A pastoral letter on the Year of St. Joseph and our Christian duty


Feast of Saint Joseph

March 19, 2021

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In announcing a year of Saint Joseph,

Pope Francis shared that he has been offering this prayer to the foster father of Jesus for over 40 years:

Glorious Patriarch Saint Joseph, whose power makes the impossible possible, come to my aid in these times of anguish and difficulty. Take under your protection the serious and troubling situations that I commend to you, that they may have a happy outcome. My beloved father, all my trust is in you. Let it not be said that I invoked you in vain, and since you can do everything with Jesus and Mary, show me that your goodness is as great as your power. Amen.

What a powerful prayer for a people now longing for many impossibilities to be possible!

In our Catholic tradition, Saint Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death. As we live through a second Lent of the Coronavirus pandemic, I know that “happy” is not the word we would associate with the widespread death that we have seen around us. This has been an agonizing and sorrowful time for us all.

In the wake of so much death, it’s important for us to invoke Saint Joseph and to imitate his example of courage and creativity in following God’s call in his life. We have a special duty to be like Saint Joseph for those who are suffering and vulnerable in our society, and to proclaim the Gospel of Life in all that we do!

When I pray, I find myself frequently wondering if God has sent us this time of trial to awaken us to the bigger, “spiritual pandemic” of our age—a faith that has grown lukewarm and has drawn too many of us into what Pope Francis has called “the throwaway culture,” which treats people like discardable objects when they cease being “useful.” This “throwaway” mentality leads ultimately to a dehumanizing culture of death, in which the unborn, physically and mentally challenged, and our elders are disposed of through the grave evils of abortion and euthanasia. It’s no wonder we are an increasingly violent society.

Even before Covid-19, a slouching toward the false compassion of “assisted suicide” had already begun in our state. Lawmakers in our state capital were talking about it, and lobbying efforts were fierce.

Now is the time to make sure that we have learned the right lessons from our shared pandemic experience. After more than a half-million deaths in this country and nearly 50,000 in New York alone, the last thing we need is more unnecessary death. With health authorities warning about a dramatic rise in the number of suicides during this pandemic, we certainly do not need more suicide!

We can see how this reflects the same “throwaway” mentality that we witnessed when our state radically expanded abortion in 2019, making it easier to dispose of a life that someone might find inconvenient or troublesome, for any reason at all.

Every human life is sacred and precious—every person willed by God, loved by God, and created in His image and likeness. This means that every life deserves to be respected, protected, and cherished from the “womb to the tomb.”

This teaching is not only true, it is precisely the life-giving good news that people need to hear in these pandemic days. As we are reminded during this season of Lent, the journey to Easter is a love story—God’s love for us. He died on the Cross so that we may live!

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be witnesses to the great dignity of all human life, and to love in radical and creative ways, as have the great saints of New York. Think of those courageous and compassionate women, like Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, and the Servants of God Dorothy Day and Rose Hawthorne, and how they would have responded to the human needs of this pandemic.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, another “New Yorker,” put it so well when he said, “No person should ever be given reason to think that life isn’t worth living. No person should ever think that choosing unnatural death is ever a necessity.” We each ask ourselves, “Am I welcoming and hospitable? Do I go out of my way to reach out to others in need?” Loneliness, depression, and feelings of abandonment are spreading in our homes and neighborhoods, which should prompt us to think how we can find more ways to make room for the vulnerable in our lives. And not just by Facetime or Zoom!

The lesson is presence. We must love with a love that says: There is room for you in my life. Add it to the growing list for a kind of “Coronavirus Pandemic Examination of Conscience,” now that Confession is more readily available. Do people know they can come to me for help when they are in need?

The answer to those who are suffering is not to help them end their lives. The answer is compassion, which literally means “to suffer with,” to see Christ’s face in the faces of sick, disabled, and mentally troubled.

As Pope Francis reminds us, “Go to Joseph!” has long been the cry of the Church. After the year we’ve been through—in this hour of death—we need to go to Joseph more than ever.

We pray for his intercession, especially that he obtain for us the grace to be like him, to be just, to be men and women of the Beatitudes—which is the definition of Christian discipleship and the spiritual path that Joseph walked.

Let us suffer with those who are suffering, mourn with those who are mourning, and hunger and thirst for justice and holiness. Let us live with simplicity and humility, and love with abandon and generosity, merciful as we work for justice and peace in our society.

Saint Joseph, in addition to being the patron of families, dads, refugees, and laborers, is also the patron saint of a happy death since, on his deathbed, he was surrounded by Jesus and Mary. Let’s pray to Saint Joseph for happy deaths, especially for the most vulnerable, that they will never be made to feel as if they are burdens. Pray that assisted suicide will go nowhere in New York and that all people know they are loved and not alone. Suicide is hardly a happy death, but an act of loneliness, worthlessness, and desperation.

If you’d like more information on the horror of assisted suicide, visit http://archny.org/ministries-and-offices/public-policy/key-issues. Another excellent resource is https://www.nosuicideny.org , which will give you an idea of the broad alliance that opposes assisted suicide in our state.

A blessed Holy Week and Easter!

Faithfully in Christ,

Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan

Archbishop of New York