Advent and the Year of St. Joseph

In these last few days of the Advent season, I wanted to turn our attention to St. Joseph – to view this season through his eyes. That’s because Pope Francis has recently declared this year (from now through next December) as The Year of St. Joseph. When popes declare a holy year, that means they request all the faithful to turn their attention to some special spiritual treasure of the Church. In this case, that is the gift of St. Joseph, the just man, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Guardian of the Redeemer.

Why now? Find out more on the parish blog, Pope Francis mentions that this is the 150th anniversary of the year when Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph to be the patron and protector of the Church around the globe. Thirty years ago, Pope St. John Paul II asked the faithful to reflect on St. Joseph as the Guardian of the Redeemer. It’s fitting that the man whom the Lord entrusted to protect the holiest of women and greatest of disciples, Mary, the Mother of God, and the Christ child would also be designated as the saint in Heaven who continues to guard and protect the Church.

There is far too much about St. Joseph to cover in one short bulletin column, but I’ll get started with just a few things. First, in honor of this year of St. Joseph, I have decided to use the readings from St. Matthew’s Gospel (Mt. 1:18-25) at my Christmas Masses. In a way, this could be called the Christmas story from St. Joseph’s perspective, because Matthew alone records the account of the angel of God appearing to the holy man, explaining Who Jesus is, what His mission will be, and St. Joseph’s role in this startling plan of salvation. (This passage is sometimes called the annunciation to St. Joseph, since it parallels the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to announce she will be the Mother of God). One of the interesting details there is that the angel entrusts to Joseph the task of naming the child, “Jesus,” (meaning, God saves). This simple phrase is packed with meaning, since in the biblical culture, the privilege of naming a child was given to the father. So the angel is announcing to Joseph that he will truly be the Christ’s father on earth, though he was conceived of the Holy Spirit. Joseph is also given to contemplate in silence the mystery that Jesus will be the Messiah, the Savior of the World.

Throughout the course of the holy year, I’ll be unfolding some reflections on St. Joseph. I want to use a scheme that I have developed over the years, focusing on one attribute of his holiness at a time, according to the letters of his name:

J = Just man;
O = Obedient to the Lord;
S = Silent;
E = Exemplar of his office;
P = Paternity (fatherhood);
H = Hands, as in, a workman, who worked with his hands.

Stay tuned for that. I would also like the parishioners, especially our men, to consecrate themselves to St. Joseph according to the plan suggested by Fr. Calloway. Again, stay tuned.

Next, I want to reflect briefly on one of the saints of Advent, Damasus I, who reigned toward the end of the 4th century. We live in very troubled times, in which we are experiencing a serious viral epidemic, there has been much unrest in the nation, even attacks on churches, many have lost faith in the fairness of our election process, we will likely soon have a new presidential administration which will attempt to advance abortion and limitations on religious liberty, and so on. We have seen troubles in the Church as well: more revelations in recent years of past priestly abuse; confusion caused by Pope Francis’ statements regarding Communion to those who are divorced and remarried and civil unions between same-sex couples; and so on. Many have become discouraged about all this and might think it unprecedented. Pope Damasus’ story reminds us that it is not. In his time, there were rival claimants both claiming to be Pope, with such deep divisions that there was even violence between them. The Church had recently seen three centuries of persecution of Christians by the Roman government, even to the extent of widescale execution. On top of that, false teaching about core doctrine (such as whether Jesus was truly divine) was rampant, and this false teaching crept into some of the highest levels of the Church. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the saintly Pope navigated through all that. After his reign, Christianity became the faith of the Roman Empire, Church councils
were called to correct and clarify any false teaching, and the famous Roman catacombs – where Christians had to flee persecution to celebrate Mass secretly, became places of public pilgrimage.

Pope St. Damasus essentially gave us the Bible in its current form, praying with his bishops to determine which of the sacred writings were legitimate and truly inspired by God. (That’s something to think about when talking to Christians who believe they need the Bible but not the Catholic Church.)

Finally, Pope Damasus was a humble man. Many encouraged him to be buried in the catacombs he had patronized, but he declared that he was not worthy to be enshrined where so many had given up their lives for the faith as martyrs.
St. Joseph and St. Damasus, pray for us!

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