A dear friend of mine had only months to live. Her life had been complex. Woven into each decade were unforeseen sorrows that still scarred her spirit. A visit from the local parish had left her unsettled and worried as she faced her final goodbyes, her last yes to God, her final look back on her life, the reality of all that had been. She began to feel that all she had done was somehow now written in stone and could never be made right.
She called me up not knowing what to expect, if there was any hope for her, afraid even to ask lest she find out that her pastoral visit was really her final door…closed…on hope.
We settled into a quiet conversation. I sensed she was clutching at straws, trying to pin down the mystery of life and death with some logical explanation. As she turned and twisted her life this way and that in an attempt to understand, she generated explanations and analysis which didn’t seem to satisfy. I could see what was happening. She was going through an enlargement of her spirit that now reached far beyond the story she had lived. Faced with her imminent eternal reality, she like a candle was already being lit with the radiant FOREVER that awaited her, yet she was aware of how she had not fully grown into the spiritual maturity that suddenly was becoming clear to her.
As I listened to her, there came to my mind the image of St. Joseph…sleeping.
Here he was the new guardian and foster-father of not just any baby, but the Light of the World and the Son of the Eternal One…. They were escaping imminent danger as King Herod sought the child to kill him. They were resting exhausted in the desert as they were escaping to Egypt. And Joseph slept. The stakes were too high for him to rely on his own strategy to care for the Son of God and the Son of Mary. His sleeping acknowledged his fatigue, his weakness, his sorrow, as well as his trust in the mysterious strategies of the Eternal One that often make no sense to us. This is the lesson of the sleeping St. Joseph who knew that even as he was a “little one,” his every need was cared for by the divine providence of the Eternal Father.
So I offered my friend this image of the sleeping Joseph. I encouraged her to be okay with being a little one. I can imagine that Jesus had a deeply affectionate memory of his earthly father when in his public ministry he prayed to his Father in heaven with a loud voice: “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I thank you that you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to the little ones” (Mt. 11:25).
The little ones. It is okay, my friend, to be a little one.
To have the courage to rest, knowing that the way God sorts things out is always in our favor, that he sees what no one else knows, that he isn’t trapped in the stories we write of our lives but sees the alternate story HE is writing with our lives.
St. Joseph, model of the little ones, is the model of every virtue in the Christian life. Pope Paul VI called St. Joseph, “a poor, honest, hardworking, perhaps even timorous man, but one with unfathomable interior life, from which very singular directions and consolations came, bringing him also the logic and strength that belong to simple and clear souls, and giving him the power of making great decisions, such as that decision to put his liberty at once at the disposition of the divine designs, to make over to them also his legitimate human calling, his conjugal happiness, to accept the conditions, the responsibility and the burden of a family, but, through an incomparable virginal love, to renounce that natural conjugal love that is the foundation and the nourishment of the family; in this way he offered the whole of his existence in a total sacrifice to the imponderable demands raised by the astonishing coming of the Messiah, to whom he was to give the everlastingly blessed name of Jesus (Mt. 1:21), whom he was to acknowledge as the effect of the Holy Spirit, and his own son only in a juridical and domestic way” (Homily of Pope Paul VI on St Joseph, March 27, 1969).
I have in my room a statue of the sleeping St Joseph, but in our convent we have a large St. Joseph statue (and many small statues in individual rooms and offices) where we put our requests this great Saint and Provider to help us with things we need. St. Joseph has never been “sleeping on the job” when it comes to caring for our community’s needs. I have been praying to St Joseph for his guidance in prayer and holiness since 2008 when I wrote the book St. Joseph: Help in Life’s Emergencies, when my own devotion to St Joseph began. And I can always tell when I forget to pray to him. The uber graces begin to dwindle. St. Joseph is very respectful and doesn’t impose himself upon us. He waits to be asked.
Powerful graces are won for us through the intercession of St. Joseph even in our spiritual life.
Saint Teresa of Avila believed so strongly in the power of St. Joseph that she once said, “To other saints Our Lord seems to have given power to succor us in some special necessity—but to this glorious saint, I know by experience, he has given the power to help us in all. Our Lord would have us understand that as he was subject to St. Joseph on earth—for St. Joseph, bearing the title of father and being Jesus’ guardian, could command him—so now in Heaven Our Lord grants all his petitions. I have asked others to recommend themselves to St. Joseph, and they, too, know the same thing by experience.”
So whether you are in great need of interior peace, as my friend was, or asking for the grace of a good death for yourself or others…or you are turning to St. Joseph for material needs for yourself or your loved ones…or asking St. Joseph to guide and heal and protect the Church, you can be assured that this great saint will teach us the same trust in the Eternal Father’s providential care that he had learned as the guardian of Jesus. We will learn that we can sleep peacefully in God’s protective compassion, knowing that we are well cared for.
Here is a prayer to St. Joseph by St. Francis de Sales that you may wish to pray today on the Feast of St. Joseph:
Glorious St. Joseph, spouse of Mary, grant us your paternal protection, we beseech you by the heart of Jesus Christ. O you, whose power extends to all our necessities and can render possible for us the most impossible things, open your fatherly eyes to the needs of your children.
In the trouble and distresses which afflict us, we confidently have recourse to you. Deign to take under your charitable charge these important and difficult matters, cause of our worries. Make its happy outcome be for God’s glory and for the good of his devoted servants. Amen.
By Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP