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Year of St. Joseph in Arabia

Eleventh week in Ordinary Time

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

We are still marking the year of St. Joseph, so proclaimed by Pope Francis. The Pope’s visit to Abu Dhabi in February 2019 led to my discovering the writings of bishop Paul Hinder. He is the Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia. He is entrusted with the pastoral care of the Catholics living in the UAE, Oman and Yemen. He has also been taking care of the Church in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, for some time. It is a very difficult task because of many reasons. Every year he writes a pastoral letter to the faithful in the area. This year, of course, he concentrated on the person of St. Joseph. A share a fragment of his pastoral letter for the year 2021.

“150 years ago, Pope Pius IX declared Saint Joseph as patron of the Universal Church. It was a difficult time for the Church which was under fire from both outside and inside. From outside, because after the French Revolution and the time of the Enlightenment, the worldly power of the Church (most manifest in the Papal States) was contested and seen as something to be destroyed. From inside, because the Church was torn between tendencies to restore a lost past on one side, and movements which attempted to reconcile faith and active engagement with the world. The loss of the Papal States made the spiritual relevance of the Church more visible and led to a process of reflection and renewal of its traditions and priorities. However, the difficult dialogue between modern philosophies on one side and the Catholic faith on the other, continues until today. We all swim in stormy waters and risk drifting away because our faith is sometimes shaky. Many doubt whether Jesus is still on the boat, patiently waiting for the right moment to calm the storm. However, he is still with us and says the same words to you and to me that he said to the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

In the Gospel, we read that Joseph was faced with scandalous news about his bride Mary, who was pregnant. He had to regain his confidence at this critical moment of his relationship with her. He did so by relying on God’s faithfulness and the words of His promise given through the angel. We too are very often confronted with scandalous news that we do not know how to deal with. Scandals and crimes caused by church members, even prominent ones, shake our trust. Many faithful around the world have been shocked and rightly so! It seems that the Church is going again through a difficult time. However, like Saint Joseph, let us trust in God’s word and believe in the promise of Christ, that “the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18).

Let us also recall the role of Saint Joseph after the visit of the Magi. The Holy Family was forced to flee to Egypt to escape the murderous king Herod and could only return after his death. We see that the life of Jesus is a mirror of the story of the people of Israel, who went to slavery in Egypt and then returned to the Promised Land. It is also a sign of the story of the Church on pilgrimage in the world until it returns to the Promised Land of heaven. Joseph, the guide of the Holy Family, also guides the family of the Church on this journey. In Nazareth, he watched over and took care of the Holy Family. As Saint Joseph was the caretaker and protector of Mary and Jesus, he continues to be the protector of the universal Church as well as our local Church.

In the cathedral of Abu Dhabi, dedicated to Saint Joseph, there is a beautiful mosaic showing Saint Joseph and the boy Jesus. At first glance, it seems as if Joseph is guiding Jesus. However, looking more carefully, we notice that it is rather the boy Jesus who is taking Joseph by the hand. This gives us a very important first insight not only regarding the relationship in the Holy Family but also in our families, in the life of the communities, and in the whole Catholic Church. Although Mary and Joseph, as the parents of Jesus, had to bring up and guide their son, at the very end it was the Son who took the lead and guided Mary and Joseph. We notice in the gospel that several times the parents had difficulties in understanding Jesus. The family even tried to bring the uncommonly behaving son to his senses! Think of the moment when the family members were worried about Jesus going his messianic way, as we read in the gospel: “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’” (Mark 3:21) It seems that Joseph at this moment was no longer alive. However, the scene shows that Jesus did not follow the normal family code but the code of God, risking a break with his family clan. True family-membership with Jesus is created not by blood-relationship but by doing the will of God (Mark 3:35).

Sometimes, I wonder if certain difficulties in our families and communities come from the fact that we give more importance to “blood-relationships” than to the spirit. The honor of the family, the belonging to the same ethnic group and the pedigree are more important to us than a mature relationship rooted in the will of God. Family and social conventions are important, but they have their limits. Looking again at the mosaic in the cathedral of Abu Dhabi, we would expect Joseph to be leading Jesus. However, we – families, communities, local and universal Church – do not take Jesus by the hand and show him the way. The opposite is true. Jesus takes us by the hand and leads us on the way. Very often, Jesus is disguised in simple people and innocent children who know better than us where and how to go forward. This is the reason why we have to listen carefully to the voices, not only of the adults and those in authority, but also of the children, of the youth, and of those who keep silent most of the time. It happens quite often that God speaks through those channels, as Saint Benedict states in the Rule for his monks that God often reveals His mind to the younger ones.”

Fr. Roberto M. Cid