From Bernard of Clairvaux to Teresa of Avila to mystics closer to our own day, this patron is the go-to on every front.
The first challenge is getting to the point of silence, where we can come to hear God’s voice and know His will for us. The next challenge is faithfulness, especially when it seems that no one understands what we are doing when we are doing what we believe to be God’s will.
The most unappreciated saint for these and all challenges may be St. Joseph. He appears in our Nativity scenes every Christmas. New Orleans and Italian families with still-strong traditions pay attention to him this month, but where is he every other season of our lives? He may be largely silent in the Gospels, but God’s will becomes clear to him in the night, and he responds with the most humble obedience of the kind that can’t be easy.
So many saints have emphasized the fruitfulness of going to Joseph for intercession on every front.
“There are some saints who have the power of protecting in certain specific circumstances,” St. Bernard of Clairvaux said, “but Saint Joseph has been granted the power to help us in every kind of need, and to defend all who have recourse to him with pious dispositions.” St. Teresa of Avila agreed, noting: “It would seem that God has only granted the other saints power to help us in one kind of necessity; but experience shows that Saint Joseph can help in every kind of need.”
There are people who seem to live by Caryll Houselander, the 20th century British mystic, described by one biographer as “The Divine Eccentric.” Mention her book Reed of God in some Catholic company and you may just find her following coming out of the woodwork.
A Sister of Life gave me a copy of Reed of God many years ago now and I found it spiritually nourishing – it also happens to be short, which can be helpful if you’re looking for a Lenten jump start. I’ve especially appreciated Houselander on the Incarnation and the Passion, which I first got my introduction to on and off through the years in those digestible meditations that appear in Magnificat, the monthly missal magazine that is indispensable for anyone who wants to keep up with the daily Gospel readings, pray a tiny taste of the Liturgy of the Hours, and get that daily meditation from a saint or holy person’s insights to help with daily sanctification.
About St. Joseph: Read the excerpt below from Reed of God, and see if he isn’t the intercessor for our sometimes tortured world and lives.
What is it that is the greatest mystery to you in your life? Entrust it to Saint Joseph. What seems impossible? Go to Saint Joseph with it. Feel misunderstood? (How’s that for a universal?) Go to Joseph!
Here Houselander encourages us both to do the will of God and to meditate on how impossible that can be without the joy of faith, hope, and love, without trusting that God really does love us eternally, that he really does have a better plan than anything you or I could cook up.
Don’t be robbed of joy, Pope Francis, whose inaugural Mass was on the feast of St. Joseph, often says. That joy comes from encountering Christ in prayer – giving time to it, making everything – even and especially your work — prayer. Next to Mary, who spent more time with Jesus? Learn from St. Joseph!
Houselander helps here in getting to know Joseph better and making him more familiar to anyone of us who truly desires to do the will of God:
If the misunderstanding of the world outside our homes can afflict us, it is nothing at all compared with the misunderstanding of those who are very dear to us (and this is so frequent that it is almost inevitable)—those whom we must love as Mary loved Joseph, that Christ may be formed in us from our very love for them. It is very often those people who are the most bewildered by the mystery of our surrender to the Holy Spirit.Moreover, just as it was with Our Lady and Saint Joseph, the tragedy of misunderstanding between us and our loved ones seems the more baffling because we both are convinced that our own point of view is right, our own actions the fulfilling of God’s will.The words, the actions that hurt us most, often torment those who utter them, just as Joseph must have torn and rent his own mind and heart when he questioned if it were God’s will that he should put his young love from him.Even when this is not so, it is still so natural that it is almost inevitable that those with whom our lives are interlocked should be hurt and frightened when our surrender first takes place, for it will almost certainly reverse all our values and theirs.One newly converted to the Faith, or reawakened to its meaning, is one who has fallen in love with God, and everyone in the house will feel the presence, the danger of the Divine Lover, whose demands may be uncompromising, may turn the complacency of the middle way topsy-turvy; the presence of the Lover who, to the beloved newly aware of him, will be utterly irresistible.He is the Pied Piper to the human heart. He makes people become little children and suddenly turn the world they live in upside down, because they have been enchanted by him.
God is the Pied Piper to the human heart! That’s a description not soon to be forgotten. Whatever it is you’re struggling with, go to Joseph. And ask him to intercede for the desire in your heart to be, simply, more like God. He said “yes” with his life and he can help us – both in our own meditations in prayer about his life and in petitioning Jesus for us. Don’t neglect this saint who can help us. Do it for love of God, neighbor, and this world that needs us to be people of holy courage like St. Joseph.