Pope Francis reminds us of the popularity of the Patron of the Church (since 1870), and more: the regard of Joseph as Patron of Workers and Guardian of the Redeemer.
After Mary, the Mother of God, no saint is mentioned more frequently in the papal magisterium than Joseph, her spouse. My Predecessors reflected on the message contained in the limited information handed down by the Gospels in order to appreciate more fully his central role in the history of salvation. Blessed Pius IX declared him “Patron of the Catholic Church”, [S. RITUUM CONGREGATIO, Quemadmodum Deus (8 December 1870): ASS 6 (1870-71), 194] Venerable Pius XII proposed him as “Patron of Workers” [Cf. Address to ACLI on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph the Worker (1 May 1955): AAS 47 (1955), 406] and Saint John Paul II as “Guardian of the Redeemer”. [Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos] Saint Joseph is universally invoked as the “patron of a happy death”.[Catechism 1014]
The Holy Father outlines his purpose for this letter:
Now, one hundred and fifty years after his proclamation as Patron of the Catholic Church by Blessed Pius IX (8 December 1870), I would like to share some personal reflections on this extraordinary figure, so close to our own human experience.
This seems to be a most clear statement, rather lacking in confusion. I think we can listen to another Christian’s reflections on the saint, and see if we find ourselves in alignment. If not, we have the opportunity to go to the Bible ourselves, and other biographical material, or even the meditations of others on the man.
In December 2020, we were still in the thick of the pandemic.
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”. [Meditation in the Time of Pandemic (27 March 2020): L’Osservatore Romano, 29 March 2020, p. 10.] 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.
Joseph’s titles referenced by Pius XII and John Paul II are telling. Those workers listed above are workers just like Joseph. Loved ones also were guardians of the sick and vulnerable, just like Joseph. The Old Testament Joseph was a figure who used his intelligence and foresight to provide when disaster struck. As Pharoah’s chief counsellor, he certainly wasn’t anonymous. But many people of intelligence and discernment ove along quietly in life, lacking recognition of heroes.