If you’re anything like most people, St Joseph probably doesn’t feature prominently in your prayer life. This is understandable, since the Gospels tell us next to nothing about him, nor do they recount a single word he said. He might seem as distant to us as he seems in the Bible.
One of the great benefits of Fr Donald Calloway’s book, Consecration to St Joseph (Marian Press, 2020), which came out at the height of the pandemic, is that it widens our understanding of St Joseph’s place in the Catholic tradition, what has been said about him, and what has been attributed to him.
In fact, just in case you think St Joseph has been idle throughout the years, here are just a few stories of what the “Terror of Demons” has been up to throughout the world.
St Teresa is one of the most famous mystics in the tradition. In her autobiography, she recounts a time when she fell seriously ill and took St Joseph as her patron. Recovering from this sickness, she attributed her healing to St Joseph and began promoting devotion to him.
Here is what she wrote:
I am astonished at the great favours which God has bestowed on me through the blessed saint, and at the perils from which he has delivered me, both in body and in soul. To other saints, the Lord seems to have given grace to help us in some of our necessities. But my experience is that St Joseph helps us in them all . . .’
In other words, whilst other saints are patrons of specific things, and we tend to invoke them for particular tasks, St Joseph is a catch-all saint. St Teresa believed that he should be invoked for anything and everything.
In Cotignac, France, there is a shrine to St Joseph built around a spring of water that has been a site of pilgrimage since 1660 when it first appeared. Numerous miracles have been attributed to it, so much so that King Louis XIV consecrated the whole of France to St Joseph in response!
The story goes that Gaspard Ricard, a young shepherd, was parched with thirst while out in the scorching heat of the day. He sought shelter on Mount Bessillon beneath some trees, helpless to do anything.
Before him suddenly appeared a man who pointed to a nearby rock and said, ‘I am Joseph. Lift this rock and you shall drink.’ The rock was heavy, but surprisingly Ricard found he could lift it. When he did, water gushed forth. Ricard drank happily.
When he looked up, the man was gone. He returned to Cotignac to tell everyone, and when they inspected the site, especially the boulder which no man should have been able to lift himself, they believed Ricard that St Joseph had appeared to help him. Although the shrine fell into disrepair during the French Revolution, it has been restored and today is cared for by Benedictine nuns.
This story is a favourite! It’s good to see St Joseph keeping up his carpentry skills, even from heaven.
In 1873, in Sante Fe, New Mexico, the Sisters of Loretto wanted to build a chapel for their thriving girl’s academy. After five years of construction, the chapel was finally complete, but with one significant oversight: there was no staircase from the ground to the upper level where the choir would sing.
Not unless they had a ladder, and the nuns found that impractical, given that it was twenty feet up and they wore floor-length habits.
So, they prayed to St Joseph to help them. They started a novena, and on the final day of the novena a man arrived at the chapel. He offered to build them a stairway, under one condition: that he be given total privacy to do so. They gave him that, and three months later a spiral staircase was completed. The man requested no payment and vanished as soon as the work was complete. The nuns marveled at the work because the man used very few tools and nobody knew how the wood had made it to the chapel. Also, no nails or glue were used in the making of the stairs, and it had no central support. Strictly speaking, it is an architectural masterpiece and shouldn’t have held together the way it did.
The nuns were never able to track the man down, but the Sisters of Loretto believed it to be St Joseph. In fact, the wood was examined in 1996 by a man working for the United States Forest Service and Naval Research Laboratory, one Forrest N. Easley. After studying the wood, it was discovered to be spruce, but not a spruce that could easily be found in the U.S. It was a spruce unique to the Holy Land, Israel.
This St Joseph’s Feast Day, make it special by consecrating yourself to St Joseph. Pray frequently for his intercession and aid. He is a mysterious figure, yet the saints and mystics of the Church attest to the power of his spiritual fatherhood. Who knows if he might appear to give you a helping hand!
Remember, O Most Chaste Spouse of the Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, my spiritual father, and beg your protection. O Foster Father of the Redeemer, despite not my petitions, but in your goodness hear and answer me. Amen.'
The Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St Joseph on 19 March.
Christian Bergmann22 June 2022
Melbourne Catholic20 June 2022