March 19th is one of my favorite feasts, and one of our favorite feasts. Dan and I have a special devotion to St. Joseph, going back to when we were engaged. We individually had a devotion to him, but as a couple, it became an “us” thing when we visited the Oratory of St. Joseph in Canada. As we prepared for marriage, what better way to get ready than a pilgrimage, to give honor to the protector of families and to ask his intercession as we began this walk Home together?
A friend of ours was going to Madonna House in Canada, to spend some time reflecting and discerning her life. Madonna House is a place for people to come and retreat a while, to live in community, working for the bread they eat, praying together, and learning from one another. It has a self sustaining farm, and everyone has a job to make the house run. People sew, work on the farm, cook, clean, etc… and pray. It is a beautiful place for great healing. I’ve known many a young person go and live there for a couple of weeks or even a year and learn so much about themselves and draw closer to the Lord.
And so, this friend was in need of a ride to get there. Being young and adventurous, we gladly volunteered. We had such a good trip up – good conversation, laughter, and lots of counting of cows. You would not believe how many cows you can pass driving from Connecticut to Canada. Dan even pulled out his guitar at one point for some music on the road. We had a good drive, and enjoyed visiting Madonna House. We were so glad our friend chose to take some time for herself there. Then off to Montreal Dan and I went, eager to find the great shrine dedicated to St. Joseph.
I had been there before, a couple of times, so I was excited to show Dan its beauty. We visited the little church and simple house of St. Andre, the humble little doorkeeper who built this great oratory. I first went there with my youth group in high school, and was overwhelmed by it all, and as our priest told us the story of St. Andre and how he came to build this oratory, I knew I had to learn more. I loved St. Joseph and was eager to get to know this saint who loved him also. I found a biography and devoured the book, and St. Andre and I have been friends ever since. He is definitely one I turn to when I need to be reminded of how important it is to have great faith, like the kind of faith that moves mountains… or builds enormous shrines.
St. Joseph’s Oratory, if you ever have the chance to go, is indeed beautiful. There is a magnificent hallway whose walls are lined from floor to ceiling (and the ceiling is a few stories up) with the canes of all those who have been healed through the intercession of St. Joseph. Some of these people St. Andre visited and would bless them with holy oil and pray with them to St. Joseph to intercede for healing. And many, many came after St. Andre died; they came to the oratory to ask St. Andre and St. Joseph for healing, whether it be physical, spiritual, or emotional healing – and they left their canes, or left their burdens they had carried in their hearts, there at the oratory, and went home healed. Oh, how important it is to ask for the saints’ intercession for needs for others and also for ourselves. Let us always ask them.
St. Joseph has always been very dear to me. I don’t know exactly when my devotion to him began. But, I always was struck by him when I thought of Jesus and Mary, of the Annunciation account, of traveling to Bethlehem, of Christ’s birth, of him protecting them and fleeing to Egypt, of their home life in Nazareth. In high school, I grew even fonder of him as we learned more about him and did the pilgrimage to the Oratory. It was through this youth group I began to pray the ancient prayer to St. Joseph often, for novenas, or in times of need. I had the blessing of praying it on each step leading up to the Oratory, which definitely helped me completely memorize it so I will never forget that prayer.
I suppose my devotion to him has grown too because of the saints, most especially the 3 Teresas – St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese the Little Flower, and Mother Teresa (she is a saint, but I just love calling her Mother so much, so she will always be Mother to me). Side note… did you know that St. Therese was named after St. Teresa? And Mother Teresa was named after St. Therese? How cool is that.
These 3 Teresas taught me much about St. Joseph and how important it is to call on him. St. Teresa of Avila would always say “Go to Joseph.” I love that. So simple, and such good advice. She also said “I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to this glorious saint, for I have great experience of the blessings which he can obtain from God. I have never known anyone to be truly devoted to him and render him particular services who did not notably advance in virtue, for he gives very real help to souls who commend themselves to him. ” St. Therese the Little Flower also had a devotion to him: “St. Joseph, how I love him! What does me a lot of good when I think of the Holy Family is to imagine a life that was very ordinary, just like our own.” Mother Teresa was very devoted to St. Joseph and would ask for his help constantly, and He would answer. I remember the story, maybe from a talk or from one of her books long ago, of a time when Mother Teresa and the sisters needed money to pay for a convent. Perhaps it was for next month’s rent? The sisters did not have the funds that month to pay, and if they didn’t pay, they would lose the convent. So, Mother Teresa had all the sisters pray to St. Joseph, and Mother went to his statue to pray for what they needed. The day the rent was due, Mother went over to the statue, and there was the money, exactly the amount they needed. They would keep their convent, and I am sure the sisters’ confidence in St. Joseph’s help grew that day. Mother had many stories like this.
St. Joseph has been very, very good to me, and a very loving father. Whatever the prayer has been, He has answered. He is faithful. I have prayed for myself or for others for jobs, for houses, for one to find their spouse, for purity, for money, for so many projects and so many things – he has always answered. Through all these years, and so very many requests, he has been patient with me and has interceded. Especially these last couple of years, I have asked him for quite a bit, and he has come through. Sometimes I feel like I am nagging him, but he doesn’t mind. He enjoys being asked. He smiles at the little child with pleading eyes pulling on his tunic and at once hears that child’s request.
I think of St. Joseph, holding the Infant Jesus in his arms that first night. God Himself, in the form of a baby, was in his arms. The one who created the universe, who made the wood that Joseph worked with – he was to be His father here on earth, to love Him, to protect Him, to teach Him, to help raise Him up in the faith and in the workshop. He would set an example to God Himself of how to love purely, live faithfully, work hard, and trust deeply. The conversations that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus must have had as He grew older… Even though St. Joseph is mentioned very little in the Bible, the little that is shared in those pages tell us so much about who St. Joseph really was. There is so much to meditate on in just those verses alone, and so much to consider if we think about the hidden life in Nazareth of the Holy Family.
When we get to a weekday Mass, the littles and I walk slowly from the car to the church door. A beautiful statue of St. Joseph awaits us at the edge of the parking lot. He stands there faithfully, every morning, as if to greet us, to say “I’m so glad you’ve come. Come inside. My Son will be delighted to see you; He has been waiting for you.” And we wish him a good morning out loud, and inside my heart I whisper “Thank you, St. Joseph.” Thank you for all the gifts, all the answered prayers. I am so grateful. St. Joseph, protector of families, pray for us.