Let’s begin with his devotion to Saint Joseph as there’s quite a list of things that connect Pope Francis to this saint. Among them the choice of the date for the beginning of his pontificate the 19th of March, Saint Joseph’s feast day, and the choice of the nard flower symbolic of this saint on his coat of arms.
Then in July 2013 his decision to consecrate Vatican City State not just to Saint Michael, as had been previously planned, but to Saint Joseph as well. And on a more personal note his admission to cherishing a wooden statue representing a dormant Saint Joseph, dressed in gold trimmed dark green and red garments according to Hispanic iconography, by which he places prayer requests. Simply because as he mentioned when he confided to us this personal gesture: “ He’s a carpenter and he gets the job done, even though he sometimes makes you wait”.
As for what links Pope Francis to Saint Joseph, International Labour Day and workers why not shine the spotlight on his words the 1st of May 2013, so the very first year of his pontificate, during his weekly general audience.
Words which focus precisely on work and the figure of Saint Joseph. In a special way on the role played by Joseph as the legal father who teaches his son his skills as a carpenter in the workshop in Nazareth on a daily basis and shares with him, the efforts, the commitment, the satisfactions and problems that come with the job.
On this occasion Pope Francis goes on to remind us of the dignity and importance of work. The Book of Genesis, he says, tells us that God created man and woman entrusting them with the task of filling the earth and subduing it, which does not mean exploiting it, but nurturing and protecting it, caring for it through their work: “Work is part of God’s loving plan, we are called to cultivate and care for all the goods of creation and in this way participate in the work of creation! Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person…it gives you the ability to maintain yourself, your family, to contribute to the growth of your nation. And here I think of the difficulties which, in various countries, today afflicts the world of work and business; I think of how many, and not just young people, are unemployed, many times due to a purely economic conception of society, which seeks selfish profit, beyond the parameters of social justice. I wish to extend an invitation to solidarity to everyone, and I would like to encourage those in public office to make every effort to give new impetus to employment, this means caring for the dignity of the person, but above all I’d like to say do not lose hope; St. Joseph also experienced moments of difficulty, but he never lost faith and was able to overcome them, in the certainty that God never abandons us. And then I would like to speak especially to you young people: be committed to your daily duties, your study, your work, to relationships of friendship, to helping towards others; your future also depends on how you live these precious years of your life. Do not be afraid of commitment, of sacrifice and do not look with fear towards the future; keep your hope alive: there is always a light on the horizon”.
But while Pope Francis on this occasion shares with us words of encouragement as we’ve just noticed he also chooses to highlight some of the evils of society in the area of work and denounces once again, the practice some companies have of adopting policies that favor profit over human dignity or even human life. And then uses an image to express how fundamental work is to the dignity of the person:”… work to use an image ‘anoints’ with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God who has worked and still works, who also acts”.
One last word perhaps: let’s hope the prayer requests that Pope Francis places by the reclining and dormant figure of Saint Joseph are eventually answered…As he once assured us, they always are!
Throughout the entire world, I have seen Salesians who defend children and young people from the many Herods of our day and who continue to dream, guided by the angels, just like Don Bosco.
Never before had the good citizens of Turin seen such a spectacle as they did in 1842. Along the elegant streets of Turin’s center city, a group of boys were singing a Christmas hymn and a priest was directing them! The music was a bit unsophisticated, but those boys sang it with so much love that it moved all who heard it. Don Bosco had no place to gather the boys to practice the song, so they practiced right in the streets – those streets that the boys knew so well. The hymn had even been written on a windowsill.
Those boys lived their Christmas walking, just like Jesus’ parents when they set out on a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. There they experienced what it means to live in a foreign land: there was no room for them in the inn. The doors of the people’s homes were shut to them.
Mary and Joseph share the fate of many refugees and foreign workers who seek a home and are turned away, today, just like 2,000 years ago. Don Bosco’s boys, too, were looking for a place where they would find protection so they could grow, far away from all perils. Don Bosco searched with them and committed his very life to find it.
During my visits to the Salesians around the world, I have encountered many children and young people who find a home and protection in the arms and the affection of Don Bosco’s sons. I have also seen children – boys and girls – all over the world singing happily together.
Jesus was born in a stable. Men did not welcome him; the humble animals shared their shelter with him. Don Bosco began his work in a dirty and broken-down shed. With Jesus’ birth, the stable was filled with light – warm and gentle light – and all that was poor and despised became precious. A manger for animals became the throne of the Most High.
The ramshackle Pinardi shed would have discouraged anyone. Don Giovanni Battista Francesia testified: “When Don Bosco visited that place for the first time, the place which had to serve for his Oratory, he had to pay attention lest he crack his skull because on one side the shed was only a meter high. For a floor, there was bare ground, and when it rained, the water came in from every side. Don Bosco felt huge rats running between his feet, and over his head swooped bats.”
But to Don Bosco, this was the most beautiful place in the whole world: “I ran right back to my boys. I gathered them round me and began to shout in a loud voice, ‘Great news, my sons! We’ve got a place for our Oratory, a more reliable one than we’ve had till now. We’ll have a church, a sacristy, classrooms, and a place to play. Sunday, next Sunday, we’ll go to our new Oratory, which is over there in Pinardi’s house.’ And I pointed the place out to them. Wild enthusiasm greeted this announcement. Some boys ran around shouting and jumping for joy; some stood stock still; some raised their voices, I would say, to yelling and screaming.” (Memoirs of the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales , p. 257)
Why John Bosco dreamt; The Christmas angel appeared in a different way in the Gospel of Matthew. Here there was no splendor surrounding the Holy Birth. The angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. It was he who commanded him in God’s name to take care of that Baby. The angel appeared to him at other times in dreams also. Joseph did exactly as he was told, right up till the time when Mary’s Son would reach the age when no one could make a further attempt on his life.
In dreams, Don Bosco was invited to care for the boys and young men, to help them grow, with affection and goodness, lest any Herod threaten them any longer. Throughout the entire world, I have seen Salesians who defend children and young people from the many Herods of our day and who continue to dream, guided by the angels, just like Don Bosco.
“Do as the Shepherds Did”; I will allow Don Bosco himself to conclude my Christmas wishes. In the Good Night that preceded one of the Christmas novenas at the Oratory, he said: “Tomorrow begins the Christmas novena. I recommend two things to you for these days. Call Baby Jesus to mind often; recall the love that He brings you and the proofs that He has given you of His Love – to the point of dying for you. When you get up in the morning immediately at the sound of the bell, and feel the cold, recall to mind Baby Jesus, who trembled from the cold, there on the hay. Throughout the day, encourage each other to study your lessons well, to do your work well, and to stay attentive in school out of love for Jesus. Do not forget that Jesus advanced in wisdom, in age, and in grace before God and men. Above all, for love of Jesus, watch that you do not fall into any sin that could disgust Him. Do as the shepherds of Bethlehem did: go often to visit Him. We envy those shepherds who went to the stable in Bethlehem, who saw Him as a newborn babe, who kissed His little hand, and who offered Him their gifts. How very blessed those shepherds were, we say! Yet, we have nothing to envy because that same blessing is also ours. That same Jesus, who was visited by the shepherds in the stable, is found here in our tabernacle. The only difference rests in this: that the shepherds saw Him with their eyes of flesh; we see Him only with the eyes of faith. There is nothing that we can do that would be more pleasing to Him than to go often to visit Him. How shall we go visit Him? First of all, with frequent Communion. Another way is to go every now and then into church during the day, perhaps just for a minute.”
Wherever there is a Salesian work, I have seen churches, some small and some large, but every one of them with an image of Mary with Baby Jesus in her arms – just as it was in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.
Family is the cradle that gives us existence and the home that shapes us into a full human being. This human person in each one of us needs to conform to the Image and Likeness of God. The Family nurtures us to become one such a person.
‘A Family that prays together stays together’ is the common cliché articulated by many saintly persons including Pope St. John Paul II and Mother St. Teresa of Calcutta who lived in our recent past. But we need to look at this in another angle, which will make more sense as we enter into this Season of Christmas. A Family that stays together can also pray together.In his message on FAMILY, A PLACE OF FORGIVENESS Pope Francis comments that there is no perfect family… no perfect marriage… we have no perfect parents… no perfect children…and so on. He further points out to Forgiveness, the Solution to all these imperfections as an issue, making reconciliation vital to our emotional health and spiritual survival. In a Family,persons need to forgive one another and accept one another as they are, in reconciliation to stay together. This Family that enjoys happiness and love, in nurturing one another with care and concern, respecting and honouring one another’s identity with dignity, can stay together and pray together too!
Christmas reminds us about a Family: The Holy Family of Nazareth with Child Jesus, Mary and Joseph. This Family is a sign of Unity and a bond of Charity! Every Family likewise needs to be a sign of Trust, Hope, Faith and Love of the Most Holy Trinity,thus conforming to the Image and Likeness of God.Let this Christmas bring reunion in all our Families and communities. Let it bring a new glow in all our relationships, between parents and children, husbands and wives, elderly and young, sick and healthy, poor and wealthy, etc.
‘No one has the right to be happy alone’ is the motto of Fr. Francis Schlooz (1912-1998) a Salesian Missionary from Venlo, the Netherlands who dedicated his 60 years of tireless service amidst the poorest of the poor in India. God too created us to share His happiness with us and by sending down His Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ to save us He shows us how much He loves us (John 3, 16). Even in a Family no one has the right to be happy alone and this rule of life applies even to the universal community. Let us stay together and pray together in moving forward together in service to reach out to others in our society who very badly need us and share with them whatever we can and have. This will make God happy to see His Merciful Children conforming to His Image and Likeness.
The Papal Synod 2018 calls for a deeper reflection on the Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment. While the Rector Major of the Salesian Congregation Angel Fernandez Artime through the Strenna 2018 invites us to listen to the cries of our Young People, confreres and family members like Jesus Who listened to the cry of the Samaritan Woman at the well: “Sir, give me this water!” (John 4, 15) Let us cultivate the art of Listening and of Accompaniment.Let our main focus, in a particular way be upon each one of our beloved Young People in our families, communities and society who need to be guided in their discerning process.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
Fr. Joseph Almeida SDB
The Salesian Provincial (LKC)