We are entering the season of Advent, a time of great anticipation. Indeed, the word literally means “coming” or “approach.” We await the approaching birth of the Messiah, the Son of God.
For the Diocese of La Crosse, this is also the Year of St. Joseph, our patron. The intersection of these two holy “seasons” presents us with a wonderful opportunity—to contemplate the story of Jesus’ annunciation and birth through the eyes of St. Joseph. That is something most of us have probably never done.
Picture a typical manger display. There is Mary, looking down upon her newborn Son with wonder. Scattered around the manger we see a few animals—maybe some sheep, a donkey, a cow. Figurines of simple shepherds approach from the outside, summoned by an angel typically placed atop the stable roof. And then, of course, there is the figure of Joseph, standing next to Mary, staff in hand. He is in a prominent place in our Nativity scene, but does our mental “spotlight” fall on him, or does he seem almost a kind of prop—necessary but somehow not so significant?
If we answered the latter, our perspective is not so different from the Church’s experience for long centuries. Pope St. John XXIII spoke about this in 1961, in a document invoking St. Joseph’s protection for the Second Vatican Council. He noted that from the Church’s earliest times, Jesus has been adored and Mary devoutly venerated, with pictures etched in the catacombs and painted in basilicas.
“But Joseph,” wrote Pope St. John XXIII, “for long centuries remained in the background, in his characteristic concealment, almost as a decorative figure in the overall picture of the Savior’s life. It took time for devotion to him to go beyond those passing glances and take root in the hearts of the faithful, and then surge forth in the form of special prayers and of a profound sense of trusting abandonment. The fervent joy of pouring forth these deepest feelings of the heart in so many impressive ways has been saved for modern times!”
Bishop William Patrick Callahan, by his proclamation of a Year of St. Joseph on May 1, 2020, the Solemnity of St. Joseph the Workman, has affirmed that indeed this is the time for that “fervent joy,” the time for devotion to St. Joseph to “take root in the hearts of the faithful.”
Four talks for an Advent Mission
One of the ways we in the Diocese of La Crosse will try to deepen our devotion to St. Joseph, in this holy season of Advent, is through sponsoring a talk on each of the four Sundays in Advent. This four-week Advent Mission will focus on “Preparing for the Birth of the Christ Child through the Eyes of St. Joseph.” Beginning Nov. 29, the First Sunday of Advent, each talk will be streamed online at 7 p.m. We hope that, where possible, people will gather in their parishes to watch the talks together and share a bit of prayer, so this can truly be experienced as a parish mission. Recordings of the talks will remain on the website diolc.org/advent for later access. Our featured speakers will be Bishop William Patrick Callahan (who has spoken often of his deep devotion to St. Joseph), Monsignor Joseph Diermeier, Monsignor Joseph Hirsch and Father Woodrow Pace.
Virtual Advent Mission
Each of the Four Sundays of Advent, 7 p.m., at diolc.org/advent (recordings of the talks will remain on the website).
• Nov. 29 – “St. Joseph: The Man Selected by God to be Closest to Mary and to Jesus” – Monsignor Joseph Diermeier
• Dec. 6 – “Joseph and Mary:
A Holy Love Story” – Monsignor Joseph Hirsch
• Dec. 13 – “That Holy Night, through Joseph’s Eyes”– Father Woodrow Pace
• Dec. 20 – “Joseph, Son of David … You are to Give Him the Name Jesus” – Bishop William Patrick Callahan
Consecration to St. Joseph
Another way many of the faithful of the diocese have been deepening their devotion to St. Joseph is through reading the book Consecration to St. Joseph by Father Donald Calloway, and undertaking the 33-day consecration he lays out, either individually or, ideally, in a group. This past summer, I led such a group, and we met by Zoom video conference. Everyone agreed that the experience brought them much closer to St. Joseph. They felt the strength of his presence in their lives as a spiritual father, protector and guide.
This Advent, consider whether God may be calling you to undertake the consecration with a group in your parish. Visit consecrationtostjoseph.org to learn more. Also, if you have questions about running a group, feel free to contact me, Chris Ruff, at [email protected], or Ann Lankford at [email protected].
Other diocesan initiatives for the Year of St. Joseph
At the opening Mass for the Year of St. Joseph on May 1, 2020, Bishop William Patrick Callahan alluded to a possible pilgrimage to St. Joseph Shrine at St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere, with a stop at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Hope in Champion (the only shrine at the site of an approved apparition of Our Lady in the U.S.). It remains to be seen if circumstances in the spring will allow for this. In any case, the last week of April will feature a special novena to St. Joseph, with parish Masses on Sunday, May 2, bringing our Year of St. Joseph to a close (May 1 is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker). Updates on these and other possible initiatives will be posted at diolc.org/year-of-st-joseph.
In the meantime, all are encouraged in this special year of grace to continue to turn to St. Joseph, invoking his warm guidance and protection as a spiritual father. One way we can do that is by praying daily the Memorare to St. Joseph found on our diocesan Year of St. Joseph prayer cards:
“Remember, O most pure Spouse of the Virgin Mary, my noble protector Saint Joseph, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I come to you, my spiritual father, and fervently commend myself to you. Despise not my petitions, O Guardian of the Redeemer, but in your goodness hear and answer me. Amen.”
Director of the Office for Ministries and Social Concerns
Published December 2020 Catholic Life issue