On December 8th of 2020 Pope Francis declared a “Year of Saint Joseph.” The pope also wrote an apostolic letter, “Patris corde” (“With a Father’s Heart”) proclaiming the virtues of Saint Joseph and encouraging the faithful to follow in his footsteps. For fathers especially, the example of Saint Joseph is a powerful reminder of the dignity and gravity of our vocation.
God the Father entrusted Saint Joseph with the awesome responsibility of leading to manhood his only begotten Son. Whatever fears Joseph may have had in taking on this role, his fears were not greater than his trust in God. And so, Pope Francis writes, “As the Lord had done with Israel, so Joseph did with Jesus: he taught him to walk, taking him by the hand; he was for him like a father who raises an infant to his cheeks, bending down to him and feeding him (cf. Hos 11:3-4)… In Joseph, Jesus saw the tender love of God: ‘As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him’ (Ps 103:13).
Even through Joseph’s fears, God’s will, his history and his plan were at work. Joseph, then, teaches us that faith in God includes believing that he can work even through our fears, our frailties and our weaknesses.”
Pope Francis goes on to talk about our frailties. It’s easy to become discouraged by our frailties. It’s easy to frustrated when we’re confessing the same sins repeatedly. The problem is that discouragement easily leads to anxiety and despair, and these things pull us away from God rather than lifting us up to Him. “We must learn to look upon our weaknesses with tender mercy,” the pope writes. Don’t let your frailties lead you away from the Father. Bring those frailties to the Father, so the One who forgives can show you His mercy and free you from the burden of your frailties.
Here’s how Pope Francis puts it:
“The evil one makes us see and condemn our frailty, whereas the Spirit brings it to light with tender love. Tenderness is the best way to touch the frailty within us. Pointing fingers and judging others are frequently signs of an inability to accept our own weaknesses, our own frailty. Only tender love will save us from the snares of the accuser (cf. Rev 12:10). That is why it is so important to encounter God’s mercy, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where we experience his truth and tenderness. Paradoxically, the evil one can also speak the truth to us, yet he does so only to condemn us. We know that God’s truth does not condemn, but instead welcomes, embraces, sustains and forgives us. That truth always presents itself to us like the merciful father in Jesus’ parable (cf. Lk 15:11-32). It comes out to meet us, restores our dignity, sets us back on our feet and rejoices for us, for, as the father says: ‘This my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found’ (v. 24).”
As we receive mercy, we are called (and not just called, but obligated) to show mercy to others. I don’t know what Saint Joseph’s faults were, as he is a model of righteousness in the gospels. But I’m sure he was aware of his weaknesses, and his unworthiness to raise God’s son. Knowing this, and knowing that God loved him and chose him anyway, surely inspired Saint Joseph to be a tender, loving husband to Mary and father to Jesus.
Father Michael Gaitley describes a three-word prayer, three words coming from Mary by which we can initiate a conversation with God. The first word is “Ecce,” which means “Behold.” Mary tells the angel Gabriel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.” When we say “Behold,” we’re coming to God just as we are. We’re saying, “Here I am, Jesus. You know all my sins, my weaknesses, my failures. You know I can do nothing on my own. I bring myself before You, trusting in Your love and mercy. Here are the problems I’m having. While I am too miserable to handle these, I place them before You, trusting that in You I need not be afraid.” (1)
(1) Michael E. Gaitley, MIC, Consoling the Heart of Jesus.
Image: Holy Family with Bird by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).