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St. Joseph, protector of the persecuted

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On March 19 nearly eight years ago, the church celebrated Pope Francis’ papal inauguration. It was the solemnity of St. Joseph, and in a homily reflecting on Joseph as "protector," the pope foreshadowed many of the works and teachings that now mark his ministry. At the heart of it, Pope Francis highlighted what it means to follow Joseph. The pope encouraged, "In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!"

In some ways, then, the Dec. 8 announcement of a Year of St. Joseph — set to begin that very day and lasting until Dec. 8 2021 — is less surprising. From the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has invited us to foster our love of Joseph, ask for his intercession and follow his example. This year, the church provides many ways to respond to that invitation.

The Year of St. Joseph draws our attention in a special way to the feast of the Holy Family, Dec 27 this year. This day, we recall that God, out of love, has given us the shining example of the Holy Family. We pray through Christ that, following their example and aided by the intercession of Mary and Joseph, our own families may be held in God’s grace and peace. We are nourished well at this feast by ruminating on the Scriptures. This year, Luke 2:22-40 will be proclaimed at Mass. Here, Simeon holds Our Lord in his arms, and he offers the praise that we, holding Christ in our hearts, can make our own at the end of each day in Night Prayer: "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace … "

In addition, the Gospel proclaimed at last year’s feast is enriching spiritual food during the Year of St. Joseph. Matthew 2:13-23 recounts the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. Venerable Pius XII taught that the émigré Holy Family is the "archetype" of every family who, "whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave" their home ("Exsul Familia Nazarethana").

Pope Francis took up the same image in this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees Sept. 27 to highlight our Christian duty to protect those forced to flee, and in the letter "Patris Corde" for the Year of St. Joseph, Francis considers this saint to be a special patron of those forced to flee. For Joseph — himself persecuted and driven from his home — protected Mary and Jesus as they fled to Egypt and lived there in exile.

In following Joseph’s example, we, too, are called to protect those fleeing persecution. For example, Catholic Charities provides many opportunities to help refugees right here in Virginia. In asking for Joseph’s intercession, we pray especially for persecuted Christians. In fact, during the Year of St. Joseph, the church offers a special plenary indulgence for those who pray the Litany of St. Joseph for the persecuted church ad intra and ad extra and for the relief of Christians suffering persecution (and meet the usual requirements for indulgences). Having been called to such works during this year, we pray that they may be especially fruitful during the feast of the Holy Family and throughout the Christmas season.

Starke is director of the diocesan Office of Divine Worship.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020