By Grace Small
As we complete Holy Week leading to the Easter season, it is the optimal time to reflect on the Passion and Death of Our Lord and His Glorious Resurrection. We can meditate on how even St. Joseph anticipated Our Lord’s death and the sorrows of Our Lady in his last days upon this earth while awaiting his own death and the coming of the Lord. By pursuing this meditation we can properly consider the virtues of St. Joseph to imitate within our own lives and the reasons we should make him our very own patron and advocate as we approach the reality of our own death and judgment. Like St. Joseph we can unite our short earthly pilgrimage to the Way of the Cross of Our Savior and Sorrowful Mother so as to share in their glory in Heaven.
St. Joseph is known as the patron of the dying because he suffered the trials and agony of death and yet he is also the patron of a happy death because he died a singularly privileged death in the consoling presence of Jesus and Mary and was given a powerful intercessory role on behalf of the dying who invoke his aide. According to “The Life of Saint Joseph,” as manifested by Our Lord, Jesus Christ to Maria Cecilia Baij, O.S.B, Benedictine Abbess in Montefiascone, Italy from 1743-1766, St. Joseph’s death was marvelous in virtue and merit for us. Although St. Joseph had the tremendous blessing of having Jesus and Mary physically at his bedside, God still sought to purify him of every earthly attachment. “Even his love for Jesus and Mary, though holy and comparatively perfect, was purified, for it did have its self-gratifying elements.” By this purification, St. Joseph accumulated copious merits by waiting upon God’s Will without calling on Mary, and abandoning himself to God’s Providence. St. Joseph was willing to bear his sufferings patiently and silently, with the help of God’s grace, “for by myself I am unable to accomplish anything.”
Immersed as he was in these afflictions, Joseph kept his thoughts centered upon the future sufferings of the Savior. St. Joseph practiced holy abandonment to the Will of God by accepting the consolations God sent but also being content to languish in pain in order to comply with the Divine will. He prayed for the grace to bear his sufferings with patience and resignation. We can learn from St. Joseph how to offer up our own sufferings for those which Our Lord suffered for us upon the cross. Every act of labor, every pain, suffering and trial can be offered and suffered patiently for the love of God so as to take part as co-redeemers in the mystical body united to Our Lord’s Redemptive suffering on the cross. However, unlike Joseph whose purity and merit was so much greater than ours, we ought to call on Mary, as our advocate and Help of the Afflicted to assist us in our daily trials. Above all, every Christian should choose St. Joseph to call upon at the very critical hour of death on which our eternity depends. St. Joseph is one of the first dignitaries of Heaven as the Father of the King of Heaven and the Spouse of the Queen, who can obtain for those who during life look upon him as their protector and become his servants, the special privilege of preserving them at the hour of death from the devil and eternal damnation. May we during our lives practice a holy devotion to St. Joseph as our patron so as to call upon the holy names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph at the moment of death and obtain the greatest of all graces — our eternal Salvation.
In every way St. Joseph desired to imitate the Savior and the Mother of God in the practice of virtue. Even in the greatest sufferings and pains he was never heard to utter any word of complaint but was heard to praise and thank God. When he was left in desolation without any relief, he was content to fulfill God’s holy will with the assurance that he had not offended God. This may seem very easy but it is difficult in practice. However, we can ask Our Lady for the grace to be silent when we want to complain about the weather, about our food or worse give in to the sins of the tongue such as talking about the defects of our neighbor and give in to gossip, lies and vulgarities. By striving to praise God, and see the good in others and asking the assistance of St. Joseph we will grow in virtue and offer fitting acts of reparation to God that will daily prepare us for Heaven.
St. Joseph prayed to God for the grace to breathe forth his soul in the presence of Jesus and Mary and to be fortified by their loving assistance and his petition was granted. He also wished to die in a day and hour similar to Jesus Himself inasmuch as he would not be physically present on that Good Friday. “He asked God to grant this to him, in virtue of the love which he had for Jesus for having deigned to submit to His death in order to accomplish the work of the Redemption.” “God granted this favor to Joseph. Then He revealed to Joseph that because of his great concern for the dying throughout his life, assisting them and pleading for their Salvation with prayers and tears, He was appointing him as their special mediator and patron, and furthermore, that He wished that he would continue to manifest his love for them until the end of time. From his place in Heaven, he would still be able to exercise this role as special intercessor for all those engaged in the struggle with death” (333). The patronage of St. Joseph over the dying is a universal mission given by God to St. Joseph and that is why we should avail ourselves of such great support during that solemn hour in which our eternity depends.
St. Joseph desired to suffer to imitate Jesus. “Oh, my God! You know how greatly I desire to suffer so that in some measure I may imitate my Savior, Who is to suffer so much for love of me. After all, should not I have something to endure out of love for Him? Yes, indeed, I desire to endure and suffer out of love for Him, Who intends to submit to so much suffering for my eternal Salvation!” (335). With similar sentiments of devotion and gratitude, we, too, ought to imitate St. Joseph in his great love for Our Savior.
Upon parting from this life, St. Joseph expressed to Jesus and Mary his gratitude for the love and attention they had bestowed on him in this long and painful illness. “Finally, he gave fervent thanks to the Savior for everything that He already suffered, and that He would suffer in the future, to accomplish the great work of the redemption of mankind.” In these sentiments St. Joseph gave up his spirit. This beautiful poem written by Sister Mary Ada captures the selfless expectation of the St. Joseph among the just awaiting their Redeemer in Limbo:
The ancient greyness shifted
Suddenly and thinned
Like mist upon the moors
Before a wind.
An old, old prophet lifted
A shining face and said:
“He will be coming soon.
The Son of God is dead;
He died this afternoon.”
A murmurous excitement stirred
They wondered if they dreamed —
Save one old man who seemed
Not even to have heard.
And Moses standing, Hushed them all to ask
If any had a welcome song prepared.
If not, would David take the task?
And if they cared
Could not the three young children sing
The Benedicite, the canticle of praise
They made when God kept them from perishing
In the fiery blaze?
A breath of spring surprised them,
Stilling Moses’ words.
No one could speak, remembering
The first fresh flowers,
The little singing birds.
Still others thought of fields new ploughed
Or apple trees
Or some, the way a dried bed fills
Laughing down green hills.
The fisherfolk dreamed of the foam
On bright blue seas.
The one old man who had not stirred
And there He was
Splendid as the morning sun and fair
As only God is fair.
And they, confused with joy,
Knelt to adore
Seeing that he wore
Five crimson stars
He never had before.
No canticle at all was sung.
None toned a psalm, or raised a greeting song.
A silent man alone
Of all that throng
Found tongue —-
Not any other.
Close to His he —
When the embrace was done,
Old Joseph said,
“How is Your Mother,
How is Your Mother, Son?”
May we have the same solicitude for each member of our families and for the dying in imitation of St. Joseph. Let us pray for this grace daily, that we may repeat with all the ardor of soul that which we wish to say in that last act of expiring from this life, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I implore Thee to assist me in my last agony!” Amen.
Small and her husband Bill are parishioners of St. Mary Church in Providence, R.I., and have made their solemn profession as Third Order Franciscans of the Immaculate, through the Franciscans of the Immaculate in New Bedford. They have both earned a Certificate in Catechetical Studies through TINE, The Institute for the New Evangelization of the Archdiocese of Boston.