A Silent Saint
If you are wondering whom I am referring to, it is none other than St. Joseph. Sacred Scripture has no record of any words that he uttered, yet he is the patron saint of Canada, of the universal church, of workers, and of the dying. We do know that he was the husband of Mary, the foster father of Jesus, and played a unique role in salvation history.
Before I wax eloquent about this saint, I must preface what I have to say with an explanation of what has drawn me to write about him. As a student at Regis College, I have been in St. Joseph’s chapel numerous times to worship God, sing in the choir, and listen to professors teach various courses. Recently however, I have been drawn to an icon of St. Joseph that hangs on the wall beside the tabernacle.
I have seen many, many images and icons of St. Joseph, but none like this picture. What is unique about it, is that the words at the bottom of the icon quote the book of Genesis, “Go to Joseph, what he says to you, do.” (Genesis 41:55) I was baffled at first, as to why there would be an Old Testament quote referring to the Joseph with the coat of many colors, when the icon was clearly of St. Joseph.
I must confess that often times my mind wandered away from the course material to reflect on what mesmerized me. Like Henri Nouwen’s fascination with Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son, I kept coming back to gaze on this picture. Unlike Nouwen’s reflection resulting in a book, my thoughts will be contained in a short article.
Like all Eastern Orthodox icons, I noticed in this religious work of art the gold details and edging that enhance the subject. The shades of green from the darker outer frame to the muted inner colors highlight the figure of St. Joseph with a bright gold halo circling his head. What struck me were his hands. They are reaching out, offering a warm welcome, or help. I have often asked myself, “What does this icon of Joseph represent to you?” If religious icons are doorways to the sacred, then St. Joseph definitely has a message for me.
My thoughts next flew to drawing an analogy between the two Josephs. The word “dreams” popped into my mind, and soon I saw a connection. Young Joseph of Hebrew scriptures interpreted dreams and found favor with the Pharaoh, while St. Joseph received messages from God in dreams. They were not your regular dreams, but life changing ones that involved Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
Undoubtedly, St. Joseph was the “strong, silent type” of person, who had a weight on his shoulders, God delivered, and who had to respond appropriately to God’s call. With courage surely received from the Holy Spirit, he wed Mary, who was surprisingly impregnated with the Word of God.
What a strange set of circumstances he found himself facing – protecting his betrothed from being stoned to death, taking the hazardous journey to Bethlehem for the census, trying in vain to find an inn for them, witnessing the birth of Jesus, and if that was not all, being forced to flee with his new family to Egypt to escape Herod’s sword. Scripture portrays him as being obedient to God, and quietly doing what he was called to do.
Little is known about Joseph, other than he was a righteous man, depicted in art as being older, probably poor – he offered a pair of turtle doves at the presentation of Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:23); he was a carpenter – Jesus was referred to as being “the carpenter’s son.” (Matthew 13:55), and also the father of Jesus, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” (Luke 4:22) people in Nazareth asked, when they heard Jesus speak in the synagogue with such authority.
Over the passage of time, St. Joseph has become the saint to pray to when selling a house. I am surprised that there are kits costing approximately $50/ that hold a statue of St. Joseph, prayers, and instructions. One is supposed to bury the statue upside down facing the house, and pray a Novena for 9 days for a quick sale. There is even a 30 day money back guarantee!
Then there are others who ask St. Joseph to intercede for them to find a suitable spouse. I heard a story about a woman who was tired of praying to St. Joseph, because no man was appearing. In anger she threw the statue of St. Joseph out of an upper window. It happened to land on a young man who came up to meet her, and the rest is history. Fact or fiction?!
There are many miracles attributed to St. Joseph, the most amazing one being a miraculous free- standing spiral staircase, in the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Legend has it that it was built by St. Joseph, the carpenter, after the nuns prayed fervently.
My mother said a very long 30 day prayer to St. Joseph every night before she went to sleep. I marveled at her perseverance, and trust in a saint who she believed would intercede for her many prayer requests.
Now I find myself going to St. Joseph to tell me what to do. His open hands in the icon speak volumes to me of a deep love for humanity. He is inviting me into a closer relationship with Jesus. When March 19th And May 1st. – St. Joseph’s feast days – draw near, I look up to a saint admired by other saints like St. Teresa of Avila, St. Faustina, and St Therese of Liseux.