The Weight of One Year
Last spring, on the Feast of St. Joseph, I attended Mass at St. Pius for the last time before our doors were closed to worship for months. The weekend prior, we were forced to make the difficult decision to cancel our Sunday Masses due to attendance numbers being too high, but daily Mass continued for a few more days. That night of March 19, 2020, I remember what I was wearing, where I was sitting in the church, and what I was feeling. It’s funny because I think back on that week last year and remember knowing that it was bound to happen. So much was changing so quickly. The kids were pulled out of school and began remote learning, the doors to our favorite restaurants closed, grocery store shelves were empty, and we all knew it was only a matter of time before our lives were altered so drastically.
This week, we look forward to celebrating the Feast of St. Joseph again. However, it’s with much anticipation and hope that we are looking forward to the coming year. Vaccinations are available, doors are slowly opening back up, and our lives are returning to a kind of normalcy. While the large parties and potlucks and group hugs might be a long way off, there seems to be a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.
Reflecting back on the past year, I am sure we can all say that we have had moments of despair or frustration. But often these moments, if we stopped and looked long enough, came with silver linings. Calendars were cleared, priorities were shifted, and relationships were brought to the forefront of our lives. Some of us experienced great loss while others welcomed new life. We sold homes, made ends meet, and became scavengers for toilet paper. But we also tried out new recipes, cleaned out closets, and adapted to new technology. The human condition is a myriad of growth, emotions, aspirations, conflicts, and morals. All of these were tried and tested this past year, and our humanity was certainly validated.
St. Joseph is the perfect member of our Communion of Saints to ask for intercession when life becomes difficult. His path was not an easy one. He was faced with many trials and uncertainty, but his faith and confidence in God carried him through. We all face trials. We all seek wisdom. It is precisely in these times of trial and wisdom-seeking that our faith is strengthened and affirmed.
Pope Francis invited the Universal Church to meditate and pray for the intercession of the foster father of Jesus this year with his apostolic letter, Patris corde (With a father’s heart). Joseph’s example comes at the perfect time when this pandemic has forced many into isolation. Joseph is a model of “hidden life” and was undoubtedly familiar with suffering, so he understands our struggles.
There is an art exhibit at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City with a portrait called “The Death of St. Joseph,” painted by Francisco Goya. It depicts an ailing Joseph lying in bed and Mary and Jesus (at the age of maybe 16 or 17) are seated next to him. While St. Joseph is usually invoked as the patron of a “happy death,” this painting brings to mind the suffering of Jesus and Mary in that moment. A similar suffering to that which many of us have gone through while watching friends or loved ones battle Covid. The Holy Family is like many of our families today, grieving the loss of a loved one in isolation.
Joseph’s life of quiet service was filled with countless unseen and unrecorded acts of love. His dedication and faith are shared by millions who have made their way through this past year – healthcare workers on the front lines, parents worrying about their children and school, adult children of aging parents living in nursing homes, checkout people at grocery stores, public transit workers, and all those who barely made a living prior to the pandemic who suddenly had no way of “working from home.”
This past year has held many defeats, but there have also been many unseen acts of love and prayers raised to heaven. St. Joseph understands them all, and it is with great thanksgiving that we look forward to celebrating his feast day this Friday, March 19.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
(Painting: "The Death of St. Joseph," by Francisco Goya c. 1787, used with permission from Creative Commons. Information about St. Joseph taken from several sources, including Catholic.org, AmericaMagazine.org, and Vatican.va.)