I know I’m late to the St. Joseph Post Party, that one I totally missed out on last week. Luckily this isn’t really about St. Joseph. Or leprechauns. Oh, please don’t make that super sad face. Stay with me just a little longer…
Last week, on St. Joseph’s feast day, my husband went to a meeting/speech/fried foods extravaganza for men at our parish.
They had him at “free kielbasa and beer”.
While there, among other things, he received a lovely St. Joseph holy card with a beautiful prayer on the back. Immediately following the words to the prayer were some instructions about saying it as a novena. And then, following that, added in by the publisher of this holy card was a warning. Something along these lines: “This novena has never been known to fail. So if you pray it, make sure you REALLY want what you’re asking for.”
At which point my husband shook his head, set the card on the kitchen counter and said “St. Joseph is not some kind of leprechaun.”
St. Joseph is not a leprechaun. Nor is he a genie in a lamp. Nor is he a fairy godmother. And not one of the other saints is any of these things, either. They are not standing by just to grant our wishes. They are not at our beck and call. We are not in charge of them, guys.
Yes we can, and should, pray for the intercession of the saints. And we can also pray for a bit of their wisdom, a little direction, a portion of the faith they possessed here on earth. We can pray directly to God for the things we’re sure we need, or the things we’re sure other people need. We can pray all day and all night and fast and sacrifice and ask every saint we’ve ever known to storm heaven on our behalf. But sometimes, and in some seasons it might even be often, the Lord’s answer will be ‘no’.
Oh that blessed, wonderful, delicious-only-in-hindsight ‘no’. That ‘no’ that takes away the job that would have taken us away from our family. That ‘no’ that puts an end to the relationship standing in the way of us meeting our spouse. That ‘no’ that says “I have something better in store for you. Just wait.” Or even the ‘no’ that says “I need something from you that you don’t think you can give. But you can.”
Can you imagine the kind of God, the kind of Father, who would give us absolutely anything we ask for as long as we say just the right words in the right order for the right length of time? It’s a truly terrifying thought. Because even if we have the purest of intentions and our heart could be in no righter place, sometimes we just don’t know what’s best. For us and for the world. That’s why we need a Father. Those of you who are parents can surely see how such a “you can have whatever you want” policy could go awry. Even the kindest, cleverest, most godly children need parents to intervene at times. To make rules that they don’t like. To say ‘no’ for reasons that they simply cannot understand.
And what if someone were to take the warning on the back of that card to heart? They decide that yes, they really do want that special, fantastic thing. They pray the novena. And then their prayer isn’t answered. What will they be forced to think then? Either that they’re not holy and good enough for the saints to hear their prayers and intercede for them or that this entire prayer business is a sham.
We are holy enough. Every saint was just like us. A human born on earth. A sinner. They picked up their crosses and they carried them and they hurt and they felt despair and they prayed for things and they heard God’s ‘no’. So we are certainly holy and good enough to pray for the intercession of those saints. They know how it is. They know what we’re dealing with here. They were just like us.
And oh, this prayer business is not at all, even a little bit, a sham. Prayer opens our hearts to the fact that there is something, someone, much bigger than us, whose help we need to navigate this sometimes stormy sea. Prayer says “I’m too small and weak to do this alone. But that’s okay, because I don’t have to.” Prayer says “This is what I really want, but if it’s not what I really need, please help me to understand that. Help me to accept your will, Lord.” And it puts us in a position to accept God’s answer. Prayer says “Thank you for my many blessings. For my talents and treasures. For the things I have that I surely don’t deserve.” Prayer gives us peace and strength in an uncertain, weak world.
So no, St. Joseph is not a leprechaun. But would we really want him to be?