Joseph was "a just man". This praise bestowed by the Holy Spirit and the privilege of having been chosen by God to be the foster-father of Jesus and the spouse of the Virgin Mother, are the foundations of the honour paid to St. Joseph by the Church. Despite his important role in the life of Jesus and within the Holy Family, the veneration of St. Joseph was slow in winning recognition. There was no particular feast dedicated to St. Joseph in the early centuries of the Church, for it was only the martyrs who enjoyed veneration at that time. It was during the pontificate of Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84), that the devotion acquired greater popularity, thanks also to the efforts of the saintly men and women of those times who spread the veneration. Joseph’s name was then inserted into the Roman Calendar on 19 March. From that time the popularity of the feast and the devotions to St. Joseph grew steadily. Pope Benedict XIII, in 1726, inserted his name into the Litany of the Saints. Pope Pius IX in 1870 proclaimed him as the "Universal Patron of the Church". Pius XII later on established May 1st as a second feast day in his honour, while John XXIII in 1962 included his name in the First Eucharistic prayer of the Mass. St. Joseph is the patron saint of many countries such as Canada, Croatia and New France, the patron of fathers of families, bursars and procurators, manual workers especially carpenters and of all who desire a holy death. Joseph is the patron of the dying because, assuming he died before Jesus’ public life, he died with Jesus and Mary close to him, the way we all would like to leave this earth.
As we celebrate the solemnity of St. Joseph, we join with all the faithful throughout the world in our prayers for the Universal Church as the Holy Father, Pope Francis, officially inaugurates his pontificate today. Reflecting on the life of St. Joseph we can also find some similarities between his role and that of the Holy Father the Pope.
Matthew’s gospel presents us with a real human drama. Joseph is confronted with a problem which demands a great deal of responsibility from him. He discovered that Mary his betrothed, was pregnant with a child he did not father, and he remained doubtful whether or not to take her as his wife. Joseph however, certainly loved Mary since he would not have had this dilemma if he did not care for her at all. Yet while Joseph was pondering on this problem, the Lord himself came to him through an angel in a dream in order to comfort him and help him to decide: "Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife!" For a man to take a woman as one’s wife means to marry her, to take care of her and any children which may be born of this bond, to provide for her needs, thereby becoming a mature and responsible person. Here we have God’s pedagogy at work. While Joseph was wondering whether or not to take responsibility for Mary and her child, there came at that moment an inspiration from above which confirmed his faith: "...what she has conceived is truly of the Holy Spirit". God reconfirmed Joseph’s faith. Once Joseph had referred his problems to the Lord in his heart, the Lord answered him in a dream and provided the explanation he needed in order to make the right decision.
This provides us with an important lesson for our lives. How often it occurs that we too are caught up in important issues which require a great deal of responsibility and ultimately important decisions as well. There is no need to feel alone in such moments, but in all circumstances we should pray to the Lord for guidance, light and counsel, in order to discover His will for us. Once we refer our problems and difficulties to God in humble and faithful prayer, we can rest assured that the Lord will answer us in due time. This may come to us through a certain inspiration, by way of circumstances, through other people, or by a special grace. The fundamental requirement though, is a trusting faith in the Lord and good relationship with God.
During the recent conclave, upon his election as the Bishop of Rome and Successor of St. Peter, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, had to make a decision whether or not to accept the decision of the College of Cardinals. This is certainly not an easy decision for any Cardinal, considering the enormity of the task and the great responsibility that comes from it. However, it was as if the Lord were asking him at that moment "Do not be afraid to take the Church as your wife… for it has truly been established and is guided today by the Holy Spirit". And as Joseph trusted in what was revealed to him by the angel, so too, we believe that the Lord has given Pope Francis the necessary trusting faith to accept his election and to proceed without fear, strengthened by the Holy Spirit.
In our day and age, when young people have difficulties with important life decisions such as which field of education to follow, whether or not to get married, which vocation to choose, how and where to live their lives, it is comforting and inspiring to note that Joseph went through the same difficulties yet overcame them through faith and trust in God. Let us not be afraid then of the responsibilities our life and faith demand of us, but rather, put our trust in God’s solutions, take upon ourselves our duties and courageously affront life with steadfast faith, the faith of St. Joseph!
Though the Holy Father was only elected a week ago, he has already commenced his pastoral ministry as the Vicar of Christ and mentioned in his first homily to the Cardinal electors important words that have meaning for all of us in the Church. Pope Francis said "It is Christ who leads the Church through his Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church with His vivifying and unifying force: of many, it forms a single body, the Mystical Body of Christ. Let us never give in to that pessimism, that bitterness which the devil offers us every day. Let us not give in to pessimism and discouragement; we have that firm confidence which the Holy Spirit gives the Church, with his mighty breath, the courage to persevere and to seek new ways to evangelize, to bring the Gospel to the ends of the Earth… My wish is that all of us, after these days of grace, will have the courage, yes, the courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord’s Cross; to build the Church on the Lord’s blood which was poured out on the Cross; and to profess the one glory: Christ crucified. And in this way, the Church will go forward… My prayer for all of us is that the Holy Spirit, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother, will grant us this grace: to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ crucified. ("MISSA PRO ECCLESIA" with the Cardinal Electors, 14 March 2013.)
As we invoke the intercession of St. Joseph upon the Church and upon the Holy Father Pope Francis, let us remain united in prayer and service as humble, faithful, trusting sons and daughters of God in our local Church here in Kuwait and witness for Christ the Lord in the little and challenging things of our daily lives.
In conclusion, let us listen to and recall part of what Pope Francis said from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on the day of his election to the many faithful who joyfully greeted him in St. Peter’s Square. "And now, we take up this journey… A journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world, that there may be a great spirit of fraternity." (Apostolic Blessing "Urbi et Orbi", 13 March 2013). Amen.