It is with the words “With a father’s heart” that Pope Francis opens his Apostolic letter celebrating the anniversary of the proclamation of St Joseph, as Patron of the Universal Church. The pope seems to be answering a question which he does not tell us. His answer begs the question of why he chooses this description of a heart which answer we get in the concluding paragraph of the letter’s introduction. “For as Jesus says, out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:14).” Yet there is a great paradox, that throughout the gospels, Joseph is silent and gradually fizzles out from the scene. He seems to embrace the spirituality of John the Baptist: Christ must increase while I decrease. (Jn.3:30-35) The silence of Joseph speaks volumes and ascertains the expression that actions speak louder than words.
Anecdotally men have been said to love with their heads and women to love with their hearts. And in popular marriage parlance, the man is said to be the head and the woman is the heart of the family. Hence, when Pope Francis refers to Joseph as having a father’s heart, there is a certain paradox worth pausing to consider.
One cannot lose sight of the fact that the Pope issued this letter on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception when the Church celebrates the fact that Mary was born without original sin. This brings to bold relief the fact that Joseph is no stranger to our human experience. But even more so, is the fact that Joseph is not unaffected by his union with Mary. She who is the handmaid of the Lord graces Joseph’s life too. Wherever we find Mary, Joseph is also present. To love Mary, is to love not just her Son but also and of course her husband. Therefore, when we invoke the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we should also and always analogously albeit, consider the heart of Joseph.
When the evangelist Luke recounts that Mary treasured these things and stored them in her heart (Lk. 2:19), the same could also be said of Joseph. This narrative is within the nativity scene which begins with Joseph bringing his wife Mary to be counted for the census that had been decreed. Joseph’s heart is rich and full of similar experiences. That heart is full and is overflowing.
No doubt Pope Francis describes Joseph’s heart from different vantage points. It is the fatherhood of Joseph that provides the launchpad from where he soars to the heavens. The word “father” is used at least 34 times throughout the text and indicates quite frankly where Pope Francis wants to lay emphasis namely fatherhood.
“Children today often seem orphans, lacking fathers,” writes Pope Francis highlighting what has become known as the crisis of fatherhood. “Fathers are not born but made. A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world.”
It is as though the Pope is saying it is not enough to be called father but beyond this what kind of father are you. What kind of a heart do you have? To Pope Francis, St Joseph is the father par excellence as evident in the seven-fold adjectival descriptions he makes of St Joseph namely, “a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father, a creatively courageous father and a father in the shadows.” These are qualities that flow from the heart of Joseph whom the Pope proposes for imitation. Within the context of the Year of St. Joseph, we have randomly selected each of these for a month-long meditation around which we will design weekly reflections.
This project is in alignment with the Pope’s goal for us to “increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal.”
Like Christ, St Joseph even in his silence is inviting us to learn from him for his gentle and lowly in heart. And Matthew presents the challenge in a much more forthcoming way when he notes that: But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart and they defile for the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. (Mtt.15:18-19). To cultivate a father’s heart, we are exhorted to turn to St Joseph’s heart.
During this month of January, let us seek out the heart of Joseph, a great treasury of love overflowing with blessings and grace. Just as Christ is an adopted son of Joseph, so too are we followers of Christ, adopted children of Joseph. Are you a father? What kind of heart do you have? Are you missing a father? Have you been abused by a father? Turn to the father of all fathers! Are you an absentee father? Seek the heart of Joseph to intercede for you.