By Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, CM

Solemnity of St. Joseph in the Time of COVID-19

There are two popular images of St. Joseph in people’s devotions in our times: the Sleeping St. Joseph and the anxious St. Joseph.

The Sleeping St. Joseph was made popular by Pope Francis during his visit in Manila. It is a sign of serenity and rest, of openness and submission, of a person’s total trust in God in the midst of all the troubles. St. Joseph is a man who can sleep so deeply despite all the problems he might have encountered. Pope Francis said that he has this image in his room. He writes his prayer in pieces of paper: “I put it underneath,” he says, “so he can dream about it! In other words, I tell him, ‘pray for this problem!'” Pope Francis begins to follow Joseph’s lead - to abandon one’s concerns to God’s care.

The anxious St. Joseph is portrayed as a worried father who pulls a donkey or a horse with Mary and Jesus on it. It is St. Joseph on the run, leaving their humble home as fast as they can in an attempt to escape from the wrath of Herod. It is a symbol of pain and anxiety as one cares for the persons we truly love. For this, St. Joseph was names the protector of the Church.I can also see the same responses to the COVID-19 crisis.On the one hand, there are people who fully trust in God’s care amidst all our troubles. Forced by the lockdown, these otherwise busy people find time to sleep, relax, rest and leave it up to God. Mas mabuti pa nga raw na lockdown. They find time to bond with the family, play games, watch films or read books they never had time to do before. We can sleep and pray, protect ourselves and our families from the virus, practice “social distancing”, obey instruction from authorities, and God will take care of the rest.

On the other hand, there are people who are so worried and anxious. There is no food on the family tables as they are paid by the day. Anxious about the spread of the virus, they also worry about their hungry children. The LGU food support is so uncertain or meagre and slow in coming, if ever it does. They are forced to “stay home” inside cramped and warm shanties which by the looks of it are not homes at all. If there is a place to escape in order to get some work, they will. The precariousness of their lives caused also by the negligence of people in power adds to the pain of poverty of everyday life. That is why if they are on the run, if they try their luck to pass the checkpoints, or work a little bit despite prohibition, it is to ease this anxiety of trying to survive.I think that these two metaphors are needed for a Christian to make sense of these difficult times. Without one, the other is impoverished. Absolutizing one and forgetting the other actually makes it unchristian. We rest, pray and fully trust that God will take care of us; that he will not leave us in utter despair. But we need to also be anxious not so much for ourselves but for the millions of others who risk the security of their own lives just to be able to care for the persons they love.“To trust God” is to fully rely on his/her assurance to help us.“To be anxious” is to critique the glaring negligence and selfish interests of people who promised to serve us; and to contribute whatever we can in order to alleviate the pain of millions in our midst who have literally nothing to rely on except in God’s care.

Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M.
St Vincent SchoolofTheology - Adamson University