences will also be granted to families and engaged couples who pray the Rosary together and thus imitate the “same climate of communion, love and prayer lived in the Holy Family.”
Other acts of devotion include entrusting one’s daily activities and prayers for dignified employment to St. Joseph, reciting the litany or any “legitimately approved” prayer to St. Joseph.
During this time of pandemic, the Apostolic Penitentiary also decreed that special indulgences will be granted to the elderly, the sick and all those who “for legitimate reasons are prevented from leaving their home” by “reciting an act of piety in honor of St. Joseph and commit to fulfilling the conditions as soon as possible.”
Junno Arocho Esteves and Carol Glatz of Catholic News Service contributed to this report.