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St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church

Homily for the Solemnity of St. Joseph

St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Pope Pius IX’s declaration of St Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. To celebrate the anniversary, Pope Francis has proclaimed a special “Year of St Joseph” in which we find ourselves this morning on our annual solemnity of St. Joseph. In the apostolic letter marking this observance, Pope Francis noted that St. Joseph was “a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father; a father who is creatively courageous, a working father, and a father in the shadows.

Pope Francis wrote his letter against the backdrop of the Covid 19 pandemic which has helped us see more clearly the importance of “ordinary” people who, though far from the limelight, exercise patience and offer hope every day. In this, they resemble Saint Joseph, “the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence,” who nonetheless played “an incomparable role in the history of salvation.” In St. Joseph, “Jesus saw the tender love of God,” the one that helps us accept our weakness, because “it is through” and despite “our fears, our frailties, and our weakness” that most divine designs are realized.

Though each of the Gospels mentions his name, it is usually a reference to Jesus, the son of Joseph. It is only in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that we hear stories of how Joseph came to be the foster father of Jesus and what God asked of him in that role. In the Gospel of Matthew, an angel announces Jesus’ birth to Joseph and also asks him to flee with Jesus and his mother to Egypt. We are told that both messages were communicated through a dream. Several characters in the Hebrew Scriptures had similar encounters. Abraham was told of the birth of his son Isaac in a dream. Jacob wrestled with an angel in a dream. Joseph not only dreamed of his future, but grew to be an interpreter of dreams. Elijah and Elisha heard God’s voice in a dreamlike state as did several of the prophets including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, the four major prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. Consequently, Joseph is regarded as a bridge between the two testaments. As a faithful Jew, a part of the remnant of Israel, God used him to inaugurate the new covenant which is consummated in Jesus’ death.

Because we have so little information about Joseph in the Gospels, his story has been enlarged and embellished by spiritual writers throughout the history of the Church. Pope Francis chose the Solemnity of St. Joseph as the day on which he would begin his papal ministry eight years ago today. He has shown us in his letter how important Joseph is to him in that ministry. He revealed in the letter that he has prayed a short prayer to St. Joseph every morning for the past forty years after praying Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. The prayer is taken from a nineteenth-century French prayer book of the Congregation of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary.” This prayer, he says, expresses devotion and trust, and even poses a certain challenge to Saint Joseph,” on account of its closing words: “My beloved father, all my trust is in you.  Let it not be said that I invoked you in vain, and since you can do everything with Jesus and Mary, show me that your goodness is as great as your power.”

At the conclusion of his Letter, he added another prayer to St Joseph, which he encouraged all of us to pray together. We have been using that prayer every Wednesday for the past few months. Let us now pray it together as we celebrate this solemnity:

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.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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