by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Seventeen years ago today, on the solemnity of St. Joseph — Husband of Mary, I was officially welcomed in a Mass at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park as the coadjutor archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
Eight years ago today, Pope Francis began serving as a successor of St. Peter. Reflecting his great devotion to St. Joseph, Pope Francis initiated a special year dedicated to St. Joseph and invoking his intercession for the church.
My father was killed when my mother was three months pregnant with me. My only sibling, my brother Fred, carried my father’s name. After the suddenness of my father’s death, my mother was keenly aware of the fragility of life. She was also aware of the challenges her sons would face growing up without their father.
My mother named me Joseph because St. Joseph was a great foster father for Jesus. Our heavenly Father entrusted his only begotten Son to the paternal earthly care of St. Joseph.
Mom thought that was a very impressive credential on St. Joseph’s resume, so she entrusted me to him as a spiritual foster father. I am grateful to my mother for giving me from birth a special relationship with St. Joseph.
In my office, I have a large print of a painting of St. Joseph. I imagine that the artist is attempting to capture the expression of St. Joseph when he awoke from one of those life-altering dreams.
Joseph was a dreamer, but not in the sense that he was an unrealistic idealist. Three times in the first two chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph receives instructions from an angel in a dream.
Can you imagine trusting that God’s will has just been revealed to you in a dream? That Joseph had such clarity is an indication that he was a profoundly spiritual man. He had the humility and quietude in his heart to discern God’s will.
Each of these dreams were disruptive of St. Joseph’s plans. Joseph, engaged to Mary, becomes aware of her pregnancy and knows he is not the father of her child. This had to be incredibly disturbing. Joseph is noble in his response to a gut-wrenching circumstance. He does not want to shame Mary, but chooses quietly to separate from her.
The angel in a dream tells Joseph not to be afraid but rather to go forward with his marriage to Mary, because it is through the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child. Amazingly, Joseph is able to accept what was, humanly speaking, an impossible explanation.
After the birth of Jesus and the visit of the Magi, Joseph has another dream with the angel telling him to flee immediately to Egypt in order to protect Jesus from the murderous plans of Herod.
Joseph again discerns the message is authentic. His swift and decisive action saves the infant Jesus from being killed. The dream again totally disrupts Joseph’s life and plans, requiring him to gather up his family and go to a foreign nation.
When Herod died, the angel appeared again in a dream to Joseph instructing him now to take Mary and Jesus back to Israel. Joseph is once again open and compliant to God’s will.
I suspect, at some point, Joseph often must have feared to fall asleep, not knowing what new orders the angel might have for him in his dream.
Yet the Gospel reveals Joseph was a man of prayer and action. He didn’t hesitate to listen to God. And there is no hint that Joseph ever complained about all of these significant disruptions to his plans.
In his apostolic letter “Patris Corde,” Pope Francis recognizes in Joseph what the Holy Father terms “creative courage.” Joseph is presented with a series of disturbing and difficult challenges.
However, not only does he not complain, he never fails to act decisively. Joseph finds a way to do God’s will, no matter how improbable or impossible it might seem. That is why in the tradition of the church, we call upon Joseph for help in temporal affairs.
Pope Francis has helped popularize a devotion to the “Sleeping St. Joseph,” a statue of whom he keeps on his desk. The Holy Father has shared that, when he is facing a difficult challenge and he is uncertain of the right solution, he places the problem underneath the image of the sleeping Joseph.
I have a couple of these images of the sleeping Joseph — one on the desk in my office and one on the writing table in my chapel. Imitating the Holy Father, I place there papers with some vexing issues and ask St. Joseph to help me discern God’s will.
Though I have not had any angels giving me orders in my dreams, I sleep better knowing that I can count on St. Joseph’s assistance.
I have learned a lot from St. Joseph over the years. I strive to be like him: a man of prayer, seeking first and foremost to know and embrace God’s will. I also want, like St. Joseph, to be a man of action. St. Joseph did not utter a single word in the Gospels, but his actions spoke volumes.
I desire to be like St. Joseph by not complaining about challenges and problems but seeing them as opportunities to be creative and courageous.
St. Joseph is a great role model for fatherhood.
Joseph was humble and obedient to God’s plan for him. He was strong and fearless in protecting Mary and Jesus. St. Joseph was willing to make any personal sacrifice of his own wants and desires for the good of Mary and Jesus. This is the type of spiritual father that I desire to be for those under my pastoral care.
Unfortunately, many children today, like me in my formative years, are growing up in a home where their father is not present.
Strong and loving fathers are a great gift to their children. It is a blessing to have a father that you can trust and have confidence that he will protect and watch over you.
In my experience, St. Joseph can be that type of spiritual father for all of us, but especially for those whose father is absent.
Most uniquely, St. Joseph teaches us if some problem is worrying us, making us anxious and even disturbing our sleep, we can turn it over to St. Joseph, asking him to help us discover God’s will and have the courage to follow wherever it leads.
We probably will not receive any angelic messages like St. Joseph, but I am confident we will sleep better.