By Miriam Hogan, O.C.D.
St. Joseph brings a special presence to the manger scene. In this article I would suggest that reflecting on this presence calls us to both acknowledge and appreciate the grace that good men bring into our own faith life. One cannot help but observe that in a society that often seems focused upon radical feminism and self-serving individualism, the gentle example of a saintly male figure becomes even more important by way of providing a healthy balance in our day-to-day lives and spirituality. This balance perhaps becomes all the more needed as good people seek to maintain and deepen their faith life in the midst of growing concerns about clerical abuses that both shock and sadden the faithful.
Attempting to balance the masculine and feminine in our Carmelite spirituality was also a concern of St. Teresa of Jesus, albeit for slightly different reasons. Teresa was also dealing with grave and serious clerical and religious abuses that were all too prevalent in 16th Century Spain. Early on in her religious life, she became seriously ill to the point of near death, and she credited her recovery to the intercession of St. Joseph. As she began her foundations, she also encouraged her nuns to have special devotion to St. Joseph. For example in the Life she states:
I took for my advocate and lord the glorious St. Joseph and earnestly recommended myself to him. I saw clearly that as in this need so in other greater ones concerning honor and loss of soul this father and lord of mine came to my rescue in better ways than I knew how to ask for. I don't recall up to this day ever having petitioned him for anything that he failed to grant.
...whereas with this glorious saint I have experience that he helps us in all our needs and that the Lord wants us to understand that just as He was subject to St. Joseph on earth—for since bearing the title of father, being the Lord's tutor, Joseph could give the Child commands—so in heaven God does whatever he commands.
This has been observed by persons, also through experience, whom I have told to recommend themselves to him. And so there are many who in experiencing this truth renew their devotion to him.1
Further, Teresa stated that, “especially persons of prayer should always be attached to him… For anyone who cannot find a master to teach him/her prayer should take this glorious saint for his/her master, and they will not go astray.”2 Recalling that Jesus was taught to pray by Mary and Joseph, it seems both wise and fitting to ask them to intercede for us who aspire to contemplative prayer. St. Teresa had a keen understanding that it was only through the Incarnation that one is led in the ways of genuine mysticism. St. Joseph was a carpenter, and Jesus was known as the carpenter's son who “grew in wisdom and grace before both God and others”. In faith, we ask that just as Jesus grew through the example of Joseph, we may also grow and enable others to grow.
It Should Be Called Joseph
On her many journeys, St. Teresa used to carry small statues of Mary and Joseph and the Infant Jesus with her as she rode in a coach drawn by horses or mules to make her foundations. The first foundation was dedicated and named for St. Joseph, as the Lord had commanded her in a vision, after she had received communion. “He said that 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.”3
Today, with all that is written about the contemplative life and the various methods of prayer, one may question whether Teresa's advice is still relevant. Karl Rahner, S.J., eloquently addresses this question:
Contemporary Christians might find their way back to what is best in them if the individuality of this man [Joseph], their patron, were again producing more stature in them... 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... 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... Joseph lives...for the communion of saints is near and the seeming distance is only appearance... 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. (From Karl Rahner, The Great Church Year, pp. 326-27)4
When we think about the people that have guided us in our own lives, I believe that many of us can name someone who reminds us of the good qualities of St. Joseph. For example, in my own family there was a favorite uncle (Alfred Joseph) who promised his mother on her deathbed that he would keep the family together, (a promise that most ethics teachers would say did not oblige). He was only fourteen years old when this happened, but he kept his word. The family of five children grew up together and became good men and women, taking their place in society, eventually marrying, some going into college and into the service and having children of their own. This decision was not without cost to him, personally. In the fourth grade, he left school to help out at home and when his mother died, he went to work assuming the role of provider. While other young men his age were preparing for careers, he was working odd jobs such as, picking strawberries, splitting logs or working as a lumberjack for needed income. There was very little choice in the matter, and he gave up his own dreams concerning the future to enable the dreams of others. All this was done without complaint or regrets. We remember his special love and tenderness with all children and especially with his nieces and nephews. No wonder we all loved him so dearly!
Someone Who Has Been A Joseph
Probably most of us can look back and recall at least one person who has been a “Joseph” to them. I know that my favorite uncle was only one of many such persons that have graced my life and vocation. Just as a suggestion, this year, as we look upon the manger scene, we might give thanks for those Joseph-like friends that have made our lives richer and fuller. Then, with St. Teresa, we can better pray for significant male figures and the clergy of our own times, and ask the Lord to bring them joy as they seek to serve others in the Church and to provide them with the companionship of Jesus and Mary.
1The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Vol. I, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., and Otilio Rodriquez, O.C.D., (Washington, DC:ICS Publications, 1976), pp 53,54
2 Ibid. p. 54
3Ibid. p. 217
4As quoted in: The People's Companion To The Breviary, Vol. II, Carmelites of Indianapolis, (Indianapolis, IN 1997) p. 439
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