During the tumultuous days of the late nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII painted a bleak picture of a world that was becoming increasingly socialistic, anti-Christian, and anti-Catholic. In an 1889 encyclical, Pope Leo XIII summarized the problem, writing that faith, “the root of all the Christian virtues”, was “lessening in many souls”, while charity was “growing cold.” He considered that young people were “daily growing in depravity of morals and views,” and saw “the very foundations of religion undermined with a boldness which waxes daily in intensity.” In that environment, the Catholic Church often found Herself the chosen enemy; Pope Leo wrote that the Catholic Church was being “attacked on every side by open force or by craft.”

The most disturbing aspect of Leo’s observations about his day and age is that they could just as easily describe our own. While the Catholic Church was being “attacked on every side” in Leo’s day, it is now attacked from the inside as well. As recent reports have confirmed, some of the most innocent members of the church have been abused by the members of the clergy for decades. Addressing that horrific problem would seem to inspire a sense of urgency among Church leadership, yet the response has been lackadaisical or worse.

Though several bishops have been clear and resolute in action and public statements, others seem to range from aloof to malevolent, from incompetent to uncaring, from tone-deaf to blindly ambitious. One of the exasperating realities of the McCarrick case is how many prelates had reportedly heard of his actions for years and years, yet remained silent as he was promoted to within one step of the papacy. Surely, many were at fault, yet as Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, pointed out last month:

At the time of this writing, there has not been one bishop, archbishop or cardinal in either the Holy See or the United States who has come forward on his own to repent publicly of his sins of omission or commission with regard to Archbishop McCarrick’s series of promotions over decades.

Simultaneous to all this, many of the bishops—charged with teaching the faith and governing the Church seem willing—nay, eager—to invite heterodox persons and groups to speak in front of their parishes, thus, as Pope Leo would say, boldly undermining the foundations of the Catholic Faith. Frankly, that’s anything but surprising. If this present chaos has taught us anything, it is that discipline, dogma, and decency rise and fall together.

In his own day, Pope Leo did not simply outline the problems, but proposed a remedy for the Church and her faithful: implore the intercession of Saint Joseph. Pope Leo was following the lead of his immediate predecessor, Pius IX. Pope Pius noted that the Church was “beset by enemies on every side” and was “weighed down by calamities so heavy that ungodly men assert that the gates of hell have at length prevailed against her”. Thus, he invoked the special protection of Saint Joseph, and in 1870, declared Saint Joseph the Patron of the Catholic Church.

This is a fitting patronage. As Pope Leo writes, “It is, then, natural and worthy that as the Blessed Joseph ministered to all the needs of the family at Nazareth and girt it about with his protection, he should now cover with the cloak of his heavenly patronage and defend the Church of Jesus Christ.”

In an environment in which leadership is so lacking and so few heroes are emerging from the prelate ranks, Pope’s Leo’s remedy must be our remedy as well: we must faithfully pray for the powerful intercession of Saint Joseph to lead the Church out of this wilderness of sorrow. Happily, Pope Leo left us a special prayer for the intercession of Saint Joseph that is so appropriate for our own time:

To thee, O blessed Joseph, we have recourse in our affliction, and having implored the help of thy thrice holy Spouse, we now, with hearts filled with confidence, earnestly beg thee also to take us under thy protection. By that charity wherewith thou wert united to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, and by that fatherly love with which thou didst cherish the Child Jesus, we beseech thee and we humbly pray that thou wilt look down with gracious eye upon that inheritance which Jesus Christ purchased by His blood, and wilt succor us in our need by thy power and strength.

Defend, O most watchful guardian of the Holy Family, the chosen off-spring of Jesus Christ. Keep from us, O most loving Father, all blight of error and corruption. Aid us from on high, most valiant defender, in this conflict with the powers of darkness. And even as of old thou didst rescue the Child Jesus from the peril of His life, so now defend God's Holy Church from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity. Shield us ever under thy patronage, that, following thine example and strengthened by thy help, we may live a holy life, die a happy death, and attain to everlasting bliss in Heaven. Amen.