“Do not fear for I am with you…” (Isaiah 41:10); “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). These words of the scriptures succinctly summarize the words of Jesus, through the mouth of his servant to the world that suffers from innumerable threats, a world in need of whispering hope. Exactly 342 days into a world tragedy whose first cluster was recorded in Wuhan, and 63 days after the publication of the Papal Encyclical “Fratelli Tutti”, the Holy Father addresses the world with a message of hope; he calls for a recognition of those who continue to “live in the shadows” – ordinary people whose works are often overlooked yet contribute greatly to the welfare of all. The Holy Father takes us through the ingredients that are key to our continued survival as we live through a time of dark clouds and shattered dreams. This I consider to be timely (on spot) especially as a New Year dawns. In “Fratelli Tutti’, Pope Francis describes the planet as an organism of which all of us are cells with different purposes, and yet we are intertwined serving each other and in the long run serving the whole.
From this, he took a leap by calling “all and sundry” to be active participants in the mystery of salvation, a mystery that looks forwards to the salvation of all. This is to be pursued through holy and examplary lifestyle of which Joseph is a model. The Holy Father summarily summons all Christ faithful to imitate the virtues of the earthly father of our Lord Jesus Christ, a father whose love for the son knew no borders; a father who knew that there will surely be light at the end of every tunnel, and rainbow at the end of every storm. Little wonder, the declaration of him by Blessed Pius IX as the patron of the church was greeted with no awe and kink. The fatherhood of Joseph did not end at these, instead, his outright obedience to the voice of the Father echoed through the mouthpiece of His angels, his endearing sacrifices and trust in God which knew no modicum of doubt and his simplistic lifestyle among many other sublime virtues qualify him to be a model worthy of emulation. All of these the Holy Father presents to the world in his Apostolic Letter “Patris Corde” (With a Father’s Heart).
Pope Francis in his very words describes the earthly father of Jesus in seven different ways: a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father, a creatively courageous father, a working father, and a father “in the shadows”. Each of these is a vital thread that constitutes a tapestry in the make-up of not just a true father, but members of the family wherein God pleases to dwell. Join me as I now take you on a foray on the characteristic attributes of the persona of St. Joseph, as highlighted in “Patris Corde” in bullet points.
A beloved Father
The fatherhood of St. Joseph became expressed when he made his life a sacrificial service to the mystery of incarnation. He employed his legal authority over the Holy Family to devote himself completely to them in his life and work. He turned his human vocation to domestic love and into a superhuman oblation of himself, his heart and all his abilities, a love placed at the service of the Messiah who was growing in maturity in his home. (Cf. Insegnamenti di Paulo VI, 1996, 110). All of these he poured forth, thus cooperating in the great mystery of salvation.
A tender and loving Father
In Joseph, Jesus saw the tender love of God. As the Lord had done with Israel, so Joseph did with Jesus: he taught him to walk, taking him by his hands; “he was for him like a father who raises the infant to his cheeks, bending down to him and feeding him” (Cf. Hosea 11:3-4). Not only that, Joseph equally saw Jesus grow daily “in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favour” (Lk 2:52). Through Joseph’s tender love and care, hope was worked out against all hope. He saw the bright future of the child even when the present was frustrated by challenging circumstances, the presence of an earthly king who threatened to stymie the divine plan, much more the life of the one under whose tutelage the Messiah was. Oh, what a model we have in Joseph, a father not easy to come by.
An obedient Father
As rightly pointed out by the Holy Father, Joseph declared in every situation that confronted him his own “Fiat” like those of Mary at the annunciation and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Joseph, though deeply troubled by Mary’s mysterious pregnancy, did not want to “expose” her to public disgrace and so he decided to “dismiss her quietly” (Matt. 1:19). In his role as the head of a family, Joseph taught Jesus to be obedient to his parents (Cf. 2:56) in accordance with God’s command (Cf. Ex. 20:12). By submitting himself to the divine masterpiece, he made himself a true minister of salvation.
An accepting Father
Joseph love for Mary and the child Jesus knew no bounds. First, he accepted Mary unconditionally. He trusted in the angel’s words. Today, in our world where psychological, verbal and physical violence towards women and the unborn child is so evident, Joseph appears as a figure of distinction and emulation. Often in life, things happen whose meaning we do not understand. Our first reaction is frequently one of disappointment and Apostolic Letter ‘Patris Corde’… rebellion. Joseph did the contrary by setting aside his ideas in order to accept the course of events and, mysterious as they seemed, to embrace them, took responsibility for them and made them part of his own history. On our part, in doing this, we cannot afford to trust in our own strength for only the Lord can give us the will-power needed to accept life as it is, with all its contradictions, frustrations and disappointments.
A creatively courageous Father
Joseph was the man chosen by God to guide the beginnings of redemption. He was the true “miracle” with which God saved the child and his Mother. God acted by trusting in Joseph’s creative courage. Arriving in Bethlehem and finding no lodge where Mary could give birth, Joseph took a stable and turned it to a welcoming home for the son of God (Cf. Luke 2:6-7).
A working Father
An aspect of Joseph that has been emphasized from the time of the first social Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII “Rerum Novarum”, is his relation to work. He was a carpenter who earned an honest living to provide for his family. From him, Jesus learned the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s labour. To work, as rightly posited by Pope Francis, is to participate in the work of salvation, and this is what distinguishes Man from other animals, says Battista Mondin. Working persons, whatever their job may be are cooperating with God himself and in some way become creators of the world around us.
A Father in the shadows
Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way. In Joseph, we see that Father not born but made. We see that a man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to take care of the child. Children today often seem to be orphans, lacking fathers. The world needs fathers who truly loves and in Joseph we see a father who truly loves.
The Apostolic letter leaves one with many to ponder, many to embrace as guiding principles as we continue to live through life. A few of them are listed below:
1. Amidst the tempest of life, we must never be afraid to let the Lord steer our course. At times, we want to be in complete control, but God always sees the bigger picture. Therefore, we must allow him to take the lead.
2. St. Joseph reminds us that simplicity rules the world. He reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. To them, we all owe words of recognition and gratitude.
3. Joseph’s attitude towards the infant Jesus and his bethrothed spouse encourages us to accept and welcome others as they are, without exception and to shows pecial concern for the weak, for God chooses what is weak (Cf. 1 Cor. 1:27)
4. If at times God chooses not to help us, surely this does not mean we have been abandoned, but instead, are being trusted to plan, to be creative and to find solutions ourselves. In this, God journeys with us and sees us through. May our reverence for Joseph bring us to a continuous love for the Child Jesus and his mother. As we journey through the rest of the year, though Satan should buffer and trials come, we shall conquer and it shall be well with our souls. Amen.