This Year, Let’s Go to Joseph
In December, Pope Francis declared the “Year of St. Joseph” — a time for a renewed devotion to the foster-father of Jesus and Mary’s husband. The declaration came on the 150th anniversary of Joseph being named the patron of the universal Church, but it caught my attention because he’s also patron of fathers.
My own dad has a special devotion to St. Joseph ever since he joined the Catholic Church before he married my mom. And our family is currently surrounded by places named after this saint: we are members of St. Joseph Catholic Church, which sits next to the St. Joseph River in St. Joseph County. When I had my appendix removed a few years back, it was at St. Joseph Hospital. It kind of feels like Joseph has been chasing me down for a while.
The Litany of St. Joseph is printed on the inside cover of the hymnals at our parish, so when we arrive early, I often pray through the titles of St. Joseph. Seeing his many roles is inspiring: Mirror of Patience, Lover of Poverty, Model of Workers. Those three titles alone each call me to imitate Joseph in different ways in family life — they call me to be more humble, more concerned with serving Stacey and the kids, a better example through my deeds.
And that’s not even to mention my favorite title for Joseph: Terror of Demons! Joseph earned that title despite the fact that not a single word from him is found in the Bible. We remember and honor him for what he DID — his actions made him terrifying to demons because he was responsive to God’s will.
God spoke to Joseph four times in dreams, and each time, Joseph reacted decisively and promptly. He put his neck on the line to bring Mary into his home when she was found to be pregnant before they were married. He packed up their lives overnight and fled to Egypt when danger loomed. And when they moved back, they settled in a strange place — Nazareth — to keep Jesus safe.
All of these actions were prompted by dreams, but they required Joseph to be in tune with God, to begin with. He was able to clearly hear God speaking through these dreams — there was not a second line of thought competing in his head. I imagine Joseph being diligent in prayer — a quiet, humble man who had no trouble recognizing the truth when it found him, and who immediately re-organized his life to follow it.
That kind of faithfulness is inspiring to me as a father. It calls me to be faithful in my actions with our family so that it’s my example that speaks.
Pope Francis shared his own reflections on St. Joseph when he declared this a year of special devotion to the saint. It’s a short read, and worth contemplating. One line, in particular, stuck out to me: “Every child is the bearer of a unique mystery that can only be brought to light with the help of a father who respects that child’s freedom.”
Pope Francis goes on to connect authentic love with freedom — the love we have for our children should be a gift of self that allows them to gain their independence and, in turn, give of themselves to others. St. Joseph shows us this — he “always knew that his child was not his own but had merely been entrusted to his care,” explains Pope Francis.
This freedom reminds me to respect the dignity of each of our kids — to see them for who they are and the people they are growing to be. Most of our work as parents is comprised of active, formative direction: do this, don’t do that, etc. It is our job to hold our kids accountable and take a firm hand in guiding them through their lives. But Joseph reminds me that this guidance needs to be balanced with a recognition of the “unique mystery” each of them is.
Lucy, for example, has a quick wit and creative drive. She doesn’t like to be rushed and is organized. Simon has an active imagination and an empathetic heart. He is diligent but is careful about what he commits himself to. Oscar is responsible and duty-driven, but he likes to give himself options. Stacey and I are very organized, and we’ve learned to give him room to follow-through on tasks in his own way.
All of this means that parenting is always a child-by-child endeavor. While we have family customs and traditions and values, we approach each decision differently, given the child involved. St. Joseph reminds me to have an open hand in parenting — these kids aren’t really ours, in the end. They belong to God and will soon take their place in the world with their own families and vocations. Our job is to help them grow into the people God created them to be.
So my New Year’s resolution is to pray to St. Joseph every day — either the litany or this prayer that concluded Pope Francis’ reflections:
Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy, and courage,
and defend us from every evil. Amen.