By KRISTINE SCHROEDER
Pope Francis has declared 2021 the year of St. Joseph. He was a silent saint. The Bible makes little reference to him except to say he was a just man who, after a visit from the angel Gabriel, spared Mary the embarrassment of divorce by taking her into his home. Again, at the prompting of an angel, he left his homeland and fled with the Holy Family to Egypt for two years to save Jesus. We last learn of him when he and Mary frantically searched for their son three days after leaving Jerusalem. We do not know when he died but assume it was before Jesus’ public ministry as only Mary was mentioned during this time.
Because Joseph was a righteous and God-fearing man, God chose him to be Mary’s husband and the earthly father of His only begotten Son. By most accounts, he was a carpenter, a trade that he taught Jesus. Joseph attained sainthood because he both followed God’s will and trusted Him in the crucial moments of his life. He is our early blueprint for sainthood.
Recently, a news program again broadcast Princess Diana’s unhappy life and tragic death from 23 years ago. Ironically, another famous person died on the same day. However, there has been little account of her death and no anniversary news programs discussing her innumerable contributions to the world. As one author said, “She [Mother Theresa] died humbly while the world was looking the other way.” That was no coincidence. It was as she preferred and, of course, as God planned.
That irony speaks loudly of our world’s values. While we are often entranced by people of great fame, money or beauty, none of these attributes guarantee heaven. In fact, they often lead to the opposite. These assets, unless used for God’s purpose, rarely change the world in a positive way.
In 2021, let’s set our goal as Christians to learn more about the saints’ lives and pay less attention to celebrities. We can begin with our own American saints. After losing her husband at an early age, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton converted to Catholicism, founded the first Catholic school in America, and established the Daughters of Charity in America. That was a monumental task for a woman in the early 1800s.
Born in 1858 to a wealthy Philadelphia family, St. Katherine Drexel was well-educated, traveled widely and was introduced as a debutante to high society. But God had other plans for her. After watching her stepmother suffer a three-year illness, Katherine realized no amount of money could buy what was important in life.
While in Europe, she appealed to Pope Leo XIII to send missionaries to the native Americans in Wyoming. His reply, “Why don’t you become a missionary?” After some consideration and a visit out west, she accepted his advice, gave up her $7,000,000 ($222,000,000 by today’s standards) inheritance and spent her life educating the underprivileged of America. A heart attack at 77 forced her to retire. However, not one to quit, she spent the next 20 years in “quiet, intense prayer overlooking the sanctuary.”
The saints’ lives are as varied as snowflakes. Some accomplished great feats such as establishing universities, building hospitals and opening homeless shelters. Others spent their lives quietly as hermits or in cloistered communities continuously praying for the world. They understood that becoming a saint is more about following the will of God and less about individual accomplishments.
No person reaches sainthood while remaining in their comfort zone. It is only by hearing God’s call and trusting in His plan that these people reached the pinnacle of their holy lives. Their reward was greater than anything the world offers: everlasting joy and peace with God in heaven.
Consider the words of St. John Neumann (another American saint). “Everyone who breathes … has a mission. We are not sent into this world for nothing; we are not born at random … God creates every soul for a purpose.” This year let us strive to discover and then live God’s purpose for us. In this resolution, we too will be on the path of becoming the saint God intends us to be.