Happy Feast of St. Joseph!

Bona dies Sancti Josephi festa vobis!  Today happens to be my name day, and I have always felt a special devotion of St. Joseph.  I have admired his silence, courage, and strict adherence to God’s will.  Saints throughout the ages have remarked on St. Joseph’s perfect soldierly obedience.

Does it no astonish the mind that God the Son, who knows everything and has an Infinitely Good Father in heaven, wished to learn from and obey his earthly foster father?

Does it no astonish the mind that God the Son, who knows everything and has an Infinitely Good Father in heaven, wished to learn from and obey his earthly foster father?

Speaking of soldiers, St. Joseph, along with St. Michael, are often invoked for protection against the evil one.  One terrible thing about modernity is that it has downplayed or altogether scoffed at the notion of a rich and varied spiritual world.  I remember hearing a homily from one priest who found himself chagrined to speak at the feast of the holy angels, because he did not believe in them.  However, studying the scriptures and various theological texts in preparation for the homily convinced him he had been in the wrong.

But, here’s the problem with not believing the devil’s existence: he can lie without detection.  People become brainwashed more easy.  It is much easier to escape brainwashing when we perceive the propagandist.  Then, we can pour out contempt on the propagandist and more easily disdain his efforts.  What if we don’t perceive the propagandist and become convinced that his thoughts are actually our own?  Then, we couple this thought with the idea that God is somehow responsible for these thoughts?  That God does not wish to deliver us from melancholy, depression, lack of faith, or any of the very common mental maladies of this age?

Tsar Alexander said: "Thank God." His Assassin responded, "It is too early to thank God!" before throwing another bomb.

Tsar Alexander said: “Thank God.”
His Assassin responded, “It is too early to thank God!” before throwing another bomb.

The devil lacks originality–utterly so.  The devil’s lies are all the same whether one is in the third century or the third millennium: “God is just, but not merciful!  If you think Him merciful, then you hold him in contempt.  Your sins are going to drag you down to hell–no help for it.  God despises you.  God hates you.  Religion’s just for old people and women.  Heaven is deaf to your prayers.  Nothing matters.  If there was a God, why are so many people suffering?  Why are you suffering so uselessly?”

We see these same ideas in nihilistic and post-modern literature.  Even C. S. Lewis while an atheist wrote about how hateful the universe seemed in Spirits in Bondage–the first of Lewis’s works to enter the public domain.  Lewis claimed that these poems were “mainly strung around the idea that I mentioned to you before–that  nature is wholly diabolical & malevolent and that God, if he exists, is outside of and in opposition to the cosmic arrangements.”  That this came from the pen of the person who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia  and Mere Christianity seems shocking!  But, I think that C. S. Lewis had an inkling of what might be going on: Satan is the poem’s first speaker.

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So, I would propose St. Joseph as a good friend to have, especially when thoughts against faith or the goodness of God attack us.  We have many friends in heaven, both saints and angels in addition to our Greatest Friend God, who never leaves us nor ceases to draw us into His Fatherly embrace.

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The Benefit of Litanies

This morning, I was reminded of one form of prayer which I have long neglected: the litany.  Some Protestants have qualms about the litany and repetitive prayer in general, dubbing it “babbling like pagans” (Mt. 6:7), who thought that their prayer would be answered when they hit upon the right name for their god.  But, Protestants ignore Psalm 135 (136 in the King James Bible), which repeats “for His mercy endureth forever” 27 times!  Surely, the Bible is not to be judged as having vain repetition!  Then, why ought a prayer form imitating Psalm 135 be judged as vain?

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Another word for worship is adoration.  The virtue of the litany lies in us being able to adore different facets of the same God, whose attributes, though perfectly simple in God, cannot be contained in one human word.  And so, I recommend the Litany of the Sacred Heart to all in order to adore and recall the innumerable excellences of Jesus Christ, Noster Dominus et Salvator.  One can also remind themselves of the excellences of his two parents, St. Mary and St. Joseph, as one begs their intercession.  The Litany of the Saints is also a wonderful prayer, very long and happily so, because it reminds us of the various ways God led a great diversity of persons to heaven and so praises the Most Efficacious Salvation of God.

All-Saints

But, it is of immense importance to remind ourselves of God’s goodness, because suffering in our lives can cause us to forget God’s goodness, and the world, the flesh, and the devil try to blot out the memory of God.  Rather than the true image of a Forgiving and Loving Father, they try to impose the image of a stern, demanding, and wrathful judge whose standards may never be met.  Then, instead of approaching God with confidence that He will cleanse us from our iniquity, we shall rather run away and seek solace in amusements, which are often occasions of sin.  The devil pounces on our own lack of faith to make us think that there is no longer hope of salvation–even though all that’s necessary is to be sorry and make a motion, even if only mental, to do the right!  I myself confess that this morning, as I said the Litany of the Sacred Heart, doubts came to mind as I prayed verses about God’s mercy and patience, for which I repent in the bitterness of my heart.

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This shows the necessity of constantly learning about God.  One must never forget God’s goodness and mercy!  Remembering God’s mercy allows us to approach Him without fear even if we have blackened our souls by the most vile and scandalous iniquity.  After all, He did die for us, and it was not easy: an ordinary mortal would have died from agony to feel the anguish in Christ’s Heart as He said: “Amen I say to you, one of you is about to betray Me.”  I write this because a certain atheist dubbed the Passion “a rough weekend.”  If one considers the Most Dolorous Passion of Jesus Christ easy, that–as the atheist claimed–anyone might be willing to undergo it to save mankind, is it any wonder that this man supposes the Christ could take him or leave him?  A most vile temptation of the devil!  If we truly understood the anguish which racks the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the loss of a single soul, we would be willing to eat only bread and water for our entire lives to offer penance for them and beg their conversion.  None of us can do that?  Don’t worry: God holds none of our weakness against us even as he tries to make us more virtuous.

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Prayer Maxims from a Novice

A sense of inadequacy comes over me each time I attempt to write the next article on prayer.  Either too many important things are left unsaid or I ramble about trifles.  My ineptitude has convinced me not to go forward with that series of articles lest I warp someone’s mind.  At least the article on prayer’s necessity was posted, because praying itself is the most important thing we can do.  Even if one is making every possible error, God can lead a person who prays to right these faults.  But, I do realize that some of my dear readers were waiting for the next three articles.  In lieu of them, please accept this little collection of unoriginal maxims and explanations of them from yours truly.

  • Begin in thanksgiving, proceed in contrition, lift your voice in praise, and end in humility.

One should always consider one’s littleness when approaching God, our utter reliance on Him, and how great He is.  By thanking Him, we acknowledge our reliance on Him.  By sorrowing over our sins, we recognize that all the grace He has given us was completely unearned, realize His unfathomable goodness and mercy in pardoning our sins, and understand that He treats us so much better than we deserve.  By praise, we offer a fitting, though by no means adequate, return for His goodness and meditate on God’s greatness.  By keeping mindful of everything above, we humble ourselves and please God through our efforts to be humble.

  • Worldliness chokes prayer.

We draw toward those things about which our minds contemplate.  Always thinking about one’s daily life or those good things which we desire cause these things to follow us into our prayers, making prayer difficult or impossible.  Striving to consider God as the last end of our work and leisure and avoiding excessive desire for pleasurable goods makes prayer easier.

  • A simple mind speaks many prayers.  A complex mind can pray but one word.

As noted in the prior maxim, always seeking God makes prayer easy.  Such a person may complete devotion after devotion with ease and recollection.  (Though, it is generally inadvisable for most people to engage themselves in many devotions.  Stick to a few for your daily regimen and perhaps celebrate feast days as they come.)  Often, someone who is very busy, bombarded with temptations, or immersing himself in pleasurable goods will find that he can barely pray.  In such a state, it is best to unite oneself with the groanings of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26) by repeating the word “God” or “Jesus.”  (The Catholic Catechism does say that the Holy Name of Jesus is the basis for all prayer.)  By constantly repeating this word, all our other concerns or desires fall from the mind until it becomes pure enough to pray at length.

  • Neglect not your mother

In giving St. John the care of His mother, Jesus also made her the Mother of all men, and she, after God Himself, is most solicitous for the salvation of all men.  Also, if God especially hears the prayers of good men, how much more will he hear prayers uttered from the Immaculate Heart of Mary which never knew sin?  How foolish we would be not to beseech her intercession before the throne of Jesus Christ!

  • The names of St. Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Michael are on the tongues of all.  After them follow those who bear our own names, and lastly those whom our personality and experience select.

Among the saints, everyone should seek the assistance of St. Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Michael.  Then, one will feel closely attached to those who bear their own name.  Afterwards, one makes acquaintances among the saints through their spiritual reading and experiences, choosing the ones which most appeal to them.  Each person may decide the degree to which they venerate these saints, but short prayers expressing one’s needs are sufficient–especially concerning the virtues one lacks or needs help in perfecting.

  • In spiritual darkness, the friends of God offer lamplight to the soul.

God sometimes withdraws his tangible presence from souls in order to purify them through suffering.  Even though we live, move, and have our being in Him, it sometimes happens that we find it difficult to perceive God, and our prayer time is completely arid.  God will not allow us to suffer beyond what we are capable; however, during this period of darkness, he allows the saints to offer us some consolation.  In the same way, the souls in Purgatory are deprived for a time of the vision of God, but consoled by St. Mary, St. Joseph, their guardian angel, and others.

  • Contemplatives may have a dozen devotions, but a few are sufficient for those leading an active life.

Most of us, leading very busy lives, do not have the same amount of time for prayer and contemplation which is available to religious.  However, many people are drawn by either love of God or the delight they find during prayer to continue adding devotions, the multitude of which will eventually cause them discouragement and loss of discipline in prayer once they hit a point of spiritual dryness.  Saying the rosary, often saying brief prayers to Our Lord throughout the day, praying short prayers to the saints mentioned above, and reading a few chapters of the Bible everyday should be sufficient for most.

Of course, if you’re not married and you find delight in prayer and little delight elsewhere, the religious life’s probably for you.

Guiseppe Moscati. Doctor, University Professor, and Saint.

  • Prefer sorrow to joy in meditation.

As human beings, we often fall into sin.  Jesus had to pay for all of these sins in His Passion, so it behooves us out of gratitude to often meditate on His sufferings.  By considering the pain which our sins cause Him, we are less inclined to repeat them.  Also, Jesus looks with great mercy on all who meditate on His Passion with feeling and pours forth many graces on them.  It is a good thing to meditate on our goal, Heaven, but not as much as the Passion.

  • Fill the morning hours with prayer.

One mistake people make is that they reserve most of their prayers for the end of the day.  It is much more profitable to perform our devotions in the morning so that our minds are focused on serving God from the very beginning.  Of course, some people’s schedules do not admit that, but say at least an Our Father and a Hail Mary before preparing yourself for work.

  • Invoke God constantly throughout the day.

This practice prevents us forgetting that our purpose in life is to know, love, and serve God in this life and the next.  Using these brief invocations causes the thought of God to be constantly on our minds, which prevents us from falling into sin or missing opportunities for good works.  One can use any of these ejaculations or lines from certain litanies.  The author tends to use: “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” or “Heart of Jesus, King and Center of all hearts, have mercy on me!” or the one beginning “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul.” or “Dearest of Mothers, pray for us!” or “Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

  • Do not neglect spiritual reading.

You are what you eat, and reading offers food for thought.  Only reading worldly books causes the soul to become worldly.  But reading spiritual books keeps us mindful of what is of true value.  The Bible ranks highest on the list of books to read followed by The Imitation of Christ, The Rule of St. Benedict, and various other works.

  • Do not vow to say prayers.

If one vows to do anything for God, He will expect us to fulfill it.  While a priest or religious vows to recite the Divine Office, I don’t think that a layman–since the business of the day may prevent him from praying or meditating to the extent which he would like–ought to vow anything, lest one sin through negligence.

Well, I hope that these maxims provide a little guidance for everyone.  Of course, the Philokalia in particular and several other devotional books, like St. Francis de Sales’ The Introduction to the Devout Life, have more thorough advice and proverbs for you to follow.

 

Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

This feast was established in 1955 by Pope Pius XII as a response to May Day, but it is also a way to affirm the dignity of workers and work.  One of the greatest saints in heaven was a humble carpenter!  In the modern era, two forces seem to try to strip workers of their dignity: a Social Darwinist form of capitalism by degrading workers as wage slaves and nothing more than cogs in a Capitalist’s machine and Communism by despising the masses as ignorant and making them cogs in the state’s machine.  Pope Leo XIII had already addressed this in an encyclical named Rerum Novarum (literally Latin for “Of New Things,” but Romans referred to revolutions by calling them new things; hence, the more accurate translation “Of Revolution”) on May 15, 1891.  In this encyclical, he wrote about the rights of workers to fair conditions and wages and the rights of the rich to their property and personal safety.  Pope Leo XIII basically paved a middle way between the two extremes.  Though, the idea that the rich have certain obligations to the poor and that people have a right to their property have long roots in the Catholic Church.  Leo XIII was basically just giving the modern world a summary of them.

Wishing you a happy Feast of St. Joseph the Worker!