My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As you know, March 19 is the day we celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church.
It is interesting that St. John Paul II had, and Pope Francis has a special devotion to St. Joseph. St. John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Redemptoris Custos wrote, “On the Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church,” allows us to recognize the wealth of the Scriptural basis for understanding the role of St. Joseph in caring for the Savior.
Joseph is the silent man of the Gospel, the man in a certain sense who is the backdrop against which we understand the role of Mary, the Mother of the Savior; it is he who protects her from shame, he who protects the newborn infant. It is he who guards the mystery of God himself. St. John Paul II recognized St. Joseph as one who could mirror for us the service of fatherhood.
In our own culture, so many problems arise in families for those who seek their fathers who are lost to them in one way or another. This causes havoc in our society. The relationship of a person to his or her father is critical in forming our personalities, our understanding of authority and our ability to show care and love. Yes, others have their own roles, but fathers truly are unique. St. Joseph gives us an insight into the strong image of fatherhood that is so needed in our world today.
Pope Francis sees another side of St. Joseph, mirrored by his devotion to a statue which he keeps in his room: the sleeping St. Joseph. Joseph truly was one to whom God spoke to in dreams. He was told in a dream that he should not put Mary aside. He was told in another dream to flee to Egypt to protect Jesus and Mary. The relatively new image of Joseph asleep is something Pope Francis seems to enjoy.
On his trip to the Philippines, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, said, “I have a 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!”
St. Joseph was proclaimed Patron of the Universal Church by Pope Pius IX, who declared him “Patron of the Catholic Church.”
Pope Leo XIII put it this way, “The reasons why Saint Joseph must be considered the special Patron of the Church, and the Church, in turn, draws exceeding hope from his care and patronage, chiefly arise from his having been the husband of Mary and the presumed father of Jesus … Joseph was in his day the lawful and natural guardian, head and defender of the Holy Family.”
The Church, the Bride of Christ, is always in need of a defender. In our own day and age, it seems that the Church is always on the defense. Hardly a day passes without someone calling attention to some defect or conflict within the Church. Hardly ever do we see news of good accomplishments in the Church, only because the Church stands for so much that our current culture wishes to change.
As we know, St. Joseph is also the Patron of a happy death. Presumably, Joseph died surrounded by Jesus and Mary. He was assisted to give his life back to God by the God-Man, and Mary, the Mother of God.
Would that each one of us at the end of our lives have that same assistance which is available to us as we choose a natural death, sometimes with suffering, but always with resignation? Assisted suicide in our society today is less necessary than ever. The availability of palliative care makes the end of life bearable, but also gives it true meaning. Ending a life for whatever reason cries in the face of the Creator Himself.
In these days of the coronavirus pandemic, we necessarily are fearful of catching this dreaded influenza for which the pneumonia it causes has had little help by the antibiotics available.
In this Lent, it makes us stop and think about death, as worldwide many are dying. This is an opportunity for us to make St. Joseph our special intercessor in asking his protection against the continual spread of the virus.
In an abundance of caution, we have canceled Masses, closed our schools, religious education programs, as well as postponed many events with more than 500 persons present. As you know, the State of New York and City of New York have requested that no gatherings over 500 be held.
Our diocesan office staff will be partly working from home so that less than half of the staff is in at one time. These precautions are necessary, and I pray to St. Joseph that they will be sufficient to curb the spread of the virus.
We might also include St. Patrick in our intercessory prayer. Although the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade was postponed, St. Patrick looks kindly on those who pray to him. Remember, he rid Ireland of snakes; ask him to rid us of this new scourge.
The Church will continually put out into the deep waters of protecting life. At this time in the State of New York, we fly to the patronage of St. Joseph. We are told “Go to Joseph” when we are in need of his intercession, that we might protect life from its natural beginning to its natural end.
Follow Bishop DiMarzio: