VATICAN CITY — Today’s feast of St. Joseph is a big day in the Vatican.
In addition to being Father’s Day in Italy, St. Joseph’s feast day is a paid holiday for Vatican workers. It is the name day of retired Pope Benedict XVI (who was born Joseph Ratzinger). And, the guardian of Jesus is one of Pope Francis’ favorite intercessors; he formally inaugurated his pontificate on St. Joseph’s feast day in 2013.
In his homily upon taking office two years ago, Pope Francis first wished Pope Benedict a happy feast day and pledged to him the prayers of the whole church.
Then, he went on to describe St. Joseph and look particularly at the lessons he, as the new pope, would draw from him. “In the Gospels,” Pope Francis said, “St. Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!”
As pope, he said he “must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked St. Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison. Only those who serve with love are able to protect!”
On several occasions, most recently in the Philippines, Pope Francis has spoken about his personal devotion to St. Joseph and his reliance on him as an intercessor.
Meeting families in Manila Jan. 16, the pope noted how God spoke to a sleeping St. Joseph in his dreams. Not once, but twice. First, when he told Joseph to marry Mary; and then when he warned Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to flee Herod’s murderous plans.
“I have great love for St. Joseph, because he is a man of silence and strength,” the pope said. “On my table I have a statue of St. Joseph sleeping. Even when he is asleep, he is taking care of the church! Yes! We know that he can do that. So when I have a problem, a difficulty, I write a little note and I put it underneath St. Joseph, so that he can dream about it! In other words I tell him: pray for this problem!”
The other thing St. Joseph’s feast day brings to Italy is sweet: zeppole with black cherries and bigné di San Giuseppe. Once the feast is over, the variations on a cream puff disappear until next March.
Updated note: The Vatican press office reported that shortly after noon today, Pope Francis telephoned Pope Benedict to wish him a happy name day.