In December, Pope Francis announced the Year of St Joseph in honour of one of his favourite saints. With his apostolic letter “Patris corde” (“With a father’s heart”), the pope invited the universal church to meditate on and pray for the patronage of the foster father of Jesus.
Joseph’s example and patronage come at the perfect time. At a time when a global pandemic has forced millions to live hidden away, isolated and alone, we can see Joseph as a model of the hidden life. We know, too, that Joseph died before Jesus’ public ministry; Mary’s husband was undoubtedly familiar with suffering. So we can see him as our patron, too, praying for us as he understands our struggles with illness.
At an art exhibit at the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City several years ago, I came upon a portrait entitled “The Death of Saint Joseph.” Goya’s painting beautifully captures the sadness that must have surrounded the early death of Joseph. A similar sadness has been with us for many months, the sadness that surrounds the deaths of so many from COVID.
The hiddenness of Joseph’s life can also speak to those overwhelmed by the pandemic, who wonder if God is with them, if God sees. Appearing only briefly in the Gospels, given no words at all to speak, Joseph leads a life of quiet service to God, a life that remains almost totally unknown to us. And yet his life—filled with countless hidden, unseen, unrecorded acts of love—was of infinite value. Joseph’s life says to all of us, “God sees.”
His hidden life is intimately shared by millions of people making their way through the pandemic. So many hidden lives. So many unseen acts of love in this pandemic. So many secret prayers raised to heaven. The husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus understands them all.
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Fr James Martin SJ is editor at large of America and author of My Life with the Saints, from which this article is excerpted.
With thanks to America Magazine and Fr James Martin SJ, where this article originally appeared.