There are many reasons to be grateful for Pope Francis’s decision to proclaim 2021 as the Year of St. Joseph. The past year was an extraordinarily difficult time. The pandemic caused serious problems for millions of people including illness, death, unemployment, financial hardship and social unrest.
To recover from this chaos, we desperately need the calm, steady guidance of a saint known for “being present” in times of trouble and for responding calmly (with courage) when asked to uproot his family and flee to safety.
But there’s another reason why St. Joseph is an appropriate saint for our time — his silence. Nowhere in the New Testament does Joseph speak. He is a man of action, a hard worker and, as Pope Francis says in his Apostolic Letter “Patris Corde” (“With a Father’s Heart”), Joseph is a sensitive, respectful husband and father.
The fact that none of the evangelists recorded any of Joseph’s spoken words suggests that he was taciturn, a man of few words, and that his silence speaks to us more loudly than any words could do. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in his Angelus message on Dec. 18, 2005, “St. Joseph’s silence does not express an inner emptiness but, on the contrary, the fullness of the faith he bears in his heart and which guides his every thought and action.”
Last year was an especially noisy year with lots of shouting, tweeting, name calling and loud political mudslinging. Much of this talk was the opposite of the contemplative silence that makes wise decisions possible especially when confronted with unprecedented challenges like those we are facing today. We need the example, and intercession, of a saint such as Joseph who can help us keep calm in the face of danger and uncertainty, and who can show us how to keep quiet and listen attentively to the voice of God who speaks to us when we least expect him.
In “Patris Corde,” Pope Francis tells us, “After Mary, the Mother of God, no saint is mentioned more frequently in the papal magisterium than Joseph, her spouse.” Recent popes have all called our attention to the man behind the scenes in the infancy narratives, the “Patron of the Catholic Church,” the “Guardian of the Redeemer,” the “Patron of Workers,” and the “Patron of a Happy Death.” His presence is significant. His silence is profound.
Pope Francis writes that he has thought of St. Joseph often in recent times because, in a very real way, this great saint is, first and foremost, an ordinary man. As the pope says:
My desire to (write about St. Joseph) increased during these months of pandemic, when we experienced, amid the crisis, how “our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked. People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines, or on the latest television show, yet in these very days are surely shaping the decisive events of our history. Doctors, nurses, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caregivers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests, men and women religious, and so very many others. They understood that no one is saved alone… How many people daily exercise patience and offer hope, taking care to spread not panic, but shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday ways, how to accept and deal with a crisis by adjusting their routines, looking ahead and encouraging the practice of prayer. How many are praying, making sacrifices and interceding for the good of all”….
This is the kind of saint we need now more than ever — one who speaks to what Francis calls “next door saints.”
Joseph the Worker, pray for all who are suffering from financial hardships. Joseph the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, pray for families of every shape and description.
Joseph the silent, steady protector, pray for those who are most vulnerable in times of crisis. Joseph the patron of a happy death, pray for all terminally ill patients and for their caregivers, family members and friends. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church, pray for all of us, God’s children. We need your help now more than ever!