Shepherd's Voice

ARCHBISHOP LUCAS: St. Joseph put God’s plan first

In this week’s discussion, Archbishop George J. Lucas and communications manager David Hazen discuss the Year of St. Joseph, inaugurated by Pope Francis last month in an apostolic letter, “Patris Corde.” The archbishop explains that St. Joseph is an excellent model of holiness to imitate as the pandemic continues to take its toll. Just as God asked St. Joseph to embrace a different life from the one he had planned, so too can we grow in holiness by following God’s plan during this unexpected and difficult time.

Q: In his letter “Patris Corde,” Pope Francis called for the universal Church to observe a year of St. Joseph, from Dec. 8, 2020, to Dec. 8, 2021. Why is the Holy Father asking us to turn to Joseph in this way now?

The historical reason is the 150th anniversary of Pope Pius IX naming St. Joseph as the patron of the universal Church. At the Holy See, they are always very attentive to anniversaries. But more than that, Pope Francis really wants to hold St. Joseph up to all of us for imitation as a good example, and to encourage us to invite him into our particular responsibilities, whatever our vocation might be in the Church.

The particular context in which the Holy Father has proclaimed this year is the pandemic, of course – and we are all immersed in its effects. We look forward to the situation improving in this coming year, but we don’t know how soon or exactly how that all will happen. In drawing our attention to St. Joseph, the Holy Father also invites us to think of all those quiet, behind-the-scenes people who are dependable and on whom we depend. Many of us have tried to honor them during these months of the pandemic, but we should not take their lives, their sacrifices, their service for granted.

Q: Further on in the letter, the pope invites us to embrace Christian realism: “We shouldn’t think that believing as faithful Christians means finding facile and comforting solutions. The faith Christ taught us is what we see in St. Joseph. He did not look for shortcuts, but confronted reality with open eyes and accepted personal responsibility for it.” What does this mean to you?

I think “responsibility” should be St. Joseph’s middle name – he was given a lot of it and he did not back away from it. We recently celebrated the feasts of the Christmas season. The crèche, the beautiful representations of the nativity, or even the flight into Egypt can seem dreamy or romantic.  We have many stylized and idealized images of those real events. Those are beautiful, but Joseph really had to face the nitty-gritty details of those situations. He had to confront first the unexpected pregnancy of Mary his betrothed, and God revealed to him that he should not turn Mary away or throw her out.

He took Mary into his home, but that had a lot of practical implications. It would have been challenging in the society in which he was living. That does not mean the situation was bad, but there were certainly challenges. Joseph didn’t leave any writings behind, and we don’t hear from him in the Scriptures, but we can very easily fill in the blanks of the great responsibility that God invited him to accept and which he did accept.

As is the case for all of us, when we say yes to something important, we cannot know all the implications, the details, the ups and downs over time. Joseph embraced the whole thing and it could not have been easy. Yet, that was an essential part of the coming of the Word made flesh and the establishment of a home where Jesus the Savior could be safe and could grow and develop into the person whom we meet during his

public ministry.

Q: We know St. Joseph is also the patron of workers. Pope Francis says that labor “is a means of participating in the work of salvation, an opportunity to hasten the coming of the Kingdom.” How do you think the example of St. Joseph can help working people to understand their vocations?

How do we think of Joseph as responsible? That means more than keeping busy, or just taking care of a bunch of tasks day by day, which everyone has in some form or other.

We can presume he was familiar with the Scriptures and that he prayed and worshiped as a devout Jew and would have come to understand the reality of God and the promises of God. To have been able to respond to his calling the way he did, he must have had a sense that the plans of God are worked out in reality, in time and space, in particular details. And that God invites particular people in every generation to participate in his plan. The plan of God does not just pop up out of the ground, but it involves faith-filled people who respond to his invitation.

Joseph received a unique invitation to participate in the central mystery of our faith, the coming of the Son of God in time. But it was not inconsistent with all that Joseph would have known about how God works and how he invites the response of men and women in every age.

To apply this to today, to those of us who are in the Church carrying out particular responsibilities, we should see first and foremost – as I think Joseph would have – that this is not primarily our project. This is God’s design, God’s plan for his beloved sons and daughters into which he invites us. In our time now, in this age of the Church, we are invited into a relationship with Jesus Christ. And that is how we know that we are participating in God’s will truly, and that we are involved in the working out of God’s design.

Q: How do you recommend we take advantage of this Year of St. Joseph?

I think there is a lot that is possible. There is not much more we can know about St. Joseph from the historical record, but because he is with us in the communion of saints, he has a lot to share about himself and his role in the Church and his accompaniment of us now. I am looking forward to this year. I have a devotion to St. Joseph, and I am looking forward to that growing and receiving more encouragement.

I was very grateful for the Year of Mercy that Pope Francis declared a few years ago, and found that there were many graces offered to me and to all of us during that year that I could not have totally anticipated at the beginning. I would like to encourage us to think that is the case here.

No matter your vocation in the Church, if you are a man or a woman, in whatever way the Lord has invited you into relationship with him, there is a challenge of facing that and responding and living in the real circumstances of every day with their ups and downs. Joseph is a great companion, a great inspiration.

That is an inspiration I believe the Holy Father understands the Lord is trying to give to us at this particular moment. As we said when we started out, our reality is living in this pandemic. It is not the life that we thought we were going to be living even just a year ago.

Joseph had a similar experience: He was looking forward to a good and happy life, but he ended up with a different life than the one he had picked out for himself. But that is how he became a saint. That is how he served the plan of God. It is how he entered into a relationship with Jesus.

This is a different world than the one we thought we would be living in, but it is the one we are in. The opportunity to grow in holiness, to come closer to the Lord, to give ourselves more completely to the design of God, which is good for us and good for the world, are all possibilities that are offered to us these days.

Go to Joseph. He will welcome you, and he will have something to show you, no matter where you are in your own life of faith at this moment.