On December 8th, I celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a special feast day for all of us because Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception, is the patron saint for the United States of America.
Before the final blessing, I said a special prayer to Saint Joseph, the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That prayer to Saint Joseph was composed by Pope Francis. It was prayed at the Mass which completed a Year of Saint Joseph that Pope Francis initiated.
His main reason for focusing on Saint Joseph during the past 12 months was to look for some outside help for all of us who have faced various challenges during the time of the Coronavirus pandemic. Pope Francis said, by following the example of Saint Joseph, who is the patron saint of the entire Catholic Church throughout the world, our faith could be strengthened in our daily life in a way that seek to fulfill God’s will.
At the beginning of the Year of Saint Joseph, Pope Francis explained that his desire to turn to Saint Joseph increased during these months of the pandemic because he saw that so many people had made hidden sacrifices during the crisis in order to protect others (just as Saint Joseph did with the Holy Family).
Pope Francis explained that each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support, and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.
The story of Saint Joseph is integral to the story of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. Saint Joseph was a just man who wanted to do the right thing by following God’s commandments. He could have “divorced” Mary by calling off the wedding when she found out she was pregnant. But Joseph learned in a dream that he had nothing to fear about taking Mary as his wife. Everything that was happening was to show that it was God’s plan how the Savior would be born.
Joseph has always inspired me by his sense of justice, his prayerfulness, and his honor and commitment to his obligations toward others. Saint Joseph reminds me of so many men and husbands I have known who are quiet, but not withdrawn. They are like Saint Joseph who was strong and decisive. He did not hesitate to listen to the angel who told him to take Mary and the infant Jesus immediately because the jealous Herod was out to get him.
Saint Joseph got Mary and the child Jesus through some very difficult times and circumstances. Which suggests that even when Christmas may still be a little “off” again this year because of the pandemic, the way for it to be alright is to follow the example of Joseph.
At this time of the year, our eyes and our hearts focus on images of an infant asleep on the hay of a manger. It is an image of calm and restfulness. From the tradition of Saint Joseph having heard an angel sharing God’s plan in a dream, there is an image of Saint Joseph who is lying down, asleep.
Pope Francis has observed that it’s hard to sleep when life is turned upside down; like during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many wives and husbands have had sleepless nights because they were worried about or busy caring for their children.
Pope Francis has a statue of Saint Joseph who is lying down, asleep, and every night he writes down a prayer intention on a piece of paper and places it under the image. It has helped the Holy Father find a place to go with the burdens that he bears for the good of others in the Church and in the world.
Pope Francis is not shy about describing how he can sleep more peacefully by knowing that he has placed those questions, challenges, and burdens in the care of Saint Joseph, who is the patron saint of the universal Church.
Thanks be to God for the Mother of God, the one who is called the Immaculate Conception. How many Hail Mary’s have gone her way this past year? And thanks be to God for Saint Joseph who slept well, and lived life so well because he shared all of his questions, challenges, and burdens with the Lord in prayer. And that’s the same Lord that Joseph watched over in the stable in Bethlehem.
Tired of this whole COVID thing? Tired of being tired? Who isn’t! As we continue to move forward in our journey of faith in a New Year, I encourage you to find in Saint Joseph a person who understands the worst and the best of life.