Many Catholic writers have been explaining, examining, and encouraging devotion to Saint Joseph ever since Pope Francis declared a “Year of Saint Joseph” in December of 2020. As the March 19th annual solemnity in honor of the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary reminded us, there are certainly many ways to celebrate this great saint. Litanies, consecrations, and prayers to Saint Joseph are popping up everywhere.
But that does not answer a more fundamental question: why is this happening now? That is, why has there been such an explosion of interest in a saint who is far from new?
Sandra Miesel provides excellent reasons in her article, The often silent and surprising history of devotion to Saint Joseph, examining the history of this spirituality from the earliest times up to the present day. Father Donald Calloway has also sparked a movement of Josephite devotion through his book, Consecration to Saint Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father (Marian Press, 2020). Not only does Fr. Calloway’s book help the reader complete a thirty-three-day consecration to the saint, it quotes liberally from other saints, blesseds, and other holy men and women of the Church and points out the growing emphasis on devotion to this saint from recent popes.
In January of 2020, Bishop Peter Jugis even beat Pope Francis to the punch by proclaiming a Year of Saint Joseph in his diocese to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pius IX’s proclamation of Saint Joseph as the patron of the universal Church. My own parish in northern Virginia cannot be the only one participating in a parish-wide consecration this Lent.
This recent interest should not surprise Catholics; it was not until 1854 that Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The underlying teaching of that dogma had been argued, debated, and explained for centuries before a pope became convinced that the timing—and the wording of the explanation of this Marian teaching—was right. The same thing appears to be happening now in the Church’s understanding of the importance of Saint Joseph.
Fr. Calloway’s book bases its thirty-three-day consecration program on a yet more famous book: Saint Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort’s True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Saint Louis is careful to distinguish between true devotion to Mary and false devotion; those who are truly devoted to the Blessed Mother are humbly aware of their own weakness and need for her intercession with our Lord, while false devotees are motivated by pride. For example, they keep track of the number of rosaries they have said and are careful to brag about it to others. Since Saint Louis only outlined his suggestions for the consecration, multiple authors have written books with reflections and prayers for each of the thirty-three days.
It is hard to read True Devotion and not be struck by how fitting it was for God the Father to choose such a humble, pure, faithful woman to be the Mother of His Son. After all, Saint Louis’ book begins with the earthshaking sentence: “It was through the Blessed Virgin Mary that Jesus Christ came into the world, and it is also through her that he must reign in the world.” God the Father looked at every soul He had created or would create and picked the perfect one to be the Mother of the Incarnate Son of God. While one must acknowledge the many particular graces given to the Blessed Mother, including her Immaculate Conception, the argument of fittingness can also be applied to Saint Joseph. If God the Father chose him for such a key role in the Incarnation, he must have been the perfect man for the job.
There is at least one more reason for this surge in devotion to Saint Joseph. As both Miesel’s article and Calloway’s book points out, there are plenty of problems with our culture’s understanding of the value of fatherhood. A short list includes: fathers who have abandoned their children through divorce; fathers who have pressured (or encouraged) the mothers of their children to have abortions; and fathers who refused to acknowledge their children, generally because they chose not to marry the mothers of those children. This failure on the part of so many men has led to an entire generation of children who do not know their own fathers well or at all. As a result, boys do not grow up knowing how to be fathers, and girls do not grow up knowing what to look for in potential husbands and fathers to their own children.
Perhaps this is the reason for the sudden growth in interest in Saint Joseph. Just as our Blessed Mother provides us with a beautiful example of maternal trust in God—“Let it be done unto me according to Your word”—so Saint Joseph provides a manly model of paternal, human love for our dysfunctional modern world. He was a father who supported his family through the work of his own hands.1 A father who worshipped God.2 A father who obeyed God’s laws.3 A father who protected his family.4 A father who was known for being honest and just.5 A father who obeyed God’s will, even when it was dangerous and difficult.6
For all these reasons and more, this is the perfect time for Saint Joseph.
1 Matt 13:55
2 Luke 2:41
3 Luke 2:39
4 Matt 2:22
5 Matt 1:19
6 Matt 2:14
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