28. At a difficult time in the Church’s history, Pope Pius IX, wishing to place her under the powerful patronage of the holy patriarch Joseph, declared him “Patron of the Catholic Church.” For Pius IX this was no idle gesture, since by virtue of the sublime dignity which God has granted to his most faithful servant Joseph, “the Church, after the Blessed Virgin, his spouse, has always held him in great honor and showered him with praise, having recourse to him amid tribulations.”
What are the reasons for such great confidence? Leo XIII explained it in this way: “The reasons why Saint Joseph must be considered the special patron of the Church, and the Church in turn draws exceeding hope from his care and patronage, chiefly arise from his having been the husband of Mary and the presumed father of Jesus … Joseph was in his day the lawful and natural guardian, head and defender of the Holy Family … It is thus fitting and most worthy of Joseph’s dignity that in the same way that he once kept unceasing holy watch over the family of Nazareth, so now does he protect and defend with his heavenly patronage the Church of Christ.”
29. This patronage must be invoked as ever necessary for the Church, not only as a defense against all dangers, but also, and indeed primarily, as an impetus for her renewed commitment to evangelization in the world and to re-evangelization in those land and nations where–as I wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici–“religion and the Christian life were formerly flourishing and… are now put to a hard test.” In order to bring the first proclamation of Christ, or to bring it anew wherever it has been neglected or forgotten, the Church has need of special “power from on high” (cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:8): a gift of the Spirit of the Lord, a gift which is not unrelated to the intercession and example of his saints.
30. Besides trusting in Joseph’s sure protection, the Church also trusts in his noble example, which transcends all individual states of life and serves as a model for the entire Christian community, whatever the condition and duties of each of its members may be.
As the Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council has said, the basic attitude of the entire Church must be that of “hearing the word of God with reverence,” an absolute readiness to serve faithfully God’s salvific will revealed in Jesus. Already at the beginning of human redemption, after Mary, we find the model of obedience made incarnate in Saint Joseph, the man known for having faithfully carried out God’s commands.
Pope Paul VI invited us to invoke Joseph’s patronage “as the Church has been wont to do in these recent times, for herself in the first place, with a spontaneous theological reflection on the marriage of divine and human action in the great economy of the Redemption, in which economy the first–the divine one–is wholly sufficient unto itself, while the second–the human action which is ours–though capable of nothing (cf. Jn 15:5), is never dispensed from a humble but conditional and ennobling collaboration. The Church also calls upon Joseph as her protector because of a profound and ever present desire to reinvigorate her ancient life with true evangelical virtues, such as shine forth in Saint Joseph.”
31. The Church transforms these needs into prayer. Recalling that God wished to entrust the beginnings of our redemption to the faithful care of Saint Joseph, she asks God to grant that she may faithfully cooperate in the work of salvation; that she may receive the same faithfulness and purity of heart that inspired Joseph in serving the Incarnate Word; and that she may walk before God in the ways of holiness and justice, following Joseph’s example and through his intercession.
One hundred years ago, Pope Leo XIII had already exhorted the Catholic world to pray for the protection of Saint Joseph, Patron of the whole Church. The Encyclical Epistle Quamquam Pluries appealed to Joseph’s “fatherly love… for the child Jesus” and commended to him, as the “provident guardian of the divine Family,” “the beloved inheritance which Jesus Christ purchased by his blood.” Since that time–as I recalled at the beginning of this Exhortation–the Church has implored the protection of St. Joseph on the basis of “that sacred bond of charity which united him to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God,” and the Church has commended to Joseph all of her cares, including those dangers which threaten the human family.
Even today we have many reasons to pray in a similar way: “Most beloved father, dispel the evil of falsehood and sin… graciously assist us from heaven in our struggle with the powers of darkness… and just as once you saved the Child Jesus from mortal danger, so now defend God’s Holy Church from the snares of her enemies and from all adversity.” Today we still have good reason to commend everyone to Saint Joseph.
32. It is my heartfelt wish that these reflections on the person of Saint Joseph will renew in us the prayerful devotion which my Predecessor called for a century ago. Our prayers and the very person of Joseph have renewed significance for the Church in our day in light of the Third Christian Millennium.
The Second Vatican Council made all of us sensitive once again to the “great things which God has done,” and to that “economy of salvation” of which Saint Joseph was a special minister. Commending ourselves, then, to the protection of him to whose custody God “entrusted his greatest and most precious treasures,” let us at the same time learn from him how to be servants of the “economy of salvation.” May Saint Joseph become for all of us an exceptional teacher in the service of Christ’s saving mission, a mission which is the responsibility of each and every member of the Church: husbands and wives, parents, those who live by the work of their hands or by any other kind of work, those called to the contemplative life and those called to the apostolate.
This just man, who bore within himself the entire heritage of the Old Covenant, was also brought into the “beginning” of the New and Eternal Covenant in Jesus Christ. May he show us the paths of this saving Covenant as we stand at the threshold of the next Millennium, in which there must be a continuation and further development of the “fullness of time” that belongs to the ineffable mystery of the Incarnation of the Word.
May Saint Joseph obtain for the Church and for the world, as well as for each of us, the blessing of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Given at Rome, in St. Peter’s, on 15 August– the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary–in the year 1989, the eleventh of my Pontificate.
Joannes Paulus II