23 December 2020

Homily - 20 December 2020 - On the Year of Saint Joseph

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (B)

On the Year of Saint Joseph


Dear brothers and sisters,

We heard a moment ago that the Blessed Virgin Mary was “betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David” (Luke 1:27). A few days ago, His Holiness Pope Francis declared a Year of Saint Joseph, beginning on December 8, 2020 and concluding on December 8, 2021. The purpose of this year, the Holy Father said, is “to increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal.”[1] But what are the virtues of Saint Joseph and what is his zeal?

In his Apostolic Letter Patris Corde – With a Father’s Heart – in which he proclaimed the Year of Saint Joseph, Pope Francis, reflecting on the life of the foster father of Jesus and the Patron of the Universal Church – enumerated some of Joseph’s virtues: courage, faith, obedience, self-sacrifice, and love.

The courage of Saint Joseph is evident to anyone with even a cursory familiarity with the Christmas story. He takes “Mary, [his] wife,” into his home when she is pregnant with a Child that is not his (Matthew 1:20); he abandons his home in Nazareth and flees with his family to Egypt when the life of the Child is in danger (cf. Matthew 2:14); and afterwards, to protect his wife and Child, “he led a hidden life in the tiny and obscure village of Nazareth in Galilee, far from Bethlehem, his ancestral town, and from Jerusalem and the Temple.”[2]

The courage of Saint Joseph was rooted in the depths of his faith in God and in his will. 

Joseph, then, teaches us that faith in God includes believing that he can work even throughout our fears, our frailties and our weaknesses. He also teaches us that amid the tempests of life, we must never be afraid to let the Lord steer our course. At times, we want to be in complete control, yet God always sees the bigger picture.[3]

In all of this, no matter the difficulties we encounter, Saint Joseph shows us the way forward with courage and faith. Indeed, “the message conveyed to Joseph is overwhelming, and it demands extraordinarily courageous faith,” such as Joseph possessed.[4]

The courageous faith of Saint Joseph led to him live a life in obedience to the will of God. He obeyed the word of the Lord revealed to him by the angel promptly and without question. He obeyed because he had confidence in the will of the Lord; thus it was that Joseph’s obedience “made it possible for him to surmount his difficulties and to spare Mary” from public shame.[5] And like his wife, “in every situation, Joseph declared his own ‘fiat’ [“let it be done to me”].[6]

It was his obedience to the divine will that made Saint Joseph a man of admirable self-sacrifice.

Joseph set aside his own ideas in order to accept the course of events and, mysterious as they seemed, to embrace, take responsibility for them and make them part of his own history. Unless we are reconciled with our own history, we will be unable to take a single step forward, for we will always remain hostage to our expectations and the disappointments that follow. The spiritual path that Joseph traces for us is not one the explains, but accepts.[7]

In our own day, which stresses self-will to the extreme, the willingness to make a sacrifice of ourselves to God and to his will is a lesson we desperately need to learn. It was his selflessness that not only opened Saint Joseph’s heart to God, but also opened his heart to others.

In the depths of his heart, Saint Joseph knew what too many people today have forgotten, namely that authentic love “seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.”[8] “The logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the center of things. He did not think of himself, but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus.”[9] It was the strength of his love that led Joseph to remain with the Child and with Mary; he loved them more than he loved himself. We would do well to imitate him in this because “Joseph found happiness not in mere self-sacrifice, but in self-gift. In him, we never see frustration but only trust.”[10]

All of these virtues of courage, faith, obedience, self-sacrifice, and love made Saint Joseph zealous for Jesus and Mary; everything he did, he did for them. It was because of these virtues that he “was the man chosen by God to guide the beginnings of the history of redemption.”[11] Pope Francis has given us this Year of Saint Joseph to turn our gaze upon the foster father of Jesus to learn from him these same virtues that we, too, might become zealous for his Son.

In these coming weeks and months, then, let us turn frequently to Saint Joseph, our father and protector, and say:

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,

Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

To you God entrusted his only Son;

in you Mary placed her trust;

with you Christ become man.


Blessed Joseph, to us, too,

show yourself a father

and guide us in the path of life.

Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,

And defend us from every evil. Amen.[12]

[1] Pope Francis, Patris Corde, 7.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 2.

[4] Joseph Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. Philip J. Whitmore, trans. (New York: Image, 2012), 41.

[5] Pope Francis, Patris Corde, 3.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 4.

[8] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 6.

[9] Pope Francis Patris Corde, 7.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 5.

[12] Ibid., 7.

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