The Year of St. Joseph

Years ago, in December of 1964, our founder Sr. Mary Elizabeth was at a turning point in her life. Unsure of her next move, she decided to make a pilgrimage to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, the largest shrine in the world dedicated to St. Joseph. She went there to have a heart-to-heart talk with the shrine’s namesake. Sr. Mary Elizabeth believed she had a calling from God, “a call within a call,” to begin a new mission of service to the poor. The problem was, she was alone and had absolutely nothing. How could she do what was being asked of her? She needed help.

So she went to St. Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth, the one chosen by God to love and care for Jesus and His mother Mary, the one who protected them from danger, established a home for them and provided for their needs. She entrusted to St. Joseph all of her hopes and dreams, the desires of her heart that we’re waiting to be fulfilled. After spending long hours in prayer, she left the shrine and returned to Baltimore. She had a few ideas about the next steps to take, and confidence that she wasn’t really alone. Within a year she started the Joseph House ministry.

Now in December of 2020, in the midst of a pandemic that has caused suffering across the globe, Pope Francis is asking all the faithful to “Go to Joseph” (Gen 41:55). To highlight the unique importance of this saint, the Pope recently announced a “Year of St. Joseph,” extending from December 8, 2020 to December 8, 2021.

The purpose of this year is to encourage the faithful to learn from and follow the example of this beloved saint. In so doing, according to the official decree, people may find “with the help of St. Joseph, head of the heavenly Family of Nazareth, comfort and relief from the serious human and social tribulations which today afflict the contemporary world.”

To coincide with this “Year of St. Joseph,” Pope Francis has written an Apostolic Letter entitled Patris Corde (“With a Father’s Heart”), which refers to “how Joseph loved Jesus, whom all four Gospels refer to as ‘the son of Joseph.’”

The Letter presents a personal and prayerful look at the life and actions of St. Joseph in the Gospels. Special emphasis is given to Joseph’s role as a father, with Pope Francis describing him as a beloved, tender and loving, obedient, accepting, creatively courageous, and working father, as well as a father in the shadows.

The entire Letter is worth reading. Here is the link for the online text of Patris Corde:
http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco-lettera-ap_20201208_patris-corde.html

Below are a few noteworthy passages:

“I would like to share some personal reflections on this extraordinary figure, so close to our own human experience. For, as Jesus says, ‘out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks’ (Mt 12:34). My desire to do so 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.”

“Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.”

A painting of St. Joseph at the Joseph House Crisis Center.

“Even through Joseph’s fears, God’s will, his history and his plan were at work. Joseph, then, teaches us that faith in God includes believing that he can work even through our fears, our frailties and our weaknesses. He also teaches us that amid the tempests of life, we must never be afraid to let the Lord steer our course. At times, we want to be in complete control, yet God always sees the bigger picture.”

“Nor should we ever think that believing means finding facile and comforting solutions. The faith Christ taught us is what we see in Saint Joseph. He did not look for shortcuts, but confronted reality with open eyes and accepted personal responsibility for it.”

“Just as God told Joseph: ‘Son of David, do not be afraid!’ (Mt 1:20), so he seems to tell us: ‘Do not be afraid!’ We need to set aside all anger and disappointment, and to embrace the way things are, even when they do not turn out as we wish. Not with mere resignation but with hope and courage. In this way, we become open to a deeper meaning. Our lives can be miraculously reborn if we find the courage to live them in accordance with the Gospel. It does not matter if everything seems to have gone wrong or some things can no longer be fixed. God can make flowers spring up from stony ground. Even if our heart condemns us, ‘God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything’ (1 Jn 3:20).”

“Working persons, whatever their job may be, are cooperating with God himself, and in some way become creators of the world around us. The crisis of our time, which is economic, social, cultural and spiritual, can serve as a summons for all of us to rediscover the value, the importance and necessity of work for bringing about a new ‘normal’ from which no one is excluded.”

“Fathers are not born, but made. A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child. Whenever a man accepts responsibility for the life of another, in some way he becomes a father to that person.”

“Our world today needs fathers. It has no use for tyrants who would domineer others as a means of compensating for their own needs. It rejects those who confuse authority with authoritarianism, service with servility, discussion with oppression, charity with a welfare mentality, power with destruction.”

“The aim of this Apostolic Letter is to increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal. Indeed, the proper mission of the saints is not only to obtain miracles and graces, but to intercede for us before God, like Abraham and Moses, and like Jesus, the ‘one mediator’ (1 Tim 2:5), who is our ‘advocate’ with the Father (1 Jn 2:1) and who ‘always lives to make intercession for [us]’ (Heb 7:25; cf. Rom 8:34). The saints help all the faithful ‘to strive for the holiness and the perfection of their particular state of life.’ Their lives are concrete proof that it is possible to put the Gospel into practice.”


The journey that Sr. Mary Elizabeth made in 1964 was an expression of her determination and faith. The shrine sits high above Montreal and one must climb many steps to reach it. But as it is in life, each step brought her closer to the goal.

It has been a hard year for everyone, and many people are feeling worn out and exhausted. The steps seem never-ending. Even if we feel like there is no one beside us, we can always reach out to St. Joseph. He will help us obtain the graces we need.

Our ministry is named after St. Joseph. We depend on his help all the time. The “Year of St. Joseph” is a blessing for the world, and we encourage everyone to spend some time getting acquainted with this trustworthy saint.

P.S. St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal is beautiful. Here is the link for the website to make a virtual visit: https://www.saint-joseph.org/en/

When St. Joseph Sleeps

As Head of the Holy Family, extraordinary demands were placed on St. Joseph, and he worked hard at being the best husband and father he could be. This involved not only doing, but listening. St. Joseph was receptive to God’s will, and that set the course for the action he took. His life turned out far differently from the one he had planned. And for that we are eternally grateful!

To be strong yet pliable: the same attitude can guide us as we look after the people entrusted to our care.

During an apostolic journey to the Philippines in 2015, Pope Francis spoke about the importance of St. Joseph, what we can learn from him, and how we can trust in his prayers. His remarks were given at a meeting with families at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila. Here is an excerpt:

The Scriptures seldom speak of St. Joseph, but when they do, we often find him resting, as an angel reveals God’s will to him in his dreams….

I am very fond of dreams in families. For nine months every mother and father dream about their baby. Am I right? [Yes!] They dream about what kind of child he or she will be… You can’t have a family without dreams. Once a family loses the ability to dream, children do not grow, love does not grow, life shrivels up and dies.

So I ask you each evening, when you make your examination of conscience, to also ask yourselves this question: Today did I dream about my children’s future? Today did I dream about the love of my husband, my wife? Did I dream about my parents and grandparents who have gone before me? Dreaming is very important. Especially dreaming in families. Do not lose this ability to dream!

How many difficulties in married life are resolved when we leave room for dreaming, when we stop a moment to think of our spouse, and we dream about the goodness present in the good things all around us. So it is very important to reclaim love by what we do each day. Do not ever stop being newlyweds!…

Rest is so necessary for the health of our minds and bodies, and often so difficult to achieve due to the many demands placed on us. But rest is also essential for our spiritual health, so that we can hear God’s voice and understand what he asks of us.

Joseph was chosen by God to be the foster father of Jesus and the husband of Mary. As Christians, you too are called, like Joseph, to make a home for Jesus. To make a home for Jesus! You make a home for him in your hearts, your families, your parishes and your communities….

Demonstrating the receptive pose of St. Joseph.

I would also like to tell you something very personal. I have great love for St. Joseph, because he is a man of silence and strength. On my table I have an image of St. Joseph sleeping. Even when he is asleep, he is taking care of the Church! Yes! We know that he can do that. So when I have a problem, a difficulty, I write a little note and I put it underneath St. Joseph, so that he can dream about it! In other words I tell him: pray for this problem!

The Value of Work

A good book opens with a good introduction, and the Bible has one of the best.

The stately verses of Chapter 1 of Genesis reveal a truth to remember: God made the universe with coherence and meaning. We can easily imagine the inspired author of the text looking up at the nighttime sky with awe. Existence begins with God saying, “Let there be…,” and is capped with the words, “It is good.” We are hemmed in by His presence. The word of God is beneath everything that is, and everything that is has received His blessing. Nothing is beyond the realm of His care.

Although the Bible says God rested on the seventh day, His creative power never ends. He endowed human beings with the capacity to reflect His divine initiative in creation. That is, God gave us the ability to work. What we can do with both our hands and minds puts us in a unique, and privileged, position in the world. And as always, privilege begets responsibility.

Since we are more than animals — we are imago Dei, the image of God — we can move beyond the domain of instinct. Through our conscious, deliberate activity we can shape the world around us. We can transform the raw material of the earth and create the things we need, even things for the sake of beauty alone.

Ordinarily, work is intentional, it is a choice, and thus it is a moral act. It can be for good or for evil.

We can never think of the value of work and its spiritual and ethical dimensions without calling to mind our beloved Saint Joseph. He is honored with a feast day on May 1 under the title “St. Joseph the Worker” because work is more than just labor, more than just a way to make money. Work helps to make the world more “human.” It provides food and shelter and also creates culture. It unites people, makes us interdependent, and is one of the foundations of family life. Through work, the blessing that God extended over creation can reach everyone.

Work is a way to holiness. It involves the giving of ourselves in some form. There is a reason why God chose the carpenter of Nazareth to be a parent to His Son.

The first of May has always been important to us. Sr. Mary Elizabeth held the dedication ceremony of the first Joseph House in Baltimore on this day in 1966. We continue to celebrate St. Joseph the Worker with a measure of solemnity, but never by taking the day off. According to Sister, it was the perfect occasion to do the chores that never got done, such as cleaning the dust from the ceiling fans!

The ultimate value of a particular type of work is found not in the work itself, but in the people doing it. The Joseph House and the Little Sisters have always called upon their members to exercise a variety of work. Although the work may be humble, it is never without dignity.

The Son of God became man and worked with human hands. Work then has a dignity of its own in God’s plan for creation. — St. John Paul II

Work is a Good Thing

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A number of years ago, a young man went to work in a limestone quarry. He worked all day outdoors in all types of weather. He broke up stone and carried buckets of lime on a wooden yoke across his shoulders. His hands cracked from the labor and bitter cold of the elements. He was a smart man, capable of many things, but harsh circumstances left him few options. He later recalled this time as one of hardship and monotony, the work as alienating and frustrating.

The man persevered, the times changed, and with the grace of God he went on to greater things. From his experiences he learned the value of meaningful work. He would later write:

Work is a good thing for man. It corresponds to man’s dignity, expresses this dignity and increases it. Work is a good thing for his humanity because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but also achieves fulfillment as a human being, and indeed in a sense becomes ‘more a human being.’

These words appeared in the encyclical “On Human Work” written by Pope John Paul II. The document expresses how the Church sees work as fundamentally important to living a fully human life. When a person works, the work in turn “works” on the person. Work shapes us, it forms us, it builds character. Work can also destroy us. Work can be used to degrade and oppress people. The type of work we do, or the lack of work at all, can leave a gaping hole in our humanity. Then we do not experience the dignity of people created in the image and likeness of God. The Pope saw this himself when he became a working man during the Nazi occupation of his native Poland.

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(Pope John Paul II during his time working in a quarry, 1940’s.)

Work is serious business. Ideally work should be an invigorating challenge. We are lucky if it seems like play. Unfortunately for many people, work is a “problem.” Getting trained for work, getting transportation to work, finding work that provides security, work that pays the bills, work that realizes our potential, work that is a blessing to us and to others, work that supports our dignity — these are serious problems for many people today.

For help with these problems, we look to our patron, St. Joseph. God chose Joseph to be a father to Jesus for a reason. God knew that in his workshop, Joseph would not only teach Jesus how to be a carpenter, but how to be a human being. Working side by side with Joseph during the long years of His hidden life, Jesus learned the life of virtue.

Jesus blessed the working life through the Incarnation. Work can be redeeming. It can bring healing and growth to a person’s life.

May 1 is the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. We pray:

Good Saint Joseph, with your abilities you supported your family and served your community. In your daily work you made more than tables and chairs; you crafted virtue, and forged your soul. Help me to make my work a means of holiness, too.

Saint Joseph, carpenter of Nazareth, come to the aid of those who are unemployed and those burdened with oppressive work.

Amen.

St. Joseph: Patron of Vatican Council II

Saint John XXIII had a great devotion to St. Joseph and was sometimes called the Pope of St. Joseph.

On this day in 1961, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, he named St. Joseph as the patron and protector of the Second Vatican Council.

The Council, an opportunity to “throw open the windows of the Church,” addressed the renewal of church life in the modern world. The role of the laity received attention, and it is fitting that St. Joseph was declared to be the Council’s patron.

Consider this passage from Lumen Gentium, one of the principal Council documents. It pertains to the universal call to holiness:

“The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one — that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity.”

As the Head of the Holy Family and the carpenter of Nazareth, St. Joseph is the prime example of the holiness found in everyday living.

The above picture shows a mosaic from the sanctuary dome at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC (nationalshrine.com). It depicts St. Joseph as the protector of the church and the patron of families and working people. On the right is John XXIII presiding at the Second Vatican Council.

Our eyes are always drawn to the strong hands of Joseph as he holds the Child Jesus in his arms. We too can rest in the heavenly protection of St. Joseph. Perhaps if you have never been to the Shrine you will one day make a visit and see this magnificent mosaic in person.