Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus by Guido Reni (17th century). Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Charles Lim

We celebrate Christmas with family and friends as every year draws to a close. Compared to other years, our celebrations this year may feel rather muted. Many families would be celebrating in small clusters over lunches or dinners instead of the lavish feasts that one would have grown to expect. For some families, the disappointment of not being able to ballot for their parish’s Midnight Mass would make this Christmas one to forget. Yet, perhaps these are the precise reasons that make this Christmas one to remember for the ages.

Just in time for our Advent and Christmastide reflections was the release of the Apostolic Letter Patris corde (“With a father’s heart”) by Pope Francis. Along with that, he proclaimed a Year of Saint Joseph from Dec 8, 2020 to Dec, 2021. It is apt then, that we look towards St Joseph as how we could emerge from the perceived darkness in 2020 into a brighter and more hope-filled 2021.

“Creatively courageous” like Joseph

Pope Francis writes in his letter that “God always finds a way to save us, provided we show the same creative courage as the carpenter of Nazareth, who was able to turn a problem into a possibility by trusting always in divine providence.” Indeed, 2020 dealt us a challenging hand as we continued to worship through the pandemic.

Yet, it was also the year where the discussion about the role of the family as the domestic church was ever more relevant. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC 1666, teaches that “the Christian home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith. For this reason, the family home is rightly called ‘the domestic church’, a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity.”

With social distancing measures in place to safeguard the society against the ills of the pandemic, we had to think courageously and creatively to bring the Church into our homes. Online Masses and online catechesis became a way of life that every Catholic family engaged in during this year. Just like Joseph navigated through the challenges in Nazareth to bring Christ into the world in a lowly manger, we found a way to bring Christ into our humble homes with the aid of modern technology. The ability to go to face-to-face Mass notwithstanding, there were many anecdotes of how families thrived during this period and how their faith grew together as a family. In fact, many families reported that through the Circuit Breaker, it was the first time they attended Mass (albeit online) as a family in years!

CCC 1656 shares that “in our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith, believing families are of primary importance as centres of living, radiant faith.” Can we also strive to continue what 2020 gifted to us by making our families the domestic Church that God intended it to be?

Shadowing the Father like Joseph

Another point Pope Francis makes in his letter is how families “should always keep in mind that it (fatherhood) has nothing to do with possession, but is rather a “sign” pointing to a greater fatherhood.” He continues by saying that “we are all like Joseph: a shadow of the heavenly Father, who ‘makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’ (Matthew 5:45). And a shadow that follows His Son.”

Catechesis has always been about echoing our faith. Christ is the source and we merely reflect who He is to those whom we share Him to. The Directory of Catechesis released in 2020 describes parents “with their daily example of life, hav(ing) the most effective capacity to transmit the beauty of the Christian faith to their children”.

The unlikely fruit of this pandemic was the close proximity into which it brought families together. Not unlike the dingy, dirty and enclosed stable wherein our Saviour was born, the enforced closeness during the Circuit Breaker not only brought out the ugliness and fragility of broken relationships, but also the resilience and hope of the family unit to see through the difficulties and emerge stronger.

Just as Joseph reflected the goodness of God as the foster father of Jesus, the daily living of family life through this pandemic was the real life catechesis experienced by all children in the families all year – imperfect and raw, but real as they saw how their own parents lived out their faith in difficult times. If parents are the “first catechists”, then 2020 was the year that truly gave parents the platform to reclaim their rightful catechetical responsibility towards their children.

2020 can be remembered as the year the pandemic Covid-19 disrupted the world. Yet it can also be remembered as the year where families celebrated the coming of Christ as God had intended it to – firmly and tangibly in the hearts of all who believe. Let us look to 2021 with the eyes of St Joseph – to creatively and courageously pick up the fruits of 2020 and be the reflection of God to our friends, families and all whom we love.

Charles Lim is the Executive Director of the Archdiocesan Office for Catechesis.