with tender love

Mar 19, 2021

I have spent the past couple of days in one of the many Aotearoa New Zealand parishes named for St. Joseph leading a parish mission based on Pope Francis letter published to mark the opening of a Year of St Joseph (8 December 2020 – 8 December 2021).

Francis begins this letter titled “With a Father’s Heart” commenting “I would like to share some personal reflections on St. Joseph, this extraordinary figure, so close to our own human experience.”

The inspiring and gentle tone of the letter is not a surprise since Francis has told us before that Joseph is one of his favourite saints. Six weeks after he was elected pope in 2013 he made a change to the text of the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass: after the naming of the “Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of God” we now (at the pope’s insistence) include “blessed Joseph, her Spouse”.

You might appreciate reading the letter Patris Corde (With a Father’s Heart) in your own reflective time at this link.

Because the letter is so readable and down to earth I saw no need to repeat in detail the content of the letter in the parish mission sessions. Instead I used the pope’s reflection as a starting point for reflections grounded in our experience in Aotearoa, and included some themes developed by Pope Francis in his December 2020 book Let us Dream.

It is the tenderness of Pope Francis’ reflections that moved me most.  If I wasn’t a weak sinner I’m not sure the letter (or the book) would make much sense to me. But the way Francis presents the life and witness of Joseph, father of Jesus and spouse of Mary, inspires me to “go to Joseph” as a teacher of and witness to mature faith.

In one of my many favourite bits from the letter Francis comments that we are usually too tough on ourselves. He reflects that our harsh condemnation of our personal sin and weakness, while seeming like a virtue-centred motivation for overcoming sin and being more disciplined in our penance, can actually be the work of the evil one.

Francis reminds us that often “the evil one makes us see and condemn our frailty, whereas the Spirit brings it to light with tender love. Tenderness is the best way to touch the frailty within us.”

The pope continues “Pointing fingers and judging others are frequently signs of an inability to accept our own weaknesses, our own frailty. Only tender love will save us.”

An Invitation:

  • Which part of this reflection spoke most powerfully to you. Stay with that meditation over the next few hours.
  • The image above is titled Adoption, a life-size bronze by Christopher Slatoff, and is found at The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.
  • Thank you to the parish of St. Joseph’s Takapuna for your welcome and witness to me over the days of our parish retreat. A number of you have encouraged me to make this offering available in other places, so if your parish or community would like to offer a similar retreat let me know and I can suggest some options that might work for you. Send a note to john@fff.org.nz
  • Thank you to all the FFF benefactors. It is a beautiful word: “The Latin roots of benefactor are bene, which means “well,” and facere, which means “to do” — literally, “to do well.” A benefactor does well by supporting (usually financially) a good cause.” If you would like to become a benefactor of Food For Faith please visit the SUPPORTING FFF page at this link.


  1. Certainly struck a chord with me, Francis comment on being too harsh on ourselves being the work of the accuser.
    I so tend to fall into beating myself up.
    Liberation come from Jesus, definately a hang onto realisation.

  2. Many likes for this post 🙂 it makes me realise the image of God in Joseph

  3. This is about my behaviour! I could see such wisdom in your words Fr. Thank you


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