Photo by Michael Swan

St. Joseph’s year of healing

By 
  • December 1, 2021

It was a great year for the Year of St. Joseph, but not because it was a great year. It was a year spent in and out of COVID lockdowns, a year of natural disasters fuelled by climate change and a year for Canadians to confront the hard truths of their history in the form of forgotten graves for Indigenous children who died at residential schools.

Such a year is exactly what the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal is made for, said Oratory rector Fr. Michael DeLaney of the Holy Cross Fathers.

“What happens every day at the Oratory?” DeLaney asked. “Healing, reconciliation — that’s what the Church needs now.”

A year spent praying with St. Joseph has meant a year recalling three essential characteristics of Jesus’ earthly father, said DeLaney — humility, honesty and trust in God.

“To come to Joseph, to put our trust in Joseph, is to see that as a guiding force in our lives,” he said.

Dec. 8 will wrap up a year of St. Joseph that Pope Francis announced last year with the apostolic letter Patris Corde. The Pope’s letter celebrated the 150th anniversary of Pope Pius IX’s decision to name St. Joseph as patron of the Universal Church. St. Joseph is also the primary patron of Canada.

Built on St. Brother André’s world-famous devotion to St. Joseph, the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal is the world’s largest shrine to the silent carpenter who protected Mary and Jesus in exile in Egypt and guided Jesus through His hidden life, before He began His public ministry.

“We exist for healing and reconciliation and bringing hope to people who are wounded. We pray for that,” said DeLaney. “We help people who come here to heal their wounds and to be comforted and to find hope and peace in their lives.”

The Oratory will finish off the year with a Dec. 7 performance of Handel’s Messiah by the Orchestre Classique de Montréal. The next day Fr. Donald Calloway will present a webinar on “Devotion and Consecration to St. Joseph” (to register, go to saint-joseph.org/en/webinar-registration-donald-calloway/).

Clearly concerned that the Church faces a difficult path, in Patris Corde Pope Francis had healing on his mind and in his prayers.

“If the first stage of all true interior healing is to accept our personal history and embrace even the things in life that we did not choose, we must now add another important element: creative courage,” Pope Francis wrote. “This emerges especially in the way we deal with difficulties. In the face of difficulty, we can either give up and walk away, or somehow engage with it. At times, difficulties bring out resources we did not even think we had.”

As graves emerged and protests swept across the country, DeLaney remembered St. Joseph.

“He (Joseph) allows us in our lives to be more humble, to be absolutely honest,” he said. “What that also means is that when we are in error we make up for it — we do our reconciliation. And we trust that God will lead us through this.”

The Oratory offers confession 10 or 12 hours a day seven days a week. The focus on this sacrament of healing provides a lens for understanding the crisis of reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians, said DeLaney.

“The response of the Church institutionally, and any of us as leaders in the Church, and all of us as the faithful in the Church, must be very humble,” he said. “And recognize what has happened and atone for that, very honestly and humbly. We don’t deny it. We look at whatever it was and make sure that it will never happen again. Trusting in God means God will lead us through this if we do it correctly, if we use the humility of St. Joseph, if we use his honesty.”

On his off days, DeLaney visits another shrine close to Montreal, the National Shrine to St. Kateri Tekakwitha at St. Francis-Xavier Mission in Kanawake, Que. From the vantage point on the grounds of the St. Kateri Shrine, he looks across the river and sees the dome of the Oratory. Across time and cultures, DeLaney believes St. Joseph and St. Kateri are talking to each other.

While COVID kept people away from the normally busy shrine, DeLaney and the Holy Cross family in Montreal found themselves able to reach out to people in new ways. To counter the isolation many were experiencing, DeLaney and other priests began phoning thousands of pilgrims who had visited the shrine over the years.

Social media also brought the spirituality of the Oratory to new audiences. DeLaney used online platforms to deliver talks in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese to audiences as far away as Brazil.

People were hungry for any sort of contact with others, he said. “I remember I did a virtual retreat for the Spanish-speaking community in Montreal,” said DeLaney. “What amazed me was there were probably a few hundred people watching, most of them were older people all alone, or maybe with their spouse or with one other person. The joy that they felt to see each other at this online retreat, it was unbelievable.”

DeLaney often thinks of St. Joseph in terms of small-town skilled craftsmen he knew growing up in upstate New York, whether auto mechanics or building contractors. They were men who were trusted, who cared for the people in their community with their skill, dedication and attention to detail.

“For me, the value that everything revolves around is community — how do we connect,” he said. “I think that what the time (the Year of St. Joseph) gave to us was a way to be creative, to bring the message of St. Joseph — which is very inspiring and very hopeful — in a very dark time that we all lived through.”

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