Fr. Doyle writes that it’s time for the Church call a ‘Year of St. Joseph’ . . .
Pope Leo XIII made this observation in 1889: “We see faith, the root of all the Christian virtues, lessening in many souls; we see charity growing cold, the young generation daily growing in depravity of morals and views, the Church of Jesus Christ attacked on every side.”
Sound familiar? In order to address and hopefully correct this situation, Leo decided to call upon St. Joseph for heavenly intercession. The result was Quamquam Pluries (On Devotion to St. Joseph), the first encyclical letter on St. Joseph. It was promulgated on Aug. 15, 1889. The date is significant: the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. Joseph is always linked to his beloved spouse, Mary, because the two had become one in a real and true marriage. Henceforth, all papal documents concerning Joseph would be proclaimed on a feast of the Blessed Mother.
Exactly 100 years to the day after Quamquam Pluries, St. John Paul II issued an apostolic exhortation, Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer) on the person of St. Joseph in the life of Christ and the Church. The world has not improved since the time of Leo XIII. Indeed, the 20th century was the most violent in human history.
Unlike Leo, John Paul didn’t call on Joseph to use his heavenly influence to remedy the evils of the times. Rather he held up Joseph as an example for all to follow. Who could ignore John Paul’s subtle pedagogy as he addressed some of the most vital issues of the 20th and 21st centuries: marriage, fatherhood, work and the interior life?
With regard to marriage, John Paul is best known for his Theology of the Body, a collection of teachings on the nature of human sexuality. Based on these theological perspectives, he summarizes his teaching on the spousal love of husband and wife as “deepening within it everything that bespeaks an exclusive gift of self, a covenant between persons, and an authentic communion according to the model of the Blessed Trinity” (Redemptoris Custos, #19). Although Joseph and Mary lived out their spousal love in a unique way, husbands and wives today can learn from them.
There is little doubt that there is a crisis of fatherhood in our culture today, especially in the Western world. While there are good and faithful fathers, many are physically and emotionally absent from their families. Likewise, some are either actively brutal or passively weak, in which case the mother often assumes responsibilities forfeited by the irresponsible father. St. Joseph offers married men an example of authentic fatherhood.
Two years after Quamquam Pluries, Leo XIII promulgated the encyclical Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of Workers, 1891), which opened the door to a “theology of work.” This theology later developed in Poland thanks to Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski and Cardinal Karol Wojtyła. It gained global prominence with the Solidarity movement under Lech Walesa. In 1981, John Paul proclaimed the “gospel of work” in his encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), which focused on the dignity of all human work.
St. Joseph’s place in the economy of salvation is to be found in the carpenter’s shop with Jesus at his side. In Redemptoris Custos, John Paul states that “work was the daily expression of love in the life of the family of Nazareth” (#22). Joseph is known as the Patron of the Interior Life. John Paul, in the conclusion of Redemptoris Custos, speaks of Joseph with words such as “silence,” “deep contemplation, and “love of the truth.” Those who are interested in making progress in the spiritual life should have Joseph as their guide.
Finally, where do we go from here? We could start by fulfilling Leo XIII’s request made 125 years ago in his prayer “To You, O Blessed Joseph” to be recited after praying the rosary, especially during the month of October. John Paul gives a shortened, easy-to-memorize version in Redemptoris Custos:
“Most beloved father, dispel the evil of falsehood and sin/Graciously assist us from heaven in our struggle with the powers of darkness/And just as once you saved the child Jesus from mortal danger, so now defend God’s Holy Church from the snares of her enemies and from all adversity” (#31).
Is it time for an ecclesiastical “Year of St. Joseph” to honor his exalted place in the history of our salvation? An appropriate year would be 2017, the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s apparition at Fatima. Although she appeared to the children several times, she was always alone — until Oct. 13, 1917, when St. Joseph appeared with the child Jesus in his arms, together blessing the world. Now is the time to acknowledge his blessings and follow his example!
FATHER JOSEPH M. DOYLE, SSJ, is the co-chaplain of Legatus’ New Orleans Chapter and former principal of St. Augustine High School.