Updated: Dec 18, 2020
Earlier this week Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Letter entitled Patris Corde (“With a Father’s Heart”)
by which he declared a special one year celebration of St. Joseph. The official reason for why he did so is
that this is the 150th anniversary of Pope Pius IX naming St. Joseph the “Patron of the Universal Church”
in 1870. So during this special anniversary year, Pope Francis wishes to extend special indulgences to
those who would honor St. Joseph.
However, besides the fact it is such an important anniversary year, I think that given all we have lived
through with the coronavirus in 2020 (and all we will still be living through at least until the early part of
next year) we could not have a more fitting time for the Church to be calling our attention to this wonderful saint and powerful protector. Especially during this season of Advent as we begin to gradually fix our
attention on the birth of Christ in Bethlehem so long ago, meditating on the figure of Joseph and what he
went through during those months can help us during our own struggles in the present day.
Childbirth in ancient times, under the best of circumstances, was not an easy thing. Without any of the
benefits of modern medicine, there is much that could go wrong that posed a serious risk to both baby and
mother. Even under ideal circumstances it would be reasonable to think Joseph would be growing increasingly nervous as the time for the child’s birth drew near. But, of course, Joseph and Mary were not under
anything close to ideal circumstances. They had to leave their home, their village, the friends and neighbors who no doubt would have provided assistance (and moral support) during the birth. They had to
make an arduous journey of approximately 90 miles across difficult and hilly terrain. Estimates are, given
the fact Mary was late in her pregnancy, they likely were only going about 10 miles per day. December
weather in the Holy Land would not be pleasant for travel, either. Night time temperatures would typically
drop into the 40’s, and rain would be common. Plus there would always be potential dangers during the
journey, ranging from wild animals to bands of robbers.
Nor did things get better upon arriving in Bethlehem, where they would have found the small town overrun with travelers like themselves… so much so that there was not so much as a single room to be found
anywhere they looked. The best Joseph could find as a place for his beloved wife to give birth was a manger.
This was the reality Joseph was facing leading up to his wife going into childbirth. All of these other factors they were facing made something that was already difficult far more complex, confusing, and dangerous. He was facing a situation that was unprecedented and for which there was no clear ideal path forward.
And it is in that reality that all of us have been living in 2020. Life in the modern world is rarely “easy”
even during normal times. But during these past months of 2020, the pandemic has made everything more
complex. We have faced crossroads in which the path forward has rarely been clear. Even everyday activities like obtaining groceries are now far more complicated and risky. Many of us have spent months separated from our loved ones. And as we look forward to the upcoming new year, the one thing we know for
sure is that at least the early months of 2021 are unlikely to look any different than these latter months of
So let us turn to Joseph. Joseph the silent. Joseph the strong. Joseph the humble. Joseph the loving. Joseph, the guardian and protector of the Blessed Mother and the Christ child. In the midst of our uncertainty, we can cast our anxieties on him. We can entrust ourselves, and our families, and our parish family to
his special care and patronage. He watched over Mary and Jesus with such tender strength and love. If we
ask, he will watch over us in just the same way.
Fr. John Paul