The feast of St. Patrick (March 17th) and the feast of St. Joseph (March 19th) are often journeyed through in such quick, celebratory fashion that one can easily miss the divine intelligence which has ordained that these two men of faith be celebrated so close to one another. Their lives of mission and profoundly prayerful perspectives fed the fire of faith which still burns strong today.
St. Patrick was born in Great Britain towards the end of the 4th century, but was later held captive by pirates and taken to Ireland where he was enslaved for over six years. Throughout his imprisonment, Patrick kept a diary which recounts the dramatic growth he experienced in his relationship with God. He remarked that what strengthened his faith more than anything else was speaking to God more often: “I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn…” No matter the time, place or circumstance Patrick would use the opportunity to speak to God.
St. Joseph, we know, did the same thing: because of the small number of details we have about him, we are told that he was a “just man” (Matthew 1:19). This tiny detail says all that we need to know about the step-father of Jesus, and I believe, is the reason why we are not given many other facts about his life. The person who is righteous or just has such a tremendous relationship with God, through prayerful intimacy, that he or she knows what the right thing to do is, at the right time, and in the correct measure.
Joseph’s attentiveness in prayer is the reason why he was able to recognize the dream he had as the real deal as well as supplying him the strength and trust to believe that Mary was telling the truth. Imagine you are engaged to a woman and she tells you that she is pregnant. However, the baby is not yours. In fact, she goes on to tell you that the baby is from God, she was never unfaithful to you but, in fact, the epitome of faithfulness. Then you have a dream where an angel tells you that she was telling the truth and you are to be the step-father of God’s child.
Would you stay? Would you have the trust and relational faith to believe both God and Mary? Could you bet the rest of your life on the words and messages from these two events? Joseph did. Because, similar to St. Patrick, he took constant and consistent action towards prayer. Prayer is not a part of our relationship with God, it is our relationship with God. Therefore, if we do not pray, we do not have a friendship with God. For this reason, these two saints made every moment possible a time to pray, and looked, in every situation, for God’s action.
After St. Patrick escaped slavery, he returned to his homeland of Britain but later returned to Ireland as a priest who desired to set captives free in the land where he was once held captive. The ground for his platform of preaching was the bedrock truth of reality and of our faith: that God is a Trinity, that God is a communion of three persons, and that God is defined by a relationship of perfect love. Here enters the emblematic shamrock which Patrick made famous for symbolizing the unity and communion of the Trinity.
Joseph also knew well that God is a family of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as he raised Jesus and was the earthly father of the Holy Family. Our world today is in need of no greater truth than the preaching of the Trinity. A year ago this month, we entered countrywide shutdowns due to the spreading of the coronavirus and our relationships with coworkers, students, friends and family became limited to our household. Countless people found themselves captive to loneliness, depression and despair because they were removed from relationships, the reality which makes us human and highlights the fact that we are made for communion just like God.
So many of us use Lent as the time to pray more often because we know, deep down, that we are not as firmly rooted in faith as we could be or should be. We can often be halted in our tracks by asking ourselves, what is prayer? Am I doing this right? Many times we overcomplicate what is actually quite simple. God craves for us to speak to Him as we would be speaking to a friend or a spouse. He knows everything about us, so there is nothing to hold back or be afraid of. Asking Him for help is pivotal, but simply being in His presence is what He truly desires. St. Joseph and St. Patrick always did their best to keep this at the forefront of their minds.
Starting today, let us look to the example of these two men in a renewed fashion. Joseph and Patrick lived in ancient times, but let us never categorize them as mythical men who have nothing practical to teach us. Joseph was a simple man of prayer who worked with his hands for a living while Patrick was a shepherd in captivity who later became a traveling preacher who lived off the generosity of others.
Their example and witness are both simple and yet beautiful. Let us move towards a greater recognition that growing in faith is wrapped up in the truth, that we are called to turn towards God in each moment and share our lives with him. Then and only then will the message of St. Patrick and St. Joseph come alive and push us forth to bring others into contact with the living God.