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Pope Francis’ Greatest Accomplishment?

For many Catholics, the Year of St. Joseph has been a light in our darkest hour. Between political and civil unrest, attacks on the clergy, and never-ending variants and lockdowns forcing us all to relearn the Greek alphabet, the conclusion of the Year of St. Joseph is bittersweet. Our Lord never said following Him would be easy. He said the exact opposite. It is part of our carrying of the cross.

For those of us who love the rich tradition of the Church, the Mass of the ages, and orthodox teaching, the Church hierarchy regards us as red-headed stepchildren at best and uncharitable schismatic boogeymen at worst. However, as it says in Isaiah, out of darkness comes light.

The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways. Despite his lack of charity towards traditionally-minded Catholics, Pope Francis’ most significant contribution to tradition has been the Year of St. Joseph. We may never know the full intentions behind Pope Francis declaring the Year of St. Joseph. Nevertheless, in doing so, he has done an excellent service to the Church and granted an extraordinary gift to the spiritual lives of the faithful.

Without exaggeration, the Church has done more to promote St. Joseph in the last 150 years than in its previous 1,800 years. In the Apostolic Letter Patris corde (“With a Father’s Heart”), Pope Francis marked the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pope Pius IX’s declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. Pope Francis proclaimed the Year of St. Joseph to celebrate the anniversary, beginning on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception 2020 and extending to the same feast in 2021.

In 2013, Pope Francis, fulfilling the intentions of his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, inserted the name of St. Joseph into all Eucharistic Prayers. That same year, Pope Francis consecrated Vatican City State to St. Joseph.

Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Holy Father spoke of exercising patience and hope every day. For him, these ordinary people resemble St. Joseph, “the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence,” who nonetheless played an incomparable role in salvation history.

It is clear by his words that Pope Francis sees the humility of St. Joseph as a lodestar for the Church. Indeed, it takes strength to be gentle and kind in a world that is constantly attacking virtue and holiness. Because of this, we often fall into the trap of pigeonholing religious figures as banal, unrelatable caricatures of meekness from long ago. As anyone who read the Litany of Saint Joseph this year can attest, St. Joseph has countless spiritual titles. It is easy to forget that the saints were real, multifaceted people. That is why the Church’s particular emphasis on St. Joseph’s headship and leadership has been so influential this year.

At the 56th Knights of Columbus College Councils Conference, Father Donald Calloway, MIC, the author of Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our spiritual Fatherurged college knights to imitate St. Joseph by way of his title “Pillar of Families.” In a cultural landscape marked by so much confusion around what it means to be a man, Calloway noted, “If men are not there to shore things up, to hold things up, to be pillars, things are going to collapse. You have a role to play: servant leadership. You have to be sacrificial.”

Echoing Pope Francis, Calloway’s notion of “servant leadership” is compelling and recalls St. Joseph’s role in the Nativity. When King Herod tried to kill his son, the Head of The Holy Family concealed the child Jesus, disobeyed an unjust law, and took refuge in a distant country where he did not know if he could make a living. Through his obedience to God, St. Joseph led his wife and newborn child into a country with a different language, culture, country, religion, and currency. While this must have filled his heart with grave anxiety, St. Joseph carried the faith and protected his family. This is servant leadership. It is clear. To modern ears, it sounds relatable. It means having the gall to ask yourself: what kind of man do you want to be? What is God calling you to do with the gifts he has given you? It requires us to take our faith seriously and calls us not to be afraid to take a stand. Today, just as then, this is no small feat.

From my experience this year, I have seen the spiritual and corporal works of mercy increase. Anecdotally, boots on the ground have seen participation in parish groups increase, charities break fundraising records, and more youths discover or rediscover the Catholic faith often through the lens of tradition. I contend that this could only happen under this pontificate. Why? Confusion is the mark of our times. Living out the faith is not easy. As Catholics, we do not always go for the simple. We almost always go with the “both-and.”

It is up to us to hear, to find clarity through the noise. In the words of the Supreme Knight Patrick Knight in the documentary St. Joseph: Our Spiritual Father,

Joseph waits silently for us, ready to guide us in the same way he helped our Lord. Throughout my life, I found him to be a powerful help when confronted with tough choices, and I encourage others to go to him as well.

Whatever the intention, the Year of St. Joseph has been a bright spot on this pontificate. By honoring the diligence, leadership, and faithfulness of St. Joseph, Pope Francis has made an outstanding contribution to the cultural patrimony of the Church. Like the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph models for each of us the importance of prayer, obedience to God, and courage in our lives.

For this reason, we should all continue to go to St. Joseph, our spiritual Father, and increase our devotion to him. Let us allow his example to inspire us in our challenges in the years to come.

St. Joseph, Protector of Holy Church, pray for us.



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