Pope Francis in his last Apostolic Letter „Patris Corde” presents figure of Saint Joseph as a man who took responsibility for the mother and the child, and by this also for the whole of the Church. Saint Joseph continues protecting Jesus, „the body of Christ in the history” and Mary, whose motherhood „is reflected in the motherhood of the Church”.
We could ask: what kind of responsibility could we learn from Saint Joseph? I would like to point out some of the characteristics that Pope mentions.
- Responsibility that establishes relationship
Saint Joseph was the one who put a name to the newly born child. „As we know, for ancient peoples, to give a name to a person or to a thing, as Adam did in the account in the Book of Genesis (cf. 2:19-20), was to establish a relationship”. When Francisco Palau began his relationships with the Church, he feels the need to ask always for the name of the One whom he was encountering with. It is normal that the first thing we ask of other person is her/his name. When we know someone’s name, we feel like we already know something about this person. But to know is not enough. It is only a beginning. And in the time we enter into relationship, we acquire responsibility for another person. I know, our society escapes from both relationship and responsibility. We prefer „virtual friendships” where we can like and unlike all the times we want, we can write any comment we know without taking responsibility for the words we right because in any moment we can just delete a comment. But as persons of relationship we need to take responsibility. And on the other hand, we need to establish relationship with those for whom we are responsible. The authoritarian way of commanding and expecting obedience is not working anymore. We live in the world that is thirsty for personal encounter and touch. For more than one year due to the pandemic we have lived imprisoned in reality online. When it all finish… will we still know how to relate face to face?
- Responsibility that shows tenderness
„Tenderness is the best way to touch the frailty within us. Pointing fingers and judging others are frequently signs of an inability to accept our own weaknesses, our own frailty. Only tender love will save us from the snares of the accuser”. Saint Joseph accepted Mary in the most vulnerable moment of her life. She was pregnant with „God knows” who, and it would be so easy to judge her and sentence her for what she had done. And I think now in so many men and women, young and old, who have been judged and sentenced by us, people of the Church, the just ones. But in reality, to be the just in the Bible means to look for the will of God, to go further than the letter of the Law and ask for God’s designs. That’s what Joseph did. That’s what we are called to do. How many times we put the letter of the Law, some rules and traditions, as more important as a person whom we are told to „love as we love ourselves”? „Joseph’s attitude encourages us to accept and welcome others as they are, without exception, and to show special concern for the weak, for God chooses what is weak”. Joseph’s heart, a father’s heart, was open for those who were weak, as Mary and child Jesus. Are our hearts too?
- Responsibility that requires creative courage
We like life without complications. Sometimes when we need to discern some actions to be taken, instead of using criteria of „charismatic significance”, we use those of comfortable solutions that won’t complicate too much nor compromise our situation. Good old order. Maybe that’s one of the reason that our life is losing its significance and meaningfulness in the world. Pope says that „Our lives can be miraculously reborn if we find the courage to live them in accordance with the Gospel”. And the Gospel is not the easiest thing to live. But it’s the only way to make it meaningful. „We should never think that believing means finding facile and comforting solutions. The faith Christ taught us is what we see in Saint Joseph. He did not look for shortcuts, but confronted reality with open eyes and accepted personal responsibility for it”. Our reality is more than complicated. In the majority of traditionally catholic countries the Church has lost its importance in the life of the persons due to its scandals and other issues that are waiting for too long without receiving any answer. For many committed christians, it is harder every day to find themselves in this place that has more of a structure than of community of faith. Many feel that they cannot belong anymore to the Church that doesn’t answer to their inquietude. And here comes Saint Joseph and invite us to have this „creative courage”: „In the face of difficulty, we can either give up and walk away, or somehow engage with it. At times, difficulties bring out resources we did not even think we had”. How can we engage anew with people who are getting more and more distant from the Church? How can we restore the beauty of the Church and proclaim her the greater happiness of all? I really do hope we will find these resources that don’t even think we have…
- Responsibility that loves the least
And as we talk about loving the Church, we also need to talk about her most vulnerable members. Pope says that „the Church cannot fail to show a special love for the least of our brothers and sisters, for Jesus showed a particular concern for them and personally identified with them. From Saint Joseph, we must learn that same care and responsibility. We must learn to love the child and his mother, to love the sacraments and charity, to love the Church and the poor”. Responsibility means loving. It’s not only taking care for obligation, with bad attitude. Christian responsibility consists in loving whole person and each person. It’s easy to love those who think the way we think, who profess the same religion or at least similar values, who can give us something in return for our commitment with them. But here we are called to love „the Church and the poor”. This Church and those poor who don’t think like we think, who have another scale of values, who cannot repay in this world for our efforts. Are we still ready to love?
„Fathers are not born, but made. A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child. Whenever a man accepts responsibility for the life of another, in some way he becomes a father to that person”. Something similar happens with us religious. We are not born mothers, we become mothers when we accept responsibility for the life of another person. We don’t experience nine months of carrying a new life in our wombs, but it doesn’t mean we cannot be mothers. More, the Church and the world today needs religious, men and women, to be fathers and mothers, to take responsibility for the Church. There can be no excuses anymore. There are too many people in our world that live like orphans, physically alone and abandon, spiritually empty, lost and confused. If we don’t feel responsible for them, what are we doing in the Church?
Aleksandra Nawrocka CMT