The Shrine of St. Joseph, at the back of Omaha’s St. Cecilia Cathedral, depicts St. Joseph the carpenter, the patron of workers, working with the boy Jesus. The shrine was created by Edward Donahue of New York City in the early 1950s. At the base of the statue are inscriptions denoting two papal encyclicals – “Rerum Novarum” on capital and labor by Leo XIII and “Quadragesimo Anno” on reconstruction of the social order by Pius XI. MIKE MAY/STAFF

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St. Joseph: a saint for our times

A just and faithful man, obedient servant of God, loving father and husband, hard worker, vigilant protector, powerful intercessor.

Those are a lot of words to describe a silent, almost unseen player in the story of salvation, but St. Joseph can be described in those terms, and many more.

He is the patron saint of fathers, workers, travelers, numerous countries, of a happy death, and of the universal Church, to name but a few.

Eleven churches in the Archdiocese of Omaha are named for the saint.

In a year dedicated by Pope Francis to the foster father of Jesus, the faithful are encouraged to learn about the saint, to pray for his intercession and develop a devotion to him.

In his Apostolic Letter “Patris Corde” (“With a Father’s Heart”) written to open the Year of St. Joseph, the pope writes: “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.”

For Craig Dyke, director of the archdiocese’s Family Life Office, St. Joseph is a man for our times, especially for fathers and families.

“Pope Francis sees what’s going on in society, and he wants to offer a solution” through devotion to St. Joseph. Given the breakdown of families, Dyke believes St. Joseph serves as a model of hope for fathers as leaders of their families.

“What gives me great comfort is to know that in the Holy Family, there was one of them who was a sinner,” he said. “The one who was at the center was St. Joseph, and even though he was imperfect, he was looked to as the spiritual head. It’s also that leadership that God is calling us (fathers) to do.”

Men may often view their wives as being more in touch with their spirituality, Dyke said. “Men tend to be islands, we try to figure things out on our own,” but through reflection on and prayer to St. Joseph, they may get in better touch with their interior, spiritual lives, and rely on St. Joseph as not only an example, but as a friend and mentor, he said.

THE INTERIOR LIFE

Father Richard Gabuzda of the Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF) also believes St. Joseph can be the model for the interior life amidst the demands and humdrum of daily life.

“We all have vocational callings, certainly the call of married life, daily work and so on. God is working through all that,” he said. “Learning to listen to God in such a way that I’m in touch with them during the day in simple ways, I think is really, really important.”

Father Gabuzda is one of 11 priests who are members of the IPF Priests of St. Joseph, the public association of clergy that operates IPF. Their goal, through workshops, retreats and a summer program in Omaha, is to help priests and bishops cultivate their own spiritual lives, strengthening them in their roles as spiritual fathers to their congregations.

“St. Joseph has been part of our mission for quite a while,” Father Gabuzda said. “We love the image of Nazareth – Joseph and Mary raising the child Jesus. We look at our summer program, oftentimes, as a kind of experience of Nazareth – coming away to Omaha for a little bit of the hidden life.”

Pope Francis speaks of that hidden life of St. Joseph in his Dec. 8, 2020, apostolic letter opening the year of devotion.

St. Joseph is never recorded in Scripture as speaking. His actions are described six times: once as traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census, three as being guided by God through an angel’s message delivered in dreams, once with Mary presenting the infant Jesus in the Temple, and once with Mary searching for and finding a 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple after the child had been separated from them.

TRUST AND OBEDIENCE

But it is in these scenes where we see St. Joseph as a model of trust and obedience, taking action at critical times to see God’s plan of salvation through.

“Joseph set aside his own ideas in order to accept the course of events and, mysterious as they seemed, embrace them, take responsibility for them and make them part of his own history,” the pope wrote.

Father Gabuzda also cited St. Joseph’s obedience when an angel tells him in a dream to flee with the Holy Family to Egypt.

“He listens to what God says and does it. … Normally, the question would be, look, I don’t know how to get to Egypt. What am I going to live on when I get there? But he says ‘yes,’ trusting that God will provide. The most important thing is to just do it – do what God tells you.”

The pope also noted the importance of people, who, like St. Joseph, serve behind the scenes, without notoriety, during times of crisis such as those we are experiencing today:

“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.”

PRAYERS AND DEVOTIONS

The Year of St. Joseph began Dec. 8, 2020, the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pius IX’s proclamation of St. Joseph as patron of the universal Church, and continues through Dec. 8, 2021.

Dyke is leading an archdiocesan group working to create awareness of Pope Francis’ apostolic letter and other resources to help Catholics in the archdiocese reflect on the life of St. Joseph and to celebrate his principal feast day March 19, and his feast day as St. Joseph the Worker, May 1. (Watch the Catholic Voice and the archdiocese’s Facebook page and website, archomaha.org, for more information.)

Although the pandemic may, at least in the short-run, hamper planning for major events or commemorations, Dyke said his group hopes to point Catholics to devotions, prayers and other ways to help them connect with St. Joseph.

“We hope we can inspire people to increase their devotion or begin a devotion to St. Joseph right there in the comfort of their own homes right now,” he said.