By Fr. Boniface Hicks, OSB
Fr. Boniface Hicks, OSB, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He co-authored two bestselling books with Fr. Thomas Acklin, OSB. He is the author of Through the Heart of St. Joseph.
It took the Church nearly 1,500 years (in 1481) to establish a liturgical feast for St. Joseph and nearly 1,900 years (in 1889) to publish the first encyclical about him. This encyclical came just after he was officially raised up to a great status in devotion by Bl. Pius IX, who officially declared him the protector of the universal Church in 1870. Every subsequent pope has published a significant teaching on St. Joseph, and many of them have inscribed that teaching in the official liturgical practice of the Roman Rite. In honor of the 150th anniversary of Bl. Pius IX’s declaration in 1870, Pope Francis even declared a Year of St. Joseph for the year 2020–2021. St. Joseph has surged in popularity among the faithful as well. For example, an international movement of consecration began in 2020, set in motion by Fr. Don Calloway’s comprehensive collection of teaching on St. Joseph packaged in his wonderfully accessible book. Just prior to that, a forty-four-day consecration to St. Joseph was published to bridge the days between the Solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19 and the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1. Another approach to St. Joseph was a recent exploration of his world as revealed in ancient documentary sources and archaeological records by Mike Aquilina.
In spite of all this, it seems there is still much mystery and even confusion that surrounds St. Joseph in the Christian imagination. Even for those who have come to know him through devotional and liturgical prayers, there is so much more that can be gained through deepening one’s relationship with him.
The slow development of the Church’s teaching on St. Joseph is itself a teaching on St. Joseph. After all, the role he played in salvation history, as we read in Scripture, was not to reveal, but to hide. When men would have desecrated the mystery, he was “unwilling to expose her” (Matt 1:19, NABRE), and when deadly envy threatened, he disappeared: “[He] took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt” (Matt 2:14). Amazingly, we see also that after decades in Nazareth, the neighbors had no idea that the Incarnate Word and the Immaculate Conception were living next door. Poor Joseph, who could only offer a pair of turtledoves in the Temple to fulfill the law toward his Son (see Luke 2:24), served as a living veil that disguised the Riches of Heaven, Whom he kept all those years in his home.
Growing in relationship with St. Joseph is a slow process because it is the development of a human relationship. In our humanity, it takes us time to open our hearts and trust, even when we are relating with a canonized saint. We must spend time together, gradually share more deeply from the heart, endure trials together, and eventually see the way our dear friend comes through for us. We also develop human relationships through mutual friends and family members. It stands to reason that no one can introduce us to St. Joseph better than his Divine Son and his immaculate wife. Of course, St. Joseph has much to teach us about them as well.
It is also important to approach St. Joseph with the right dispositions in order to come to know him better and be more united with him. These include dispositions that can receive love and help from him, such as vulnerability that trusts in his protection and littleness that opens to his fatherhood. These also include dispositions that make us like him, such as silence and hiddenness. There is also an unchosen path of suffering, fear, doubt, and anxiety on which we can choose to reach out to this strong and loving guardian and guide. These are the pathways that lead us into his home.
And these are the pathways that I outline in my new book, Through the Heart of St. Joseph. The way into his home is through his heart, and I hope that this book will help many draw closer to the heart of the father God has given us.
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Though he speaks no words in Scripture, St. Joseph’s message to us is resounding: he wants to lead us to Jesus. In Through the Heart of St. Joseph, Fr. Boniface Hicks reveals the path St. Joseph has laid.