In early 2019, my family and I came into full communion with the Catholic Church, naturally meaning that I had to leave behind my ministry as an Anglican clergyman and give up my income overnight. For no particular reason besides inexplicable grace, God changed our lives in an instant. There was nothing to do but follow him, but it was hard to see in the distance where God would lead, and how he would fix the problems that his call had created.
During the six months I was unemployed, followed by another six months when I was grateful to be working but not paid enough to meet my expenses, I prayed a lot to St. Joseph. At that time, I had never heard the expression “Go to Joseph,” but I went to him anyway. I touched the little St. Joseph plaque next to our front door when I went out. I knelt in front of St. Joseph’s statue in various churches on an almost daily basis. Every time I asked him, “Help me figure this out. I really have no idea.”
As a husband and father, I had great material needs; but even more importantly, I needed someone whose life taught me that I wasn’t crazy for blowing up my own life for God. I also needed an intercessor whose prayers could give me courage to trust the Lord like never before, and to submit to the spiritual growing pains the Lord offered me. St. Joseph was my man.
I was delighted, therefore, along with so many of my fellow devotees to St. Joseph, when on December 8, 2020, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as patron of the universal Church, Pope Francis issued the apostolic letter Patris Corde, initiating the “Year of St. Joseph.” These are difficult days for everyone, and I know I need St. Joseph’s help this year as much as I did when I decided to take a big risk for the sake of Christ and his Church in the past. In a time of competing experts and endless talking heads—of various crises and supposed salvation plans—I need a protector I can really trust. We all do. It’s time to go to Joseph.
Pope Francis writes, “Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.” We know Joseph’s royal genealogy, but we do not know much of his personal backstory. We can only imagine the plans he had for his life before the angel Gabriel came to Mary—perhaps to keep his head down and toil away at his craft in a remote part of the Empire, to keep the faith and traditions of his people, and to pass his craft and his legacy on to the next generation. I expect it would have been more than enough for him to be revered in his home, respected by his neighbors, and invisible both to Herod’s sons and to Rome.
We know Joseph’s name because he did not choose to make his own name great. We venerate Joseph because he obeyed the will of his heavenly Father at the expense of whatever plans he had imagined for a hidden life. Again, Pope Francis notes, “The spiritual path that Joseph traces for us is not one that explains, but accepts.” How badly we all want answers that conform to “our” truth. St. Joseph’s life exposes the absurdity of our selfishness, even in tough times.
No matter what else is going on in the world around us, God sees what we cannot. When the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream in Matthew 1, he simply obeys. It is enough for Joseph to hear “Do not be afraid,” and he changes course in an instant, without a word. As Cardinal Robert Sarah writes in The Power of Silence, “Those who are unknown and remain silent are the real men. I am certain that great men rarely resort to facile speeches.” I get so tired of excuses and explanations, most of all from myself, and most of all when I am lost or conflicted, or when I feel the world is messing with my mind. Joseph’s silent witness puts me at ease.
These days, I want to flee with Joseph for a while, as Our Lady and Our Lord fled with him to Egypt. I want to settle with Joseph far from the worries of the world, as the Holy Family flourished in remote Nazareth of Galilee instead of a more dangerous Judea. I want to travel with Joseph to the altar of his foster son, just as Jesus went with him every year to Jerusalem and ended up in his Father’s house. Pope Francis says, “During the hidden years in Nazareth, Jesus learned at the school of Joseph to do the will of the Father.” I, too, with Joseph’s guidance, want to grow in wisdom as I grow in years, in divine and human favor. With Joseph, I want the truly hidden life with Christ that St. Paul tells the Colossians about (see Col. 3:3).
Despite the pandemic, things are a lot easier for me these days than they were the year I left my old life behind for Christ and the Church. As I transitioned to my job at Word on Fire in early 2020 (Thanks, Lord! Thanks, Joseph!), we sold our home in Tennessee and moved to Texas. When getting a good offer on our house took longer than expected, I could not help but bury a little statue of Saint Joseph in the front yard . . . just in case. We had come so far with Joseph, so why not go in all the way? Everything finally worked out.
For those who are struggling now, as I was a while ago, may St. Joseph in his special year bless you and whatever you may face today, tomorrow, and in the months ahead.
St. Joseph most obedient, pray for us all!