Pope Francis and Saint Joseph



Thanks for joining us for this special Year of Saint Joseph presentation from Relevant Radio: 19 on 19th. A 19-minute talk on St. Joseph on the 19th of the month – the day dedicated to St. Joseph.

Welcome back to our next installment in the 19 on the 19th series here at Relevant Radio, my name is Father Matthew Spencer, Provincial Superior of the Oblates of Saint Joseph, and I’m just so blessed and honored to be with you as we continue our series. It’s the 8th installment in the 19 on the 19th series.

Did I get that right? Maybe it’s the seventh?

I can’t do math live, friends. The idea that we’ve been trying to share with you is on the 19th of every month to bring you 19 minutes of reflections on different topics, different themes, but all related to the person, the life, and the mission of Saint Joseph, the earthly father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And this is of course part of the year of Saint Joseph that we began in December on December 8th of 2020.

We have explored different topics here during these months of the 19 on the 19th series. We have talked about the spirituality of Saint Joseph about prayers to Saint Joseph. We’ve talked about theological aspects of Saint Joseph. We’ve talked about the year of Saint Joseph.

Today, we’re going to talk about something special, almost a little narrow, you might say, but it’s really timely and it’s very appropriate for the year of Saint Joseph, and for me, very encouraging. We’re going to explore for today in these short minutes that we have, we’re going to look at how Saint Joseph is present in the life of our Holy Father, Pope Francis.

Now let me say right at the start this is not to compare him to other popes and say, “Oh look at how pious Pope Francis is. He talks a lot about Saint Joseph and his predecessors maybe didn’t talk as much about him.” That’s not the idea. It’s not to compare so much as it is to say, well, if Pope Francis is so devoted to Saint Joseph, and he is, then maybe there’s something in that for you and for me, maybe there’s something we can take away from that and incorporate in our own lives.

Now let’s set the stage here, because popes, for many decades, several centuries at least, have been great devotees of Saint Joseph. All we need to do is to look at, say, Pius the 9th and Leo the 13th and Pius the 12th. Not to mention John the 23rd, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict the 16th. I mean, you could name probably every pope of the last two and a half centuries, and you could discover their great devotion to Saint Joseph. But there’s something unique about Pope Francis because of how prevalent the person of Saint Joseph is in his writing. So let’s dive right into it.

We know he was chosen to be pope by the College of Cardinals in 2013, and it was right before the Feast of Saint Joseph. He had to choose a date on which he would celebrate his inaugural Mass as the new Holy Father and what date did he choose? March 19th, the Feast of Saint Joseph.

Now, that’s not necessarily what was maybe expected because it’s a great solemnity, nice occasion to do that, but what it afforded him the opportunity to do is to preach his homily. The first homily of him as Pope for the world, and to preach on Saint Joseph.

I mean, this is only a 19 minute reflection. I can’t really dive into that particular homily directly, but I encourage you, all of his homilies, connected to Saint Joseph are easily accessible online. You can just search for his homily of March 19th, 2013, and you’ll see right from the very beginning of his papacy, even, he was choosing the person of Saint Joseph as a model for you and for me, but also for himself as comes through so clearly in that homily.

Something rather special happened only a few months after that. In fact, the Vatican announced that the Eucharistic prayers of the Church were being updated. This is a very significant change in our liturgy. The Eucharistic prayers is the most central part of the second half of the Holy Mass, with the Word of God, of course, being the focus of the first part of the Mass.

John the 23rd, decades past, had added the name of Saint Joseph to the first Eucharistic prayer, but in this very strange timing of events, the name of Saint Joseph was added to the first Eucharistic prayer and then other Eucharistic prayers which were being put together right around that same time didn’t have the saint of Saint Joseph I should say incorporated into their particular mentions of saints. It was almost like this strange twist of fate that it just didn’t happen and it was very distressing to devotees of Saint Joseph to say, “Wait, wait John the 23rd wanted him added to the first Eucharistic prayer? How come we missed him being incorporated in the second, third and fourth Eucharistic prayers, among others?” Well, Pope Francis chose to remedy that. Now I don’t want to take the credit away from Benedict XVI because this decision was already being explored, probably nearly finalized, under Benedict XVI.

But on the other hand, Pope Francis was the one that formally signed the decree and said, “Hey, we’re changing. We’re updating the mass.” At least the mention of Saint Joseph in the Mass, now the Mass doesn’t get changed, right? But now Saint Joseph is formally officially included in the other major Eucharistic prayers.

Again, as a sign of how highly Pope Francis thinks of Saint Joseph, notice Saint Francis of Assisi is not included normally inside the Eucharistic prayers, unless it happens to be his feast day and you’re using one of the Eucharistic prayers that allows for adding names. Pick your favorite saint – Saint Don Bosco Saint Therese of the Lisieux. I’m thinking of lots on my mind and we don’t need to go through all of them, but many of them aren’t included in the Eucharistic prayer because they’re more recent Saints. Well, Saint Joseph of course goes right back to the Holy Family and Pope Francis wanted to emphasize his central role in the mystery of salvation.

So remember, we’re still in the first few months of Pope Francis papacy, so we can’t dilly dally here. We’ll have to just move a little quickly through the next few years. Some neat events are picked up by, say, Catholic media and different interviews with Pope Francis.

Pope Francis reveals – and this is not new actually, he had talked about this when he was the Archbishop in Buenos Aires – he had a devotion to a particular statue of Saint Joseph. It was a small sleeping statue that would lay on his desk and he would place his prayer intentions underneath that statue. Well, he had mentioned this on more than one occasion, and what do you think happened to the sale of Sleeping Saint Joseph statues in the world? They skyrocketed. They became so popular. I was blessing so many of them in those first couple years when Pope Francis first revealed that devotion. And what a beautiful practice, what a beautiful expression of piety, and of entrusting to Saint Joseph his own care, as his own needs, and connecting that with how Saint Joseph can sleep soundly in the Lord, even when there are a lot of cares on his mind. Saint Joseph can be open to the Lord’s will even in his sleep, as we read inside of the Gospel of Saint Matthew.

I think this idea is important and it comes out in a lot of Pope Francis’ homilies. You can see through the years that Pope Francis often refers to Saint Joseph. Now, of course, popes have preached many homilies on the life of Saint Joseph, but often those homilies are connected to his feast days, March 19th, May 1st, maybe the feast of the Holy Family.

You will discover Pope Francis more often refers to Saint Joseph than other popes I think, just in his own pious devotion, he’ll bring him up as an example, as a reminder. And that’s why you can find so many homilies of Pope Francis referring to Saint Joseph. And almost always, those references include a mention of trust, include a mention of trusting and cooperating and obeying God’s command. That’s because that’s what Saint Joseph did in his life. He trusted, he obeyed. He followed the Lord’s will in his life, and it’s what Pope Francis is often trying to encourage us, you and me, in our own walk with the Lord, in our imitation of Saint Joseph. But perhaps the most significant expression that we can see of Pope Francis’s own a devotion to Saint Joseph, and I would say more than just his devotion, is his recognition that the person of Saint Joseph is so important that last year on December 8th, 2020 he surprised the world by inaugurating the year of Saint Joseph. By writing a letter on Saint Joseph offering to us more reflections on how Saint Joseph can be a model for us in our lives. He gave us different indulgences that would accompany this year of Saint Joseph. He encouraged us in this year of Saint Joseph to become even more devoted to the husband of Mary here on Earth.

I mean, a year of Saint Joseph is something unheard of, at least for the Universal Church I should say, prior to 2008 come December 8th, 2020. Certain bishops, of course, certain religious communities were having their own years of Saint Joseph. But that’s not uncommon. Bishops and religious orders down through the ages have tried to highlight different themes and saints’ lives in their own spirituality and in their own congregations. But here, Pope Francis saying, no, for the whole world, for the whole church I want to present the person of Saint Joseph.

That’s why you and I are even connecting right now because of the year of Saint Joseph. But I would say it’s also an invitation to you personally, not just to what Relevant Radio can produce for you, but it’s for you and me personally to say, “Well, if Pope Francis thinks this is important, if Pope Francis believes as the Vicar of Christ here on Earth, as our Holy Father, as the one that you and I look to and see the continuity all the way back to Saint Peter and even Christ himself, then do we trust in that indication that he’s pointed out to us?”

So I think there’s this beautiful opportunity that the Church has to say there is something more to Saint Joseph that maybe I haven’t connected with before, haven’t realized before in my life, but thanks to Pope Francis now we have that opportunity to do that.

It doesn’t end there, though. You know what really surprised me also was, just this past May Pope Francis announced a change to the Litany of Saint Joseph. He added seven new titles to the Litany of Saint Joseph. Titles that incorporate some of the needs of the world today. Titles that help you and I to know how important it is to have a relationship with Saint Joseph. And these are titles that have recently been completed to be translated into English for us, and hopefully very soon we will have that updated litany in your hands. I’ve seen an advanced copy of it, and boy is it beautiful. It’s actually revised. The litany has been translated again for the Church, but to me it’s just a more beautiful translation even than the official translation that we had just in the years leading up to this.

All of this to say that all of these points along the way, whether it’s the beginning of Pope Francis’s pontificate, whether it’s his affirmation of what Benedict XVI thought to be important by incorporating the name of Saint Joseph in the Eucharistic prayers. Maybe it was all of Pope Francis’ homilies down through the years, and now with the year of Saint Joseph and the different aspects he’s given to us.

To me what I see is this invitation to grow in our own devotion to Saint Joseph. If I could just point out, you know, there’s a lot that we could unpack in the life of Saint Joseph, but I was thinking about his homily from 2017. It was on March 20th because the feast of Saint Joseph got moved from Sunday to Monday so therefore it was celebrated the next day. Pope Francis said this, “Joseph takes all our weaknesses in hand. He takes them to heart and he fosters them in the way you foster weaknesses. With much tenderness. With the tenderness with which you pick up a child,” Pope Francis explained to the people listening to him.

Saint Joseph takes the weakness of the human race and he takes us to his heart. Saint Joseph lifts us up with the tenderness and the brokenness, the darkness that we experience in our lives, and he takes us to his son, Jesus. It’s not an accident that Pope Francis established the year of Saint Joseph during these very dark times in the world, in which you and I find ourselves. In fact, it was one of the motivating factors that he explained why he wanted this year of Saint Joseph to be for you and for me. And that’s important because Saint Joseph can guide us through these dark times. He can take our weaknesses. He can gather up our brokenness. He can carry our darkness to Jesus Christ himself.

And maybe you’ve found yourself a little overwhelmed in recent months, and during this last year of a pandemic. Maybe you’ve found yourself a little bit perturbed by what’s happening in the world and in our society. What do you think Pope Francis would say? I think he would say “Go to Saint Joseph. In fact, incorporate the person of Saint Joseph into your own personal devotion. Recognize the role that Saint Joseph had. See the closeness that Saint Joseph had with our Blessed mother and with the Christ child.” And when we start to recognize that, when we see how profound the life of Saint Joseph is and how deep his connection to Mary and Jesus is, then we can’t help but grow to love Saint Joseph more. We can’t help but even to imitate the piety and devotion that Pope Francis himself has, right? To see in our Holy Father’s devotion, something valuable for you and for me.

So I really believe, just in summary, I really believe that the Lord gave Pope Francis his own love for Saint Joseph precisely so that he could share that devotion with you and with me.

The Holy Spirit affirmed Pope Francis as the Holy Father, in order that some of those aspects of his spiritual life might also be shared with the world and, in my opinion, his devotion to Saint Joseph is one of those that is so important and so needed in the world today. So I really give thanks to God that our Holy Father is such a devotee of Saint Joseph. I think there is much that you and I can take from that. And Pope Francis has not left us without material for reflection. He’s not left us to try and mysteriously figure out where he stands in all this. He’s given us homilies. He’s given us litany changes. He’s given us changes even in the Mass, and he has given us the year of Saint Joseph.

How important it is for you and for me to learn from our Holy Father, to grow in devotion to Saint Joseph, and to make him a part of our own daily devotion and lives as well.

Well, we’re at the end of our 19 on the 19th. Thanks so much for joining me for this brief moment, say a prayer for me, okay? I’ll do the same for you. May almighty God bless you. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Thanks for joining us for this special Year of St. Joseph presentation from Relevant Radio. Invite your friends and family to sign-up to receive these monthly talks at RelevantRadio.com or on the Relevant Radio App.

Fr. Matthew Spencer is an Oblate of St. Joseph and former host of St. Joseph's Workshop here on Relevant Radio.