March 19 is a cause for great joy on earth and in heaven, as the Church celebrates the feast of St. Joseph.
One saint who never missed honoring St. Joseph on his feast day and had tremendous devotion to him all year has a big celebration just nine days later this year, as March 28 observes the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Teresa of Jesus, better known as St. Teresa of Avila.
It’s a perfect time to learn why she promoted devotion to St. Joseph during her lifetime.
“Would that I could persuade all men to be devout to this glorious saint,” wrote St. Teresa in her autobiography, The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus of the Order of Our Lady of Carmel, “for I know by long experience what blessings he can obtain for us from God.”
“It is now very many years since I began asking him for something on his feast, and I always received it,” wrote St. Teresa. “If the petition was in any way amiss, he rectified it for my greater good.”
Even before that, Teresa had written, “I took for my patron the glorious St. Joseph and recommended myself earnestly to him.”
One of her earliest blessings came with a severe illness she suffered.
“She had been healed by St. Joseph, when at the point of death, and she attributed her recovery to him,” explained Father Stanley Smolenski, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina/Our Lady of Joyful Hope in Kingstree, S.C. (OurLadyofSouthCarolina.net).
Then, when she desired to establish a monastery, “She got direct orders from Our Lord to dedicate her first reformed Carmel to St. Joseph,” said Father Smolenski. He noted that two-thirds of her monasteries were dedicated to St. Joseph.
St. Teresa heard from the next highest authority too, telling us in her autobiography, “She (our Blessed Mother) said that I pleased her very much by being devout to the glorious St. Joseph.”
St. Teresa reminds us why St. Joseph is such a great intercessor. “To other saints, Our Lord seems to have given power to succor us in some special necessity,” she wrote, “but to this glorious saint (I know by my experience), he has given the power to help us in all things. Our Lord would have us understand that, as he was subject to Joseph on earth — St. Joseph, bearing the title of his father and being his guardian, could command him — so now Our Lord in heaven grants all his petitions.”
Father Smolenski, who is an expert on St. Joseph and promotes devotion to him, explained: “St. Joseph has this power because of the unique relationship with the hearts of Jesus and Mary as a member of the ‘Earthly Trinity.’” He noted how the Holy Family had been acknowledged as the “Earthly Trinity” centuries ago by Jean Gerson, rector of the University of Paris, who gave a paper on St. Joseph and spoke of the Earthly Trinity at the Council of Constance, held 1414-18.
“Because of that union of hearts, St. Joseph has that intercessory power,” Father Smolenski explained. “He’s so united with the hearts of Jesus and Mary because they lived in the harmony of love and reflected the harmony of love in the Trinity and the harmony of love in creation.”
He credited St. Teresa for her unwavering devotion to St. Joseph. “In the development of the appreciation of St. Joseph in the Church, she was, in those Renaissance times, the major promoter of St. Joseph. That’s important — a doctor of the Church advanced the devotion to St. Joseph.”
St. Teresa also reminds us how St. Joseph helps us grow in holiness through devotion to him.
“I have never known anyone who was truly devoted to him and honored him by particular services who did not advance greatly in virtue, for he helps in a special way those souls who recommend themselves to him,” she said.
His great help is even more than asked for or expected, she explained: “I cannot call to mind that I have ever asked him at any time for anything which he has not granted; and I am filled with amazement when I consider the great favors which God hath given me through this blessed saint, the dangers from which he hath delivered me, both of body and of soul.”
St. Joseph certainly did so for the parishioners of St. Joseph Parish, now the Shrine of St. Joseph, in St. Louis (ShrineofStJoseph.org). In 1866, St. Louis suffered a major epidemic of cholera, and this parish alone held 20 funerals daily.
The pastor and parishioners solemnly vowed that if St. Joseph interceded for them so there would be no more cholera deaths in the parish, they would build a monument to him in thanksgiving, and they immediately collected donations for the memorial. From that day, not a single member from families taking the vow died of cholera.
Their monument in thanksgiving was a magnificent altar, with reredos, in their remodeled church that has a statue of St. Joseph and the Christ Child. Above them is the counsel: Ite ad Joseph (“Go to Joseph”). Called the “Altar of Answered Prayers,” it remains the church’s main altar.
Devotion to St. Joseph can help us get to know him better, too, including through devotion to his seven sorrows and his seven joys.
“It’s a summary of his life in devotional form,” Father Smolenski said. “That way, we get an idea of his life. Each sorrow is followed by a joy. It covers all we know about him in Scripture.”
He also emphasized the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary because St. Joseph is present in all five.
St. Teresa was unwavering in inspiring others to become devotees of St. Joseph.
“I have asked others to recommend themselves to St. Joseph, and they, too, know the same thing by experience,” she said.
And if they doubt her? “But I ask for the love of God that he who does not believe me will make the trial for himself — then he will find out by experience the great good that results from recommending oneself to this glorious patriarch and in being devoted to him,” she advised.
Father Smolenski summed up Teresa’s words and example for us, saying: “She is the promotor of unlimited trust and unlimited confidence in St. Joseph.”
In St. Joseph’s case, the doctor — the doctor of the Church, that is — has the right “prescription.”
St. Joseph, pray for us!
Joseph Pronechen is the
Register’s staff writer.