For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 9 and His Feast Day)

Two years ago today, I realized that I didn’t want to take Thomas (More) as my confirmation name, I wanted to take Joseph. Taking “A Man for All Seasons” as my patron was aiming too high, I thought: statesman, writer, martyr. Joseph was more my speed: husband, father, worker. It was a fortuitous choice. Three days later was the Easter Vigil, and my father drove up from Connecticut to witness my reception into the Catholic Church. Three months later, Dad was dying of melanoma. I did not know at the time that St. Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death.

All summer long I said prayers for my father before the statue of St. Joseph that stands at the front of our church at the head of the right aisle. That St. Joseph stands watch over this post too. Dad died six months to the day from Easter, a happy man who had a happy death, or so I like to think.

Our late great Pope John Paul II gets a final word in this series of nine posts about St. Joseph, a novena that culminates today. His Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer) was written on the hundredth anniversary of Leo XIII’s encyclical Quamquam Pluries. As I wrote yesterday, Leo’s encyclical began a process of frequent “upgrades” of St. Joseph in the eyes of the Church. Redemptoris Custos summarizes a century of Papal teaching.

It’s late and you don’t need a lecture from me about it, so I’ll just give you the link here. Read it in your spare time. Say a prayer to St. Joseph. And listen to the closing words of a homily to him by Karl Rahner, SJ:

We have a good patron, who is suitable for everyone. For he is a patron of the poor, a patron of workers, a patron of exiles, a model for worshipers, an exemplar of the pure discipline of the heart, a prototype of fathers who protect in their children the Son of the Father. Joseph, who himself experienced death, is also the patron of the dying, standing at our bedside. We have inherited from our Father a good patron. But the question put to us is whether we remain worthy of this inheritance, whether we preserve and increase the mysterious rapport between us and our heavenly intercessor.

Joseph lives. He may seem far away from us, but he is not. For the communion of saints is near and the seeming distance is only appearance. The saints may seem eclipsed by the dazzling brightness of the eternal God, into which they have entered, like those who have vanished into the distance of lost centuries. God, however, is not a God of the dead, but of the living. He is the God of those who live forever in heaven, where they reap the fruits of their life on earth, the life that only seems to be past, over and done with forever. Their earthly life bore eternal fruit, and they have planted that fruit in the true soil of life, out of which all generations live.

And so Joseph lives. He is our patron. We, however, will experience the blessing of his protection if we, with God’s grace, open our heart and our life to his spirit and the quiet power of his intercession.

Blessed St. Joseph, patron of the dying, stand by us now and at the hour of our death!

For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 8)

If you don’t believe that Church tradition develops under the influence of the Holy Spirit, listen to how St. Joseph has been almost methodically “upgraded,” along with the Holy Family, by one Pope after another since the nineteenth century. This was not just a case of Popes waking up in the middle of the night and thinking to themselves, “Gee, I’d like to do something nice for St. Joe.”

In 1870, at a difficult time in the Church’s history, Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph the Patron of the Catholic Church. “In the providence of God,” writes Michael D. Griffin, OCD, “nothing has, I believe, made the faithful so directly conscious of the special importance of Saint Joseph. From that time onwards, devotion to Joseph has grown by leaps and bounds within the Church.”

In the great encyclical Quamquam Pluries (1889), Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) established the foundation of the theology of St. Joseph, stating that Joseph is greatest of the saints after Mary and ahead of all the other saints. His encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891) would sum up the teaching of the Church on the singular role of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church:

The divine household which Joseph governed as with paternal authority contained the beginnings of the new Church. The Virgin most holy is the mother of all Christians, since she is the mother of Jesus and since she gave birth to them on the Mount of Calvary amid the indescribable sufferings of the Redeemer. Jesus is, as it were, the firstborn of Christians, who are His brothers by adoption and redemption. From these considerations we conclude that the Blessed Patriarch must regard all the multitude of Christians who constitute the Church as confided to his care in a certain special manner. This is his numberless family scattered throughout all lands.

Leo instituted the Feast of the Holy Family on the Third Sunday after Epiphany. That would change twice in the next eighty years.

Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922), in his Bonum Sane (1920), stated that the only hope for nations lies in families. Benedict made the Feast of the Holy Family a day of obligation and transferred it to the First Sunday after Epiphany. Benedict XV also reestablished March 19, the feast day of St. Joseph, as a holy day of obligation.

Pope Pius XI (1922–1939) left several teachings about St. Joseph and was the first Pope to state that Joseph belongs to the order of the Hypostatic Union along with Jesus and Mary. His successor, Pius XII (1939-1958) instituted the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1, as an antidote to the Communist celebration of May Day.

Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) had a special devotion to St. Joseph and even proposed in May 1960 that the Assumption of St. Joseph into heaven “is worthy of pious belief.” This was ten years after Pius XII solemnly defined the Assumption of Mary. When John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council, he commended it to the heavenly patronage of St. Joseph. Perhaps even more important was John’s insertion of Joseph’s name in the Canon of the Mass, immediately after the name of Mary and before all other saints.

Paul VI (1963-1978) spoke often of St. Joseph in homilies, and in 1969 he moved the Feast of the Holy Family to within the Octave of Christmas. While John Paul I lived only a month as Pope in 1978, his successor, John Paul II, issued the crowning tribute to St. Joseph with his Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer), on the hundredth anniversary of Quamquam Pluries. We’ll look at Redemptoris Custos tomorrow, on the final day of this novena, the Feast of St. Joseph.

Throughout this series of St. Joseph, I have been offering excerpts from a homily on the Feast of St. Joseph by Karl Rahner, SJ. Here’s the penultimate section:

[Joseph] received into his family the one who came to redeem his nation from their sin, one to whom he himself gave the name of Jesus, a name which served the eternal Word of the Father, the Word who had become a child of this world. And people called their redeemer the son of a carpenter. When the eternal Word was audible in the world in the message of the Gospels, Joseph, having quietly done his duty, went away without any notice on the part of the world.


But the life of this insignificant man did have significance; it had one meaning that, in the long run, counts in each person’s life: God and his incarnate grace. To him it could be said: “Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.” Who can doubt that this man is a good patron for us? This man of humble, everyday routine, this man of silent performance of duty, of honest righteousness and of manly piety, this man who was charged with protecting the grace of God in its embodied life?


Contemporary Christians might find their way back to what is best in them if the individuality of this man, their patron, were again producing more stature in them. Granted, a nation must have greatness of spirit and pioneers who will lead it toward new goals. Just as much, if not more so, however, a nation needs men and women of lifelong performance of duty, of clearheaded loyalty, of discipline of heart and body. A nation needs men and women who know that true greatness is achieved only in selfless service to the greater and holy duty that is imposed upon each life; human beings of genuine reverence, conquerors of themselves, who hear the word of God and carry out the inflexible decrees of conscience. It needs men and women who through their lives bear the childlike, defenseless grace of God past all those who, like Herod, attempt to kill this grace. A nation needs men and women who do not lose confidence in God’s grace, even when they have to seek it as lost, as Joseph once sought the divine child. Such individuals are urgently needed in every situation and in every class.

Blessed St. Joseph, whose clear example of dedication, righteousness, and manly piety has never been more needed than today, pray for us!

For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 7)

This series of posts on St. Joseph has drawn few formal comments to YIM Catholic. But friends have taken me aside, both in person and on line, to say that St. Joseph has attracted their attention. At the end of our visit today, my real-life friend Joan of Beverly noted the remarkable coincidence that devotion to St. Joseph is peaking in an age when the family is under attack more than ever. On-line friends Mujerlatina and Maria have been commenting too. Maria came up with this 100-year-old volume on Devotion to St. Joseph, a treasure I haven’t dug into yet.

The increasing interest in St. Joseph over the past 800 years that I have been detailing is a fascinating case study in how the Catholic Church’s traditions evolve with the times under the influence of the Holy Spirit. If your guiding rule were Sola Scriptura (the Bible is the only authority), you would have little to say about St. Joseph since he has literally nothing to say in the Gospels. But our Church, formed by Christ himself and the first Apostles, led by Peter, takes a broader view.

One of the more interesting testimonies to St. Joseph in recent centuries is the brief account of his early life given by the German mystic and stigmatist Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774–1824). Her four-volume Life of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is an epic visionary account of Salvation History from Adam and Eve through the death, burial, and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. It influenced Mel Gibson in making The Passion of The Christ, and it is currently influencing me. I have been reading a little bit of it most days at Adoration, and I’m sure I’ll have more to write at a future date. I hasten to add that Emmerich’s visions are not considered formal dogma or doctrine, any more than St. Teresa of Avila’s visions and voices are highlighted by the Church. But they exist for the faithful to contemplate.

Here’s Emmerich’s brief bio cribbed from the Web link to her book in the preceding paragraph:

ANNE CATHERINE EMMERICH [left] was told by Our Lord that her gift of seeing the past, present, and future in mystic vision was greater than that possessed by anyone else in history. Born at Flamske in Westphalia, Germany, on September 8, 1774, she became a nun of the Augustinian Order at Dulmen. She had the use of reason from her birth and could understand liturgical Latin from her first time at Mass. During the last 12 years of her life, she could eat no food except Holy Communion, nor take any drink except water, subsisting entirely on the Holy Eucharist. From 1802 until her death, she bore the wounds of the Crown of Thorns, and from 1812, the full stigmata of Our Lord, including a cross over her heart and the wound from the lance.

Anne Catherine Emmerich possessed the gift of reading hearts, and she saw, in actual, visual detail, the facts of Catholic belief which most of us simply have to accept on faith. The basic truths of the catechism–angels, devils, Purgatory, the lives of Our Lord and the Blessed Mother, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the grace of the Sacraments–all these truths were as real to her as the material world. Her revelations make the hidden, supernatural world come alive. They lift the veil on the world of grace and enable the reader to see, through Anne Catherine’s eyes, the manifold doctrines of our Faith in all their wondrous beauty.

And here is Emmerich’s account of Joseph’s early life. The image below is based on her description of the home he grew up in:

Among many things which I saw today of the youth of St. Joseph, I remember what follows.

Joseph, whose father was called Jacob, was the third of six brothers. His parents lived in a large house outside Bethlehem, once the ancestral home of David, whose father Isai or Jesse had owned it. By Joseph’s time there was, however, little remaining of the old building except the main walls. The situation was very airy, and water was abundant there. I know my way about there better than in our own little village of Flamske.

In front of the house was an outer court (as in the houses of ancient Rome), surrounded by a covered colonnade like a cloister. I saw sculptures in this colonnade like the heads of old men. On one side of the court was a fountain under a stone canopy. The water issued from animals’ heads in stone. There were no windows to be seen in the lower story of the dwelling house itself, but high up there were circular openings. I saw one door. A broad gallery ran round the upper part of the house, with little towers at each of its four corners, like short, thick pillars, ending in big balls or domes on which little flags were fastened. Stairs led up through these little towers from below, and from openings in the domes one had a view all round without being seen oneself. There were little towers like this on David’s palace in Jerusalem, and it was from the dome of one of these that he saw Bathsheba at her bath. This gallery ran round a low upper story with a flat roof on which was another building with another little tower. Joseph and his brothers lived in the upper story, and their teacher, an aged Jew, lived in the topmost building. They all slept in a circle in one room, in the middle of the story which was surrounded by the gallery. Their sleeping places were carpets, rolled up against the wall in the daytime and separated by removable screens. I have often seen them playing up there in their rooms. They had toys in the shape of animals, like little pugs. [Catherine Emmerich uses this word indiscriminately for any creatures she does not know.] I also saw how their teacher gave them all kinds of strange lessons which I did not rightly understand. I saw him making all kinds of figures on the ground with sticks, and the boys had to walk on these figures; then I saw the boys walking on other figures and pushing the sticks apart, placing them differently and rearranging them and making various measurements at the same time. I saw their parents, too; they did not trouble much about their children and had little to do with them. They seemed to me to be neither good nor bad.

Joseph, whom I saw in this vision at about the age of eight, was very different in character from his brothers. He was very gifted and was a very good scholar, but he was simple, quiet, devout, and not at all ambitious. His brothers knocked him about and played all kinds of tricks on him. The boys had separate little gardens, at the entrance of which stood figures like babies in swaddling clothes on pillars, but sheltered a little (in niches perhaps?). I have often seen figures like these, and there were some on the curtain which hung by the praying-place of St. Anne and also of the Blessed Virgin, but on Mary’s curtain this figure held something in its arms that reminded me of a chalice with something wriggling out of it. Here in St. Joseph’s house the figures were like babies in swaddling clothes with round faces surrounded by rays. In still earlier times I noticed many figures of this kind, particularly in Jerusalem. They appeared, too, in the Temple decorations. I saw them in Egypt as well, where they sometimes had little caps on their heads. Amongst the figures which Rachel carried off from her father Laban there were some like these, but smaller, as well as other different ones. I have also seen these figures lying in little boxes or baskets in Jewish houses. I think perhaps that they represented the child Moses floating on the Nile, and that the swaddling-bands perhaps symbolized the tightly binding character of the Law. I often used to think that this little figure was for them what the Christ Child is for us.

I saw herbs, bushes, and little trees in the boys’ gardens, and I saw how Joseph’s brothers often went in secret to his garden and trampled or uprooted something in it. They made him very unhappy. I often saw him under the colonnade in the outer court kneeling down with his face to the wall, praying with outstretched arms, and I saw his brothers creep up and kick him. I once saw him kneeling like this, when one of them hit him on the back, and as he did not seem to notice it, he repeated his attack with such violence that poor Joseph fell forward onto the hard stone floor. From this I realized that he was not in a waking condition, but had been in an ecstasy of prayer. When he came to himself, he did not lose his temper or take revenge, but found a hidden corner where he continued his prayer.

I saw some small dwellings built against the outer walls of the house, inhabited by a few middle-aged women. They went about veiled, as I often saw women doing who lived near schools in the country. They seemed to form part of the household, for I often saw them going in and out of the house on various errands. They carried water in, washed and swept, closed the gratings in front of the windows, rolled up the beds against the walls and placed wickerwork screens in front of them. I saw Joseph’s brothers sometimes talking to these maid-servants or helping them with their work and joking with them, too. Joseph did not do this; he was serious and solitary. It seemed to me that there were also daughters in the house. The lower living-rooms were arranged rather like those in Anna’s house, but everything was more spacious. Joseph’s parents were not very well satisfied with him; they wanted him to use his talents in some worldly profession, but he had no inclination for that. He was too simple and unpretentious for them; his only inclination was towards prayer and quiet work at some handicraft. When he was about twelve years old, I often saw him go to the other side of Bethlehem to escape from his brothers’ perpetual teasing. Not far from the future cave of the Nativity there was a little community of pious women belonging to the Essenes, who dwelt in a series of rock-chambers in a hollowed-out part of the hill on which Bethlehem stood. They tended little gardens near their dwellings and taught the children of other Essenes. Little Joseph went to visit these women, and I often used to see him escaping from his brothers’ teasing to go to them and join in their prayers, which they read by the light of a lamp in their cave from a scroll hanging on the wall. I also saw him visiting the caves of which one was afterwards the birthplace of Our Lord. He prayed there quite alone, or made all kinds of little things out of wood; for there was an old carpenter who had his workshop near these Essenes with whom Joseph spent much of his time. He helped him with his work and so little by little learnt his craft. The art of measuring which he had practiced at home under his master’s tuition was here of great use to him.

His brothers’ hostility at last made it impossible for him to remain any longer in his parents’ house; I saw that a friend from Bethlehem (which was separated from his home by a little stream) gave him clothes in which to disguise himself. In these he left the house at night in order to earn his living in another place by his carpentry. He might have been eighteen to twenty years old at that time.

To begin with, I saw him working with a carpenter at Lebona. This was the place where he first really learnt his craft. His master had his dwelling against some ancient walls which ran from the town along a narrow ledge of hill, like a road leading up to some ruined castle. Several poor people lived in the walls. I saw Joseph making long stakes in a place between high walls with openings above to let in light. These stakes were frames for wicker-screens. His master was a poor man, and made mostly only such common things as these rough wicker-screens. Joseph was very devout, good, and simple-minded, everybody loved him. I saw him helping his master very humbly in all sorts of ways—picking up shavings, collecting wood, and carrying it back on his shoulders. In later days he passed by here with the Blessed Virgin on one of their journeys, and I think he visited his former workshop with her.

His parents thought at first that he had been carried off by robbers; but I saw that he was discovered at last by his brothers and severely taken to task, for they were ashamed of his low way of life. He was, however, too humble to give it up; though he left that place and worked afterwards at Thanath, near Megiddo, by a small river called Kishon which runs into the sea. Joseph lived here with a well-to-do master, and the carpenter’s work which they did was of a higher quality. Later still I saw him working in Tiberias for a master-carpenter. He might have been as much as thirty-three years old at that time. His parents in Bethlehem had been dead for some time. Two of his brothers still lived in Bethlehem; the others were dispersed. The parental home had passed into other hands, and the whole family had come down in the world very rapidly. Joseph was very devout and prayed fervently for the coming of the Messiah. He was just engaged in building beside his dwelling a more retired room for prayer, when an angel appeared to him and told him not to do this, for, as once the patriarch Joseph at about this time had, by God’s will, been made overseer of all the corn of Egypt, so he, the second Joseph, should now be entrusted with the care of the granary of salvation. Joseph in his humility did not understand this, and gave himself up to continual prayer, till he received the call to betake himself to Jerusalem to become by divine decree the spouse of the Blessed Virgin. I never saw that he was married before; he was very retiring and avoided women.

This vivid account perhaps has no place in this string of posts about the history of devotion to St. Joseph. But it helps me to remember a simple fact: he was a real guy with real parents, brothers, house, and so on.

O blessed St. Joseph, whose holiness becomes only more vivid the more we study and meditate on you, intercede for us!

For Timely Passages Like These from the LOTH for Today

Its been a while since I did a post on the LOTH, our acronym for the Liturgy of the Hours.  We could have called the Prayer of the Church the DO for Divine Office, but we went with LOTH instead. And shame on me for only just now getting to praying it, but pardon me too: I work for a living.

Knowing the recent news regarding more allegations of abuse coming to light within the Church, the following passages (published how many years ago ?) are in the prayer for Lauds this morning. They couldn’t have come at a better time.

Psalm 100 (101)

The declaration of a just ruler

I will sing of kindness and justice –
to you, Lord, will I sing.
My thoughts shall follow the way of perfection:
when will you come to me, Lord?

I will walk with an innocent heart
through the halls of my palace.
I will allow no evil thing in my sight.
I will hate the man who retreats from perfection:
he may not stay near me.

The wicked of heart must leave me;
the plotter of evil I will not acknowledge.
The man who plots against his neighbour in secret:
I will suppress him.
The haughty of eye, the puffed-up and proud –
I will not support them.

I will turn my eyes to the faithful of the land:
they shall sit with me.
Whoever walks in the way of perfection –

he shall be my servant.
The haughty shall not live in my palace;
the slanderer shall not stand in my sight.
Each morning I will suppress
all the wicked of the land.
I will rid the city of the Lord
of all that do evil.

Followed by this passage I had quoted in my post on Sunday from Psalm 144,

Blessed be the Lord, my help,
who trains my hands for battle,
my fingers for war.
The Lord is kindness and strength,
my refuge and my liberator.
He is my shield, and I trust in him –
he places my people under his rule.

And further on these short passages are timely too. Or is it just me? First from the midmorning reading (Terce),

Between vestibule and altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, lament. Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O Lord! Do not make your heritage a thing of shame, a byword for the nations.’ -Joel 2:17

then from the noon reading (Sext),

We have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our ancestors from our youth until today, and we have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God. -Jeremiah 3:25

and finally from the afternoon reading (None),

Shout for all you are worth, raise your voice like a trumpet. Proclaim their faults to my people, their sins to the House of Jacob. They seek me day after day, they long to know my ways, like a nation that wants to act with integrity and not ignore the law of its God. -Isaiah 58:1-2

From the Office of Readings, we have these thoughts from a Sermon on charity (read love) given by Pope St. Leo the Great (died in 461),

In John’s gospel the Lord says: “By this love you have for one another, everyone will know you are my disciples.” In a letter by John we read: “My dear people, let us love one another since love comes from God and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love.”

So the faithful should look into themselves and carefully examine their minds and the impulses of their hearts. If they find some of the fruits of love stored in their hearts then they must not doubt God’s presence within them, but to make themselves more and more able to receive so great a guest they should do more and more works of durable mercy and kindness. After all, if God is love, charity should know no limit, for God himself cannot be confined within limits.

Coincidence? Or the Holy Spirit at work? Mark me down for believing the latter. Please continue to pray for our Church, the victims of sexual abuse and their families, and our Pope and Church leaders as they come to grips with the mutineers.

Pax Christi

For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 6)

My novena to St. Joseph is nearing the end. His Feast Day crowns the week, on Friday. The devotion for today brings me to the heart of my love for St. Joseph—as the Patron of Families. “St. Joseph,” it begins, “I venerate you as the gentle head of the Holy Family. The Holy Family was the scene of your life’s work in its origin, in its guidance, in its protection, in your labor for Jesus and Mary, and even in your death in their arms.”

I am twice blessed in my family: first in the family of my parents, Dave and Nan Bull, and their six children; and second in the smaller family Katie and I have led, with our daughters, Martha and Marian. Every family falls short of the ideal of the Holy Family, of course, and my families have been 100 percent “fallen” people. I can give you details. I mean, the story about . . .

But this is the important thing: Bonded together as a family, we have added up to more than our sum. My parents and Katie’s parents both believed fully in the family—in the traditional family, yes, in a family led by a man and a woman—and they embodied the ideal well enough that, despite their many failings, something of their faith in family was transmitted through us to our children. No doubt, with the help of the Holy Family and its silent father, Joseph.

While St. Teresa of Avila and St. Francis de Sales were increasing devotion to St. Joseph in the Old World, explorers of and missionaries to the New World brought this devotion with them. Spiritually, in New Spain and New France, whole communities were founded on the love of St. Joseph and a devotion to the Holy Family. According to an essay on the Holy Family Devotion by Joseph F. Chorpenning, OSFS, which I have been citing, the First Provincial Council of Mexico (New Spain), declared St. Joseph patron of the ecclesiastical Province of Mexico in 1555. His feast day immediately became a holy day of obligation for New Spain, 66 years before Pope Gregory XV designated it for the Universal Church.

The Flemish lay brother Fray Pedro de Gante (1486–1572) especially spread the cult of St. Joseph in Mexico. He had been educated by the Brethren of the Common Life, who esteemed the writings of Jean Gerson (1363–1429), one of the first to foster devotion to St. Joseph. In the late 1520s, Fray Pedro placed the first school founded to instruct native children of New Spain under the saint’s protection. By the end of that decade, only the second or third church ever dedicated to the saint, St. Joseph of Bethlehem of the Natives, was dedicated in Mexico City.

And so it went, from one community, chapel, or city named for San José to another. Meanwhile, in modern-day Canada (New France). Chorpenning writes: “History repeated itself when New France followed New Spain’s example and chose St. Joseph as its patron in 1624. Moreover, the cult of the Holy Family which is implicit in the devotion to St. Joseph that flourished in New Spain becomes explicit in New France.” Ancestors of present-day Canadians celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family two full centuries before it was recognized by the Universal Church.

Here in New France a French Ursuline nun, Blessed Marie of the Incarnation (1599–1672), was the first woman missionary to the New World. According to her own writing, God commanded her “to build a house in Canada in which He would be adored and praised in company with Jesus and Mary—with with St. Joseph who should never be separated from them.” A tradition of devotion to St. Joseph extends through Canadian history toward our time, reaching its high point with the life of Blessed (soon to be Saint) André Bessette (1845–1937) (left), whom I have written about previously and with affection.

To continue the homily for the Feast of St. Joseph by Karl Rahner, SJ:

[St. Joseph’s] loyalty to duty and impartial righteousness, which is a manly form of love,also lived in him with respect to God his Father. He was a devout man and he was manly in his devotion. For him the service of God was not a matter of pious feelings that come and go, but a matter of humble loyalty that really served God and not his own pious ego. As Luke says: “Every year he went to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, according to the custom.” Now we can tell what was the most important element in the life of this man whose everyday life was a life of duty, righteousness, and of manly devotion: this life was given the charge of protecting in a fatherly way the savior of the world.

Blessed St. Joseph, Patron of Families, pray for our families. May they be modeled after your own at Nazareth!

For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 5)

I  can’t imagine living without the saints—real men and women who have proved the Christian claim for 2000 years—and yet that’s just what I did as a Protestant for the first 56 years of my life. I didn’t pay them any attention. How could I have lived without St. Joseph alone? On what grounds? He is the model of fatherhood (I have two daughters whom I adore), of what it means to be a husband (and a wife I double adore), of working hard (don’t we all?), and of a happy death (in the arms of Jesus and Mary). Why would I not be interested in St. Joseph? Why would anyone not?

Continuing my running account of how the devotion to St. Joseph developed from the late middle ages through the time of St. Teresa of Avila, we come to St. Francis de Sales (1567–1622). According to Joseph F. Chorpenning, OSFS, St. Francis de Sales’s Introduction to the Devout Life (1609) “develops a positive and practical spirituality for married people and families” by focusing on the Holy Family and, by extension, on the centrality of St. Joseph. “Who can doubt,” he wrote, “that when this holy father came to the end of his years, he in turn was carried by his divine foster Child on his journey from this world into the next, into Abraham’s bosom, from there to be translated into the Son’s own bosom, into glory, on the day of His Ascension?” Just 300 years before St. Francis de Sales, no one in Christendom would have placed St. Joseph, the “silent man” of the Gospels, so close to the center of Salvation history.

And to continue the homily for the Feast of St. Joseph by Karl Rahner, SJ, here’s the next installment:

Three times the scripture says of Joseph: “He rose up.” He rose up to carry out God’s will as he perceived it in his conscience, a conscience that was so alert that it perceived the message of the angel even in sleep, although that message called him to a path of duty that he himself neither devised nor expected.

According to the witness of the Bible, this insignificant man’s humble routine concealed a further object of value: righteousness. Joseph was a just man, the Bible says, a man who regulated his life according to the word and law of God. Not only when this law suited his desires, but always and at all times, even when it was hard, and when the law judged to his disadvantage that his neighbor was right. He was righteous in that he was impartial, tactful, and respectful of Mary’s individuality and even of that which he could not understand in her.

[To be continued tomorrow]

St. Joseph, most blessed of all male saints, model for fathers and husbands and workers everywhere, pray for us!

For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 4)

Precisely today, with the Church and even my Pope under attack for scandal in Germany, a cause of great sadness, we’ve never needed St. Joseph more. He is the patron saint of dozens of people and places, including carpenters, fathers, married people, unborn children, and the dying. Since 1847, by decree of Pope Pius IX, he is also the patron of the Universal Catholic Church. Today, our Church needs his intercession.

Since Thursday, I have been tracing just how St. Joseph came into focus after being largely overlooked for the first 1300 years after Christ. Yesterday, it was St. Bonaventure and Jean Gerson who shined a light on the husband of Mary and earthly father of Our Lord. Today, I will look briefly at St. Teresa of Avila (1515–1582). As before I am drawing from an essay by Joseph F. Chorpenning, OSFS, in St. Joseph and the Third Millennium, edited by Michael D. Griffin, OCD.

My daughter is being received into the Catholic Church at this year’s Easter Vigil, and I have commended St. Teresa to her as a possible patron. I told my daughter that St. Teresa is, for my money, the greatest female saint after Mary. She too is a patron for today: a perfect melding of contemplation (those visions! those voices!) and action. She traveled around Spain in a covered wagon, founding seventeen convents of the reformed Discalced Carmelite order, listening to God while driving a hard bargain, a perfect patroness for my daughter the businesswoman to be.

And who was St. Teresa’s own special patron? St. Joseph, for whom she had a supreme devotion. She believed it was his intercession that saved her from dire illness as a young woman, and she adopted him as her father when she was well again, just as she had adopted Mary after her own mother’s early death. Chorpenning writes that this relationship with St. Joseph “was unprecedented in Christian history and was the foundation for the pivotal role that Teresa would play in disseminating St. Joseph’s cult in the period after the Council of Trent.”

Teresa’s first reformed convent, in her hometown of Avila, was named for St. Joseph. While contemplating this first foundation, St. Teresa heard the voice of God tell her that it should be a “little dwelling corner,” a “little Bethlehem.” St. Teresa would write:

His Majesty earnestly commanded me to strive for this new monastery with all my powers, and He made great promises that it would be founded and that He would be highly served in it. He said it should be called St. Joseph and that this saint would keep watch over us at one door, and our Lady at the other, that Christ would remain with us, and that it would be a star shining with great splendor.

Chorpenning concludes: “Teresa is one of those rare individuals in Christian history who has a profound consciousness of the inseparability and integrity of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”

To conclude, here’s more from the homily for the Feast of St. Joseph by Karl Rahner, SJ:

The pages of the Bible tell us little about Joseph. But they tell us enough to know something of our heavenly patron. Not a single word of his has been recorded for us. He pondered, yes; that is expressly attested to. But he spoke little, so little that these words did not have to be transmitted to posterity. We know that he was a descendant of the noble lineage of David, the greatest in his nation’s history. But that was the past that the present, in its sober poverty, had yet to make perceptible. This present, however, was the hard life of one insignificant carpenter in a tiny village in one corner of the world. For the poor this present meant paying taxes and standing in line.

It was the destiny of the “displaced person,” who had to seek scanty shelter among strangers, until the political situation again permitted a return to his homeland, the homeland that he must have loved, since he renounced living in the neighborhood of the capital city and stayed in the “province” country of Galilee. He lived very inconsipicuously in his Nazaareth, so that the life of his family furnished no spectacular background for the public appearance of Jesus (Lk 4:22). However, this humble routine of the life of an insignificant man concealed something else: the silent performance of duty.

[To be continued tomorrow]

Oh, blessed St. Joseph, patron of our Church in troubled times, pray for us!

For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 3)

For the past two and a half years, I have been working on a history of the Massachusetts General Hospital, to be published in the MGH bicentennial year of 2011—if I can keep hitting the deadlines, that is. Many times I have walked between buildings at the hospital, but only yesterday did I pay attention to this statue, which stands behind the Catholic Church abutting the hospital complex. The church is St. Joseph’s.

What I find lovely and unusual about this vision of St. Joseph is that here he is not with Jesus but with a young, barefoot girl, who looks up hopefully into his eyes. I have decided to name the girl Teresa.

Devotion to St. Joseph, expressed beautifully in the statue, really got started in late medieval times, according to an essay by Joseph F. Chorpenning, OSFS, in the book Saint Joseph and the Third Millennium. Two influences were important, according to the author.

St. Bonaventure (1221–1274) was a Franciscan theologian whose Meditations on the Passion are a sort of summary of medieval spirituality. Like the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius three centuries later, the Meditations exhorted readers to meditate imaginatively on the life of Christ, beginning with the life of the Holy Family. On the flight into Egypt, the reader is told, “Accompany them and help to carry the Child and serve them in every way you can.” Chorpenning’s essay shows how devotion to St. Joseph began growing alongside a widening awareness of the Holy Family.

Jean Gerson (1363–1429), a chancellor of the University of Paris, was more direct. He “conducted an active campaign to rescue St. Joseph from the relative neglect of earlier periods, to correct mistaken notions about him found in the apocryphal gospels and often reflected in art and in literature, and to promote his cult among the faithful. Gerson systematically reworked St. Joseph’s image from that of an aged, ineffective attendant to the Virgin and Christ Child to a vigorous, youthful man who was the divinely appointed head of God’s household, . . . an industrious provider for the Holy Family, and, along with his spouse Mary, an exemplar of holy matrimony.”

But enough history for one morning! Let’s continue with the homily for the Feast of St. Joseph by Karl Rahner, SJ, in which he begins to lay out reasons why St. Joseph is a saint for our times:

Certainly every Christian and every Christian nation are charged with the entire fullness of Christian perfection as a duty that is never completed. But every nation and every human being have, so to speak, their own door, their own approach, through which they alone can come nearer to the fullness of Christianity. Not all of us will find access to the boundless vistas of God’s world through the great gate of surging rapture and burning ardor. Some must go through the small gate of quiet loyalty and the ordinary, exact performance of duty. And it is this fact, I am inclined to think, that can help us to discover a rapport between earth and heaven, between Christians today and their heavenly intercessor.

[To be continued tomorrow]

Blessed St. Joseph, who stand at the “small gate of quiet loyalty and the ordinary, exact performance of duty,” pray for us!

For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 2)

As a reader commented yesterday, when I began a novena in anticipation of his feast day, March 19, St. Joseph is the silent man in the Gospels. He speaks not a word, although Matthew and Luke both show him acting decisively in response to the Word of God. Much of what we “know” about St. Joseph is apocryphal; many images of him, for example, the old man holding a staff from which a lily sprouts (left), are derived from the Protoevangelium of James and other texts discredited by Church Fathers. Most modern scholars seem to agree that Joseph was in fact a young man, making his virginal marriage far more impressive.

St. Joseph was silent and pretty much unnoticed for the first 1200 years of Christian history. There is little record of devotion to him during that period. In his essay “Theological Reflections on Devotion to Saint Joseph,” Michael Griffin, OCD, writes: “Though the Church from the beginning was aware that Mary was given to be the spiritual mother of all, it is a fact that consciousness of Saint Joseph as the spiritual father and protector of every Christian was only gradually arrived at.”

As I will be telling in subsequent posts, devotion to St. Joseph and, by extension, to the Holy Family began at the time of the Franciscans (13th Century) and St. Joseph alone has been an increasingly important figure for Popes since the late 19th century. I’ll conclude this short post today with the next paragraphs in a homily for the Feast of St. Joseph written by Karl Rahner, SJ, which began yesterday. It reflects a consensus that in some way the Holy Spirit “reserved” devotion to St. Joseph for our troubled times:

The blessed men and women with whom we have fellowship in the communion of saints are not pale shadows. Rather, they have brought over into the eternal life of God the fruits of their earthly life, and thus have brought with them their own personal uniqueness.

Their God even calls them by name in the one today of eternity. They are ever the same as they were in the unique history of their own lives. We single out one individual from among them to honor him as our heavenly protector and intercessor, because his own individuality means something unique and irreplaceable to us. We mean that between him and us there exists a specific rapport that makes him a special blessing for us and assigns a special duty to us, if we are to be worthy of his protection.

From this point of view, is it possible to think that Joseph, the spouse of the Blessed Virgin and foster father of our Lord, is particularly suited to be a patron of a twentieth-century person? Is it possible to think that anyone living today will be able to see himself reflected in Joseph? Are there not people today who, if they are true to their character as willed by God, are a people of small means, of hard work, of only a few words, of loyalty of heart and simple sincerity?

[To be continued tomorrow]

Oh blessed St. Joseph, virginal husband of Mary, pray for us!

For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena

As I have written before, I took Joseph as my confirmation name and have a personal devotion to him. His feast day, March 19, is nine days away, counting from today, and so this seemed a perfect time to say my first novena. (We converts don’t know a novena from novella. This is a big deal for me.) I am using this text from the EWTN web site, and am praying for a private intention, but I would encourage anyone in special need to follow along with me. As St. Teresa of Avila knew, Joseph is a powerful saint.

As a complement to this novena, each day I will post an excerpt from a homily for the Feast of St. Joseph, written by Karl Rahner, S.J. I found the homily in a book loaned me by Father Barnes (another good father). The book is Saint Joseph and the Third Millennium, edited by Michael D. Griffin, OCD. I commend it to your attention.

Here is the beginning of Karl Rahner’s homily:

The Catholic Church today [March 19] celebrates the feast of her patron, her heavenly protector. We can understand such a feast only if we believe in the communion of saints, if we know by faith that God is not a God of the dead, but a God of the living, if we confess that whoever has died in God’s grace lives with God and precisely for that reason is close to us, and if we are convinced that these citizens of heaven intercede for their brothers and sisters on earth in the eternal liturgy of heaven.

The meaning of such a feast can be grasped only if we believe that after death all the events of this earthly life are not simply gone and past, over and done with forever, but that they are preparatory steps that belong to us for eternity, that belong to us as our living future. For our mortality does not change to eternity in an instant; rather, it is slowly transformed into life.

[To be continued tomorrow]

Oh blessed St. Joseph, pray for us!


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