In this critical year of faith we should pay more attention to St. Joseph, because through him God will provide a way to overcome the famine of faith. The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis can remind us of similarities to St. Joseph: their dreams, their chastity, their wise stewardship. The Joseph of Genesis wisely managed the resources of Egypt, so that when famine struck the country, it was well provided for: “All the world came to Joseph to obtain rations of grain, for famine had gripped the whole world” (Gen 41:57).
In re-reading this story recently, I was reminded of another type of famine, not of bread but of the word of God: “Yes, days are coming, says the Lord God, when I will send famine upon the land: not a famine of bread, or thirst for water, but for hearing the Lord of the Lord” (Amos 8:11).
Certainly we’re living in a time when faith seems to be losing the battle against a tide of secularism, atheism, and unbelief. While many people retain a vibrant faith, the decline in Mass attendance, marriage rates, and participation in church life is evident. We’re in a famine of faith. Pope Benedict XVI called us to a Year of Faith in order to meet that challenge and forge ahead with the New Evangelization. So what role does St. Joseph play in this?
Genesis recounts that “Pharaoh directed all the Egyptians to go to Joseph and do whatever he told them” (Gen 41:55). That phrase evokes Cana, when Mary referred the stewards to Jesus and said, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). Joseph provided the people with grain, and Jesus turned water into wine: bread and wine, the elements of the Eucharist. Reading the story of Joseph in Genesis together with Cana can help us understand why St. Joseph is patron of the universal Church. The saint of divine providence, the one we invoke for material help in terms of jobs, resources, selling a house, etc., is even more eager to provide us with the blessings of faith.
In the book of Revelation, the third horseman represents famine: “I looked, and there was a black horse, and its rider held a scale in his hand. I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures. It said, ‘A ration of wheat costs a day’s pay, and three rations of barley cost a day’s pay. But do not damage the olive oil or the wine” (Rev 6:5-6). While this book is difficult to interpret, these verses make me think of the famine of faith. Could it be that the reference to sparing the oil and the wine is a veiled reference to the fact that even in times when faith dies down, the Church will keep on providing the sacraments? The flock may grow smaller, and the demand for sacraments may be less, but the Church will always be there to offer the sacraments and nourish our faith. St. Joseph, the Church’s patron, has a role in making sure they are provided.
So it is no accident that Pope Francis is officially beginning his mandate on the feast of St. Joseph, in the Year of Faith. This Pope is remarkable for being a humble, hidden man, much like Joseph. Because of this saint’s hiddenness, we may easily forget him. But let’s ask his intercession even more now, so that in this Year of Faith the Church will truly begin to witness to the Gospel in a more effective way. St. Joseph, pray for us!