At St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal people bring their troubles and fears to the carpenter and builder who raised Jesus and protected His mother Mary. Michael Swan

St. Joseph the model in a world in need of fathers

  • January 8, 2021

For 65 years, Sr. Sue Mosteller has been a Sister of St. Joseph, but her relationship with St. Joseph himself reaches back even further. As a 17-year-old boarding student at the congregation’s Toronto girls’ school (up from the United States, and an Anglican to boot), Mosteller and her sister were called into the office and given a piece of devastating news — far away in Ohio, their father had died.

“I remember, right away I went to the chapel and I sat in front of St. Joseph,” she told The Catholic Register. “And I said, ‘Could you help me? Maybe you could be a bit of a father to me, in a spiritual sense. Because now, I’m not sure how to go ahead.’ ”

Her life as a religious sister has constantly pointed Mosteller toward nurturing, protecting, helping and caring for others. 

“I think Joseph is someone today who represents those energies in a very beautiful way,” she said. “I’m talking about the energies to give life, to love life, to care for life, to promote life, to support it — to encourage and to teach love and forgiveness and the kinds of things that call forth deep energies, because we don’t know how to do it very well.”

Inaugurated by Pope Francis on Dec. 8, we are now in the midst of a year dedicated to St. Joseph and heading toward his feast day March 19.

Because he’s the patron saint of Canada, a Jubilee Year of St. Joseph is a chance for Canadians to remember who they really are, said Church historian Fr. Terry Faye of the Toronto School of Theology.

“He’s been a good person in our lives and in the life of Canada, leading us away from division and to toleration,” the Jesuit scholar said. “Which is the spirit of Jesus Christ — not division, not telling other people who they have to be or what they have to do, but encouraging them to follow the Gospel, to follow God in their lives.”

St. Joseph has been our patron saint since Canada was New France. The Recollect Franciscan missionaries first proposed St. Joseph as our patron in 1624. It was Pope Urban VIII who confirmed St. Joseph as a model for Canadians in 1637.

St. Joseph became the patron of the universal Church 150 years ago and Pope Francis grabbed hold of that anniversary on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to issue an apostolic letter.

“Joseph found happiness not in mere self-sacrifice but in self-gift,” the Pope wrote. “Our world today needs fathers. It has no use for tyrants who would domineer others as a means of compensating for their own needs. It rejects those who confuse authority with authoritarianism, service with servility, discussion with oppression, charity with a welfare mentality, power with destruction.”

Pope Francis proposes a different model of manhood.

“Today, in our world where psychological, verbal and physical violence towards women is so evident, Joseph appears as the figure of a respectful and sensitive man,” the Pope writes in Patris Corde (“The heart of a father”).

“What does it mean to be a man and confronting toxic masculinity?” asks feminist theologian Doris Kieser. The University of Alberta, St. Joseph’s College professor of moral theology and expert on the Blessed Virgin Mary looks to the Jubilee Year of St. Joseph with the same excitement she greeted the 2015-2016 Year of Mercy.

“I really believe that when the Pope draws attention to these things that it creates something new in us,” Kieser said. “I would love to see it manifest itself in a new commitment to the kind of Church that Pope Francis is calling us to be.”

Joseph is not a minor character in the life of Jesus as related in the Gospels, said St. Michael’s College New Testament scholar Callie Callon. 

“Joseph is actually a pretty big mover in the story, particularly in the infancy narrative, but he still doesn’t get a line,” she said.

St. Joseph’s silence in the Gospels makes space for Mary’s canticle and draws our attention away from words and towards what Mary’s husband actually does.

“There is this really neat immediacy between what Joseph is commanded to do and how he actually in turn does it,” Callon said.

Rather than talk, St. Joseph does. But what he does is no projection of his personal ambitions but perfect obedience to God. As a man, St. Joseph never seeks a triumph of the will. He seeks to serve.

Pope Francis, writing during the COVID-19 crisis, understands St. Joseph as a model of service, Kieser said. 

“There’s a certain sense of a common humanity that he (Pope Francis) is calling forward that would disavow the notion of power and that cultural narcissism,” she said. “He’s calling us to conversion. Whether this succeeds will be a factor of how willing we are to relinquish the power that really is not ours. He says this many times over — the power is God’s.”

For Faye, the Pope’s call should bring Canadians back to traditional, Canadian values such as hard work, humility and hospitality.

“St. Joseph is part of that — being peaceful, not interfering but accepting a multicultural, multi-religious Canada. (St. Joseph) does not impose himself… That’s been a good thing for Canada.”

“Joseph set aside his own ideas in order to accept the course of events and, mysterious as they seemed, to embrace them, take responsibility for them and make them part of his own history,” Pope Francis wrote. 

As the patron of workers whom St. Pope John Paul II called “Guardian of the Redeemer,” the spirit of St. Joseph burns particularly bright among front-line workers as they battle COVID-19, according to Pope Francis.

“Amid the crisis, how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked,” he wrote. “People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines, or on the latest television show, yet in these very days are workers, cleaning personnel, caregivers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests, men and women religious and so very many others. They understood that no one is saved alone.”

“The devotion to St. Joseph is on a growth pattern,” said the rector of St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Fr. Michael DeLaney of the Congregation of the Holy Cross.

DeLaney sees COVID-19 throwing up icons of St. Joseph everywhere he looks.

“We have health-care workers, we have teachers, we have garbage collectors,” he said. “We have house cleaners, working people, who have saved the day for us. They become this model of generosity and of selflessness and giving.”

“I would love to see the bishops make a commitment, as a group and as individuals, to take up the heart of St. Joseph in the way that Francis is outlining him in this document. That would give us a very different Church,” Kieser said.

Between Dec. 8, 2020 and Dec. 8, 2021 a plenary indulgence (remission of all temporal punishment for sin, either for oneself or for a soul in purgatory) is available to anyone who prays and contemplates on the life of St. Joseph, goes to confession, receives communion and prays for the Pope’s intentions. For a special indulgence, Pope Francis has particularly urged praying for the unemployed, offering the corporal works of mercy to the vulnerable and those suffering, entrusting one’s everyday work to St. Joseph and meditating 30 minutes on the Lord’s Prayer.

For Mosteller, the Year of St. Joseph is about welcoming the goodness of the master carpenter into her life.

“I want to be connected. I want it to be a relationship,” she said. “There was something in him. He had trust in himself or something. He was a man who was whole.” 

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