Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

A Hidden Life is a movie released in 2019 that tells the story of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer and devout Catholic who was a conscientious objector during World War II. He was sentenced to death and executed for his refusal to fight in the Nazi Army and swear loyalty to Hitler. Blessed Franz Jägerstätter was declared a martyr and beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.

The title of the movie comes from a passage in George Eliot’s book, Middlemarch, which opens the film with this quote: “[T]he growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” The idea of a hidden life is derived from a phrase found in the New Testament, in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians 3:3: “For you died, and [now] your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

Several times throughout the movie, Franz Jägerstätter is challenged by antagonists who mock his conscientious objection by telling him that he is nobody and that his death will not mean anything, since no one will even know about it. Obviously, that turned out not to be true, since Blessed Franz Jägerstätter is now beatified and his story is becoming better known, thanks to the movie and the publicity about his life. But that was never the point for Jägerstätter, since he was not taking a stand in order to become famous or change the world, but simply because his conscience told him it would be wrong to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler and fight with the Nazis.

The story of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter is a reminder for us to do good and avoid evil, not because someone else may be watching, but because God knows what is in our hearts and will judge us according to our deeds, punishing evildoers and rewarding those who act in accord with God’s will.

The reference to “a hidden life” is also a very apt description of the life of St. Joseph, whose feast day we will celebrate on March 19. The Bible does not record any words spoken by St. Joseph. He is identified as a carpenter, and some brief references are made in the infancy narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke about his key role at the time of the birth of Jesus, but after the Finding of Jesus in the Temple, St. Joseph is not mentioned again. The details of his life are not known. They remain hidden. We do not know when he died or how he died. Yet, St. Joseph is a mighty intercessor for those who turn to him.

St. Joseph is significant patron saint for me, as I chose the name Joseph when I received the sacrament of confirmation. I was ordained a bishop on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, March 19, 2003. My mother’s funeral took place on March 19, 2019. As St. Joseph was a faithful guardian for Mary and Jesus, he is a powerful protector for us, especially at key moments in our lives.

In his book, St. Joseph and His World, Mike Aquilina writes, “We travel our world more confidently when we know the story of St. Joseph in his world. We will reach our destination more surely if we have Joseph as our companion.”

The Litany of St. Joseph lists several of St. Joseph’s virtues:

Joseph Most Just.
Joseph Most Chaste.
Joseph Most Prudent.
Joseph Most Courageous.
Joseph Most Obedient.
Joseph Most Faithful.

He is also given several noteworthy titles:

Mirror of Patience.
Lover of Poverty.
Model of Workmen.
Glory of Domestic Life.
Guardian of Virgins.
Pillar of Families.
Comfort of the Afflicted.
Hope of the Sick.
Patron of the Dying.
Terror of Demons.
Protector of the Holy Church.

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church, Pope Francis has proclaimed a “Year of Saint Joseph” from Dec. 8, 2020, to Dec. 8, 2021. In his Apostolic Letter entitled Patris corde (With a Father’s Heart), Pope Francis describes St. Joseph as a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father, a father who is creatively courageous, a working father, and a father in the shadows. The Holy Father wrote, “Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”

Pope Francis concludes by saying, “The aim of this Apostolic Letter is to increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal. … We need only ask St. Joseph for the grace of graces: our conversion.”

May God give us this grace. Amen.