Saint Joseph: the dream of vocation
Dear brothers and sisters:
On December 8, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the declaration of Saint Joseph as Patron of the universal Church, the Year dedicated especially to him began (cf. Decree of the Apostolic Penitentiary , December 8, 2020 ). For my part, I wrote the Apostolic Letter Patris corde so that “love for this great saint may grow.” It is, indeed, an extraordinary figure, and at the same time “so close to our human condition.” Saint Joseph did not make an impact, nor did he possess particular charisms, nor did he appear important in the eyes of others. He was not famous and he was not noticed, the Gospels do not collect a single word of him. However, with his ordinary life, he accomplished something extraordinary in the eyes of God.
God sees the heart (cf. 1 Sam16.7) and in Saint Joseph he recognized a father’s heart, capable of giving and generating life in everyday life. Vocations tend to this: to generate and regenerate life every day. The Lord wants to forge the hearts of fathers, hearts of mothers; open hearts, capable of great impulses, generous in dedication, compassionate in the consolation of anguish and firm in the strengthening of hope. This is what the priesthood and consecrated life need, especially today, in times marked by fragility and suffering also caused by the pandemic, which has raised uncertainty and fear about the future and the very meaning of life. Saint Joseph comes to meet us with his meekness, as a saint from next door; at the same time, their strong testimony can guide us along the way.
Saint Joseph suggests three key words for our vocation. The first is a dream . Everyone in life dreams of being fulfilled. And it is right that we have high expectations, high goals rather than fleeting goals – such as success, money, and fun – that are unable to satisfy us. In fact, if we asked people to express their life dream in one word, it would not be difficult to imagine the answer: “love.” It is love that gives meaning to life, because it reveals its mystery. Life, in fact, can only be had if it is given , it is only truly possessed if it is fully surrendered. Saint Joseph has much to tell us in this regard because, through the dreams that God inspired in him, he made his existence a gift.
The Gospels narrate four dreams (cf. Mt1.20; 18.104.22.168). They were divine calls, but they were not easy to welcome. After each dream, José had to change his plans and take risks, sacrificing his own projects to support God’s mysterious projects. He totally trusted. But we can ask ourselves: “What was a night dream to place so much trust in him?” Although in ancient times much attention was paid to it, it was still little before the concrete reality of life. In spite of everything, Saint Joseph allowed himself to be guided by dreams without hesitation. Why? Because his heart was oriented towards God, he was already predisposed towards Him. His watchful “inner ear” was only able to use a small signal to recognize his voice. This also applies to our calls. God does not like to reveal himself in a spectacular way, forcing our freedom. He makes his plans known to us gently, he does not dazzle us with shocking visions, but he addresses our interiority delicately, approaching us intimately and speaking to us through our thoughts and feelings. And so, as he did with Saint Joseph, he sets us high and surprising goals.
The dreams led José on adventures he would never have imagined. The former destabilized his courtship, but made him the father of the Messiah; the second made him flee to Egypt, but saved the lives of his family; the third announced the return to his homeland and the fourth made him change his plans again by taking him to Nazareth, the same place where Jesus was going to begin the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. In all these vicissitudes, the courage to follow God’s will was victorious. This is what happens in vocation: the divine call always prompts us to go out, to surrender, to go further. There is no faith without risk. Only by confidently abandoning oneself to grace, putting aside one’s own plans and comforts, can one truly say “yes” to God. And each “yes” bears fruit, because it adheres to a bigger plan, of which we only glimpse details, but that the divine Artist knows and carries forward, to make each life a masterpiece. In this sense, Saint Joseph represents an exemplary icon of welcoming God’s projects. But hisThe reception is active , he never gives up or gives up, “he is not a man who passively resigns himself. He is a brave and strong protagonist »(Letter ap. Patris corde , 4). May he help everyone, especially the discerning youth, to realize the dreams that God has for them; May it inspire the courageous initiative to say “yes” to the Lord, who always surprises and never disappoints.
The second word that marks the itinerary of Saint Joseph and of his vocation is service . It is clear from the Gospels that he lived entirely for others and never for himself. The holy People of God call him most chaste husband, thus revealing his ability to love without withholding anything for himself. Releasing love from his desire for possession, he opened himself to even more fruitful service, his loving care has spread through the generations, and his caring protection has made him a patron of the Church. He is also the patron of the good death, he who knew how to embody the oblative meaning of life. However, his service and sacrifices were only possible because they were sustained by a greater love: “Every true vocation is born from the gift of oneself, which is the maturing of simple sacrifice. Also in the priesthood and consecrated life this type of maturity is required. When a vocation, whether in married life, celibate or virginal, does not reach the maturity of the self-giving, stopping only in the logic of sacrifice,ibid ., 7).
For Saint Joseph, service, a concrete expression of the gift of self, was not only a lofty ideal, but also became a rule of daily life. He struggled to find and adapt a place for Jesus to be born, did his best to defend him from Herod’s fury by organizing a sudden trip to Egypt, rushed back to Jerusalem to search for Jesus when he was lost, and supported his family with the fruit of their labor, even in a foreign land. In short, he adapted to the various circumstances with the attitude of one who does not get discouraged if life does not go as he wants, with the availability of those who live to serve.. In this spirit, Joseph undertook the many and often unexpected journeys of his life: from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census, then to Egypt and again to Nazareth, and each year to Jerusalem, with a willingness to face new situations each time. , without complaining about what was happening, willing to lend a hand to fix things. It could be said that it was the outstretched hand of the heavenly Father towards his Son on earth. For this reason, it can only be a model for all vocations, which are called to be the diligent hands of the Father for his sons and daughters.
I like to think then of Saint Joseph, the custodian of Jesus and of the Church, as the custodian of vocations . Their attention to vigilance comes, in effect, from their availability to serve. “She got up, took the child and his mother by night” ( Mt2:14), says the Gospel, pointing out his urgency and dedication to the family. He wasted no time analyzing what was not working well, so as not to take it away from whoever was in charge. This attentive and solicitous care is the sign of a vocation fulfilled, it is the testimony of a life touched by the love of God. What a beautiful example of Christian life we set when we do not obstinately pursue our own ambitions and do not allow ourselves to be paralyzed by our nostalgia, but rather we take care of what the Lord entrusts to us through the Church! Thus, God pours out his Spirit, his creativity, on us; and works wonders, as in Joseph.
In addition to God’s call —which fulfills our greatest dreams— and our response —which is made concrete in the available service and attentive care—, there is a third aspect that runs through the life of Saint Joseph and the Christian vocation, marking the rhythm of the everyday: fidelity . Joseph is the “just man” ( Mt1,19), who in the laborious silence of each day perseveres in his adherence to God and his plans. In a particularly difficult moment he begins to “consider all things” (cf. v. 20). He meditates, reflects, does not allow himself to be dominated by haste, does not give in to the temptation to make hasty decisions, does not follow his instincts and does not live without perspectives. Cultivate everything with patience. He knows that existence is built only with continued adherence to great options. This corresponds to the calm and constant industriousness with which he carried out the humble office of carpenter (cf. Mt13,55), for which he did not inspire the chronicles of the time, but the daily life of every father, every worker and every Christian throughout the centuries. Because vocation, like life, only matures through daily fidelity.
How is this fidelity nurtured? In the light of God’s faithfulness. The first words that Saint Joseph heard in his dreams were an invitation not to be afraid, because God is faithful to his promises: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear” ( Mt 1:20). Do not worry: these are the words that the Lord also addresses to you, dear sister, and to you, dear brother, when, even in the midst of uncertainties and vacillations, you feel that you can no longer postpone the desire to give your life to Him. They are the words that he repeats to you when, wherever you are, perhaps in the midst of trials and misunderstandings, you fight every day to fulfill his will. They are the words that you rediscover when, along the path of the call, you return to your first love. They are the words that, like a refrain, accompany those who say yes to God with their life like Saint Joseph, in daily fidelity.
This fidelity is the secret of joy. In the house of Nazareth, says a liturgical hymn, there was “a limpid joy.” It was the daily and transparent joy of simplicity, the joy felt by those who guard what is important: faithful closeness to God and neighbor. How beautiful it would be if the same simple, radiant, sober and hopeful atmosphere permeated our seminaries, our religious institutes, our parish houses! It is the joy that I wish for you, brothers and sisters who have generously made God the dream of your lives, to serve him in the brothers and sisters who have been entrusted to you, through fidelitywhich is already a testimony in itself, in a time marked by fleeting choices and emotions that fade without leaving joy. May Saint Joseph, custodian of vocations, accompany you with the heart of a father.
Rome, Saint John Lateran, March 19, 2021, Solemnity of Saint Joseph