by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Merry Christmas! Remember that for the Christian, Christmas is not just one day. In the church’s liturgical year, we are given weeks to ponder and reflect on the incredible miracle of God becoming man, of the Word made flesh.
The good news of Christianity is the amazing love of God who pursues us, seeks communion with us and desires for us to share in his eternal and abundant life.
On Dec. 8, Pope Francis declared the Year of St. Joseph. In so doing, the Holy Father invited the entire church to ponder the example of St. Joseph’s life and its practical meaning for our lives.
I am grateful that my mother named me Joseph and gave me St. Joseph as my patron and protector. However, we do not need to be named Joseph to cultivate a friendship with this remarkable saint. Joseph is often the neglected member of the Nativity scene as we appropriately give attention first to Jesus and then Mary.
Part of the reason my mother named me Joseph and placed me under St. Joseph’s guardianship was because of the death of my biological father before my birth.
The Scriptures make clear that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, but Our Lord’s foster father. Mom thought St. Joseph would also be a good foster father for me.
One of the current pastoral priorities for the archdiocese is to raise consciousness of the need for additional foster parents in Kansas. Thousands of children are languishing in the state’s foster care system because there simply are not enough foster parents.
I believe that Our Lord wants the church to respond to the needs of these often forgotten children by raising up loving and generous couples who are willing to welcome a foster child into their home.
Equally important is that our parish communities support foster families with practical assistance, encouragement and prayers. In my prayer during this year, I will be asking St. Joseph to intercede and assist our Foster Care Initiative.
The millions of children in our country growing up in fatherless homes has a huge societal impact. The need for faithful, devoted and loving fathers is acute in the United States.
According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Father Absence Crisis in America has resulted in 18.3 million children or one-fourth of our children living without a biological, step- or adoptive father in their home. Children growing up in fatherless households are:
1) four times more likely to live in poverty;
2) seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen;
3) two times at greater risk of infant mortality;
4) two times more likely to drop out of school;
5) more likely to face abuse and neglect;
6) more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol;
7) more likely to commit a crime and go to prison;
8) more likely to have behavioral problems.
St. Joseph, who devoted his life to protecting and caring for Jesus and Mary, provides us with a great example of a father and husband.
The Holy Father refers to Joseph as a tender and loving father. Pope Francis suggests that Jesus drew upon his own experience of Joseph’s generous and paternal love in his description of the father in the parable of the prodigal son.
The pope describes Joseph also as an obedient and accepting father, which is illustrated by his prompt and decisive responses to God’s revelations received through several dreams.
Joseph accepts Mary’s pregnancy as an act of the Holy Spirit and takes Mary as his wife. Joseph protects Jesus from Herod’s efforts to kill him by bringing the Holy Family to Egypt as refugees.
Similarly, Joseph brings Mary and Jesus back to Israel when it is revealed to him that it is safe to return.
I am surprised that Joseph was not afraid to go to sleep at night, not knowing what new instructions he might receive. Instead, Joseph is supple to God’s will, no matter what complications it brought to his plans.
Like Mary at the Annunciation and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Joseph makes many “fiats” — embracing God’s will no matter how inconvenient or mysterious it seemed.
Pope Francis recognizes Joseph as a creatively courageous father. Joseph does not complain about major interruptions in his life but, instead, approaches them as problems that can be turned into possibilities.
Joseph is resourceful and creative in finding ways to cooperate with God’s will. Pope Francis writes: “The Son of the Almighty came into our world in a state of great vulnerability. He needed to be defended, protected, cared for and raised by Joseph.
“God trusted Joseph, as did Mary, who found in him someone who would not only save her life, but would always provide for her and her child.”
Pope Francis points out that Joseph was a working father. He provided for Mary and Jesus through hard work. The Holy Father observes that from Joseph: “Jesus learned the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labor.”
Finally, Pope Francis considers Joseph a father in the shadows. The Holy Father observes that Joseph never made himself the center of things. He did not focus on his own wants and desires but, rather, concentrated his energy on providing and caring for Mary and Jesus: “Joseph found happiness not in mere self-sacrifice but in self-gift.”
The pope reminds us: “Our world today needs fathers.” We can see the truth of this by the negative impact upon children when fathers are absent. Both biological and spiritual fathers can learn much from the authentic fatherhood of St. Joseph.
Pope Francis counsels: “Every child is the bearer of a unique mystery that can only be brought to light with the help of a father who respects that child’s freedom. A father who realizes that he is most a father and educator at the point when he becomes useless, when he sees that his child has become independent and can walk the paths of life unaccompanied. When he becomes like Joseph, who always knew that his child was not his own but had merely been entrusted to his care.”
During this year, let us ponder the life of St. Joseph, striving to imitate his virtues and learn from his example of faith and true love.
St. Joseph, pray for us.