I couldn’t find zeppole di San Giuseppe anywhere on the feast of my patron, St. Joseph. My favorite Italian bakery had closed during COVID, so for the first time in recent memory, our family went without, which was disappointing since Pope Francis proclaimed this the Year of St. Joseph. Nevertheless, I decided to celebrate a different way and text-messaged everyone on my cellphone with a simple personalized message … and it wasn’t “Got zeppoles?”
I wrote, “St. Joseph pray for (fill in the name) on your feast day today” and I included an illustration of St. Joseph and his foster son, Jesus. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. I sent out dozens of prayer intentions to people, some of whom weren’t even Catholic and others who, as far as I can tell, have no faith. What’s remarkable is that virtually everyone responded, thanking me, wishing me well, or appealing for more prayers because of an illness or family crisis. One woman was born on St. Joseph’s feast, March 19, while another couple was celebrating their anniversary that day. Three people have cancer, and prayers were just what they needed. Another is having marital problems. Even the people who I never thought prayed sent me back heartening messages and said they would pray for me, too.
That is the miraculous power of St. Joseph, “the man in shadows,” as Pope Francis describes him. He’s a man who does what he has to do and whose life exemplifies a fundamental principle — “actions speak louder than words,” as Bishop Frank Caggiano said during a Mass consecrating the Diocese of Bridgeport to him.
I watched the Mass, which was live-streamed from St. Augustine Cathedral and launched a diocesan-wide spiritual renewal. What exactly does that mean?
Bishop Caggiano said: “You and I come here not simply to ask for St. Joseph’s help, not simply to seek his protection, but to follow his example. My friends, no more words. We have had enough of the words. They have filled libraries. It is time for action, isn’t it? In this singular moment in the life of the Church, in this singular moment in the life of our world, now is the time we turn to Joseph to ask him to protect us, to guide us, to defend us, to inspire us to a grave mission that no longer needs words but faithful, humble, obedient action, for it is in our deeds that the world will see what Joseph saw. It is in our actions that the Lord will glimpse he who Joseph is carrying with his arms outstretched as a child, ready to stretch out his arms on the cross so that the love that he bore for us will set us free.”
In his pastoral exhortation, “Let Us Enter the Upper Room With the Lord,” released on Ash Wednesday, Bishop Caggiano wrote, “I will need the assistance of co-workers who will not be afraid to go out into their communities to invite people to encounter the Lord and his mercy.”
These “ambassadors” will be sent out under the direction of their pastors to invite those who have left the Church to come home. Some 140 participants recently gathered for the first online session for the Eucharistic Ambassador formation. He asked pastors to recommend candidates, based on their love for the faith and their willingness to use the months ahead to take part in spiritual formation to become missionary ambassadors and bring people back to Christ.
We all need to be part of this renewal. Look at the world around you. Look at the number of family members and friends who have fallen away from the Church. As Catholics, we can’t sit on our hands any longer. I look at my own “larger” family of aunts, uncles, cousins, children…so many who once celebrated Mass and received the sacraments and now they’re gone.
One absolute certainty in life is this: If a person isn’t moving closer to Christ, he or she is moving away from Christ. Their lives lack the fulfillment that only Christ and the Eucharist can provide, so they turn elsewhere — to political causes, to sensuality, to social media, to possessions, to careers, to achievement, to every imaginable distraction.
For years, we’ve read the dismaying statistics that say Catholics are leaving the Church, that bemoan the reality of the growing ranks of the so-called “Nones,” those young people who have abandoned faith for whatever reason. There are two young generations who for the most part don’t even realize they need Christ.
We must pray for them to return — and many of us do, especially if they’re family members — but now is the time to stop sitting on our hands and take action. And that is precisely the mission of the diocesan renewal.
I recently interviewed a young woman, Paola Pena, Director of Student Ministries at St. Pius X Parish in Fairfield, who fell away from the faith as a girl and turned to New Age spiritualism, like many others her age. However, through a series of providential events, she found Christ and with him, she found a new purpose.
She told me that now her mission is to bring souls back to Jesus. Her mission is to go out and invite people into a personal relationship with him so they can be saved. That has to be the mission for all of us, just like those 72 first disciples that Jesus sent out.
We live in a society that preaches what St. John Paul II called “the anti-gospel,” and if we aren’t willing to raise our voices for the true Gospel, no one else will. We live in a society where so many young people are wandering in darkness. If we don’t make a conscious daily effort, guided by the Spirit, to bring them to the light, who will?
Bishop Caggiano said it best. The time for words is over. Now is the time for action.
Actions speak louder than words, and the year ahead will provide countless opportunities for all of us to “save souls,” which is our true purpose in life.
St. Joseph pray for us!
Joe Pisani is a frequent contributor to Fairfield County Catholic and the Diocese of Bridgeport Website