My Dear Friends in Christ:
Greetings in the Risen Lord!
The Marian Year that we have been observing (May 13, 2017 – May 13, 2018) has been a time of grace for our diocese, encouraging us all to draw near to Our Lady and experience her motherly care. I would like to express my gratitude to our priests and deacons and the people of all the places that I designated as Marian Shrines for this year, for their efforts to foster this important devotion with me. Thank you!
Grateful to our Blessed Mother, it is now my great joy to proclaim a Year of St. Joseph for the period of Wednesday, May 16, 2018 to Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Wednesday, in fact, is the traditional day of the week for honoring St. Joseph, apart from his two feast days in the liturgical calendar (March 19 and May 1). Although Votive Masses may not ordinarily be offered on weekdays of the Easter Season, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal does permit the diocesan bishop to authorize such a Mass when pastoral advantage suggests it (GIRM #374). Therefore, I am happy to give permission for all of our priests to offer a Votive Mass of St. Joseph on Wednesday, May 16, 2018, and encourage them to do so, to kick off this special year of grace for our diocese.
To help us benefit spiritually from this holy year, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has generously granted us a special plenary indulgence in honor of Saint Joseph. I have spoken to you many times about indulgences, an important component of our spiritual lives and our growth in the life of grace. Even after the guilt of our sins has been forgiven, effects from those sins remain, which we call the “temporal punishment due to sin.” If we do not eliminate those effects fully in this life, then we will have to do so in purgatory after we die. Indulgences help us in our effort to repay the debt due to our sins. They are gifts of grace from Christ and his Church. I invite your pastors to preach on this topic and to include it in parish catechesis programs, so that all may appreciate and make use of these important gifts.
Although the Apostolic Penitentiary of the Vatican has notified us of having received the indulgence, we are still waiting on the decree that contains the full details about it, and hope to be able to publish it soon. Part of gaining the indulgence will involve reciting the Prayer to St. Joseph included below before a statue or other image of St. Joseph in a church, chapel, oratory, or shrine in the diocese. The full conditions will be made available soon.
This Year of Saint Joseph will be a grace-filled time for us to reflect upon who he is and how he helps us now – not only by his holy example, but also by his powerful prayer and protection. We reverence St. Joseph as Patron and Protector of the Universal Church. This special heavenly role flows from his life on earth, where he watched over the Holy Family with great love and diligence and defended both Jesus and Our Lady from all harm. Now, from heaven, he prays constantly for the Church: that her members grow in unity, in holiness, in catholicity, and in apostolicity. I would like to address each of these four areas, which we know as the “four marks of the Church” and which we profess on each Sunday and Solemnity in the Nicene Creed.
With regard to the mark of unity, we know that for all the good happening in the Church today, there is also a fair amount of division. Such division is not God’s will, and we ask St. Joseph to help us overcome all that separates us one from another. True unity is not possible, in fact, without the indwelling of God’s grace in our souls – which we also call “charity.” In other words, our unity is never simply between us and other people, but always must have reference to God, who unites us all in a profound way. If we are not right with God, we cannot long be right with each other! That said, within unity there is also diversity, and so we ask St. Joseph to obtain for us the grace to recognize and accept all legitimate variations within the rich life of the Church, of which I will speak more in a moment.
Holiness is what every Christian is called to, regardless of the path in life he or she takes. St. Joseph achieved a heroic level of holiness because, in the silence of his daily life, he was able to hear God’s call and respond. In the gospels we see Joseph doing the ordinary things that all men – and husbands and fathers – must do: work to make a living, care for a family, build them up in the good, and defend them from all harm. This means that Joseph attained great sanctity not by doing extraordinary acts, but by doing ordinary actions very well – with the help of God’s grace and in accord with his will. We ask St. Joseph to inspire us to trod boldly down the path of holiness by living each day in God’s presence and striving to do all things, however ordinary or even tedious they may be, well and with love. We ask him also for the grace to value silence in our daily lives, so that we may hear God speaking to us.
The word “catholic” means “universal,” and so when we speak of catholicity we are speaking of the Church’s universality; the Church is the home of all people of every place. There is room for all under the shelter of her care! Down through the centuries, the Church has been greatly enriched by the many different cultures of her members. Because of that, we see such a wonderful variety within her unity. One example of diversity within unity is the three ritual traditions that are represented by the faithful who live in the territory of our diocese: the Latin Rite, the Melkite Rite, and the Maronite Rite; all are Catholic, but all have differences in liturgy and in some expressions of the same faith. Then, even within our Latin Rite, there is a legitimate diversity. Think, for example, of the differences between the Ordinary Form of the Mass and the Extraordinary Form. There are various approved spiritualities, many different apostolates and avenues of service, and a multitude of roles within the unity of the Church. We ask St. Joseph to help us to accept and embrace all that the Church accepts and embraces, and so be truly and fully Catholic!
Finally, we ask for St. Joseph’s help with our apostolicity. An apostle is one who is sent. Each one of us, by virtue of his or her baptism and strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit through confirmation, is sent into the world to bear witness to his or her Catholic and Christian faith. During this Year of St. Joseph, we will also be making final preparations for our Diocesan Eucharistic Congress (June 28-29, 2019), the theme of which will be Missionary Discipleship centered on the Holy Eucharist. St. Joseph shows us in the gospels what it means to step out in faith, to respond to God’s call with confidence. We ask him to intercede for us so that we may more confidently and boldly live out our Catholic faith and so lead more people to the unity, holiness, and catholicity of Christ’s Church. We ask him to help us to be true missionary disciples!
The Catechism reminds us that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic by her very essence or nature (CCC #811), but that Christ must help us to realize these qualities in ourselves. In other words, we are called – individually and collectively – to “become what we are” as Church. St. Paul put it another way; he spoke about our maturing “to the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). St. Joseph is a marvelous model for us in this regard: a complete man, chosen by God and transformed by his grace, and now given great glory in heaven as a result. We call upon him during this special year as our Patron and Protector, so that we may indeed grow in our own Christian maturity. Thus, we hope to become what we are called to be as members of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
This Year of Saint Joseph also coincides roughly with my last year as your Bishop. On June 4, 2019, I will have to submit my resignation to the Holy See upon reaching the age of 75, in accord with Canon Law. Although I do not know how quickly my resignation will be accepted, I must at least be ready to retire by that time. Therefore, please pray to St. Joseph for me also, that he will help me to finish well my service as your Bishop, and that he will assist the Holy Father in choosing a good successor at the right time.
I hope that you will join me in honoring St. Joseph this coming year by venerating his images in our churches, striving to gain the special plenary indulgence that our Holy Father has so generously granted, celebrating his two liturgical feast days with appropriate solemnity, and praying for the intentions that I have outlined above for this year of grace. But I have one final request: pray to St. Joseph for the many young men in our diocese whom our Lord is calling to serve him in the holy priesthood, that they will have the courage to respond generously and promptly to his call; pray also for all those called to serve in the consecrated life as religious priests, sisters, and brothers.
My thanks go to all of you: priests, deacons, religious, and lay faithful of the diocese who collaborate in the life and mission of the church of Birmingham. St. Joseph, pray for us!
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Robert J. Baker, S.T.D.
Bishop of Birmingham in Alabama