Pope highlights St. Joseph’s ‘father’s heart and creative courage'
By Robin Gomes
Ahead of Saturday’s solemnity of St. Joseph, Pope Francis held out Jesus' foster father as a model for Christians, drawing attention particularly to his “father’s heart” and “creative courage”.
The Pope made the reference to St. Joseph on Thursday in his remarks to some 50 members of the Order of Augustinian Recollects, who began their 56th General Chapter in Rome on 1 March.
“Walking as One. I have come so that they may have life”, is the theme of their General Chapter.
Reminding the group that the entire Church is walking the path of synodality these days, he said, “it is a time to walk together, always forward, with our eyes and hearts centred on Jesus."
In this synodality, in communion with the whole Church, the Holy Father proposed to them the figure of St. Joseph, who the Augustinian Recollects venerate as their protector. In this regard, the Pope underscored two aspects of “this very dear saint”.
A father’s heart
First of all, everyone should keep in mind that every consecrated person and priest is called, like St. Joseph, to have a “father's heart”.
This means having a restless heart that is concerned to love and care for the sons and daughters entrusted to him, especially the most fragile, those who suffer, those who have not had the experience of paternal love. Such a heart does not rest until he or she brings them to an encounter with God, so that all may have life, and life in abundance, as their General Chapter theme suggests.
However, the Pope reminded them, “we cannot be true fathers without experiencing ourselves as children, children of the heavenly Father, who loves us and knows what we need”.
Secondly, St. Joseph also exhibits “creative courage”. These are not easy times, but they were not easy for Joseph either.
“But he trusted God, he trusted Him fully, and he offered all his abilities, his talents and skills to serve Him, and God gave him His grace to carry out the difficult mission entrusted to him."
Pope Francis urged the Augustinian Recollects to relive their day of consecration and bring to God all they are and allow Him to transform them into a "living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to Him."
This offering, the Pope said, will help them go out on mission with confidence, courage and creativity. “He is with us, walks beside us and helps us to make decisions.”
Pope Francis recently highlighted the role of the foster father of Jesus and the spouse of Mary in the Church. He proclaimed the “Year of St Joseph” from December 8, 2020 to December 8, 2021 in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the declaration of Saint Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church by Blessed Pope Pius IX. He also released the Apostolic Letter, “Patris corde” (“With a Father’s Heart”) on St. Joseph.
On dwindling vocations, dying congregations
At the end, Pope Francis spoke off the cuff, commenting on an observation made by the Prior General that the number vocations among Augustinian Recollects was dwindling. With 8 provinces previously, they are down to 4.
“This is a reality that we cannot ignore,” he said. They may blame it on the lack of interest among today’s young people and the falling birth-rate in Europe and America, and hence the need to look further afield to other cultures and countries for vocations, and so forth. What is needed is to prepare themselves for the future where they could be reduced to just 2 provinces or perhaps face a situation where “there will be no more Augustinian Recollects”. What they should rather ask themselves is: “Have we prepared the laity, have we prepared the people to continue the pastoral work in the Church?” “Have you prepared people to carry on with your spirituality, which is a gift from God, to carry it forward?”
The Holy Father admitted that this worries him but he does not want to play the prophet. We need to prepare ourselves for what is to happen and pass on our charism, our gift to those who can carry it forward. Without having any illusions or trying to mend things that cannot be mended, we should rather keep firm our charism and the consecration of life that we have.
For this, we have to pray for vocations and for ourselves that “the Lord also prepare us to give our gift, when we are fewer, to those who can collaborate with us”. He thus urged the Augustinian Recollects to ask the Lord for the grace of how to make these decisions not as sociologists or psychologists but as what the Lord would want.