St. Joseph is, for all followers of Christ, the preeminent model of the interior life—the life of continual mindfulness of Divine Love and God’s abiding presence in every moment of our lives. For those in consecrated life, St. Joseph is a living rule by which we can measure our own fidelity and authenticity to be better conformed to the ideal of perfection to which we are called.
The following are a few reflections on St. Joseph as a model for consecrated persons, based on a meditation on St. Joseph by St. Joseph Sebastian Pelczar (1842-1924), a Polish bishop and Founder of the Congregation of Sister Servants of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
1. St. Joseph & the Interior Life
“Consider that the entire life of Saint Joseph was interior and hidden in God; so little known to the world that but a few holy writers mention him in some few places; and of his death give no information. This was a life of prayer, quiet work, and constant sacrifice, and at the same time, a life shining with the splendor of all virtues.”– St. Joseph Sebastian Pelczar
Our inner self, the depths of communion with God, is revealed and made manifest, first by our thoughts and then by our words and actions that follow. As consecrated persons, we are called to live out externally, by the witness of our life, what is essentially a living expression of the reality that should be transpiring within us. This, namely, is that hidden exchange of love between ourselves and our Beloved.
Our entire being becomes a living sign to the world of what we are experiencing in the intimacy of union between ourselves and Jesus, the Spouse of our soul. In this way, our very life resonates to the glory of God in a living canticle of love, of joy, peace and contentment, which is a hymn only we can sing.
In this exchange of love, holy desire, and spiritual union, heart speaks to Heart, the fruit of pure grace on God’s part, and our cooperation in fidelity, prayer, unity in charity, and purity of heart. St. Joseph can be that for us that model of interiority with engagement, intentionality, availability, self-surrender, and above all, self-gift.
Yet, what if our inner life is depleted by an overwork that tries to escape a gnawing emptiness? Or perhaps, the disappointments of community life or the apostolate have made us hardened to resist the inner conversation of love.
The trials of life can make us arid and can drown out our canticle of love, causing our spirit to be interiorly despondent, thereby losing our first love (cf. Rev 2:4). If we find ourselves in such a state, above all, do not lose heart; God who is faithful (cf. I Cor. 1:9) will not abandon us. We have only to call upon Him in our misery, and He will deliver us from ourselves. Seeing our good will and our desire to make real changes to put Him first, God will restore the joy of our youth (c.f. Ps 43:4).
With the help of St. Joseph, the patron of the interior life, grace will spur us on to desire God more and more, and our inner life can once again flourish, giving us joy and giving God glory.
“Ponder only that by having married the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph renounced the dignity of fatherhood — so dear to the Israelites, and voluntarily lived in lifelong virginity so that he could belong totally to God. This was a life of mortification and chastity.”– St. Joseph Sebastian Pelczar
Chastity consecrated for the Kingdom of God is a continual oblation. It consumes us completely because it is an act of self-gift that involves the deepest desire of our humanity, namely to be loved and cherished. Only when we truly know ourselves to be deeply loved and cherished by God, can we be truly free to place all our gifts of nature and grace on the altar of sacrifice, together with our Spouse, in an offering united with His offering of Himself.
3. Purity in Mind, Body, and Soul
To remain pure and selfless in body, mind and soul is not always easy, but it is a noble struggle in which St. Joseph can aid us by his powerful intercession and protection.
“While a descendant of the royal family, he worked every day for a living in the craftsman’s workshop – Jesus being all his wealth. Behold his life of self-denial and poverty.”– St. Joseph Sebastian Pelczar
St. Joseph can teach us the dignity of work and help us to keep it in its proper perspective in our religious life. Our value is not in our productivity or in others’ recognition of us. Our titles mean nothing if they do not make us the servant of all. St. Joseph the Worker is an example of prayer joined to hard work undertaken always with pure intention and union with God.
St. Joseph knew privations and the harsh demands of labor; for us as religious, to be honest, we really live a privileged life — all our needs are met. St. Joseph’s poverty and labor call us to look more deeply into the true state of our spirit of self-denial. How many are the demands and attachments which complicate our lives and compromise our ideals! How discontented we are with what God gives us—our limitations, assignments, companions, setbacks and sufferings? Poverty of spirit in the spirit of St. Joseph can free us from ourselves, from our selfishness, our self-preoccupation, and our laziness.
“Saint Joseph, as the highest of the patriarchs and a witness to the mysteries of God, could convert the world, and yet he enclosed himself in a small town, being completely devoted to Jesus. This was a life of humility and prayer.”– St. Joseph Sebastian Pelczar
As consecrated persons, our greatness lies chiefly in our ability to remain hidden, for to God alone belongs all praise. Ours is the clarion call “to do good and disappea,r” (attr. to Genevieve Hennet De Goutel.) Humility is contentment to remain in the background, letting the credit go to God and others; Humility, being truth, knows its dignity, and this assurance makes one able to surrender the outcomes, not grasping or coveting, not wanting to shine.
Devoid of self-seeking, to live in humility means to cast all that we have and all that we are before the feet of Jesus, in deference to His sovereignty. The fruit of such humility is freedom.
5. Adversity and Suffering
“Saint Joseph was such a great lover of God, but was afflicted by much suffering which he endured with a wonderful fortitude. This was a life of love for the cross and submission to the will of God. Do you have similar virtues?”– St. Joseph Sebastian Pelczar
Adversity is an integral part of the Christian life, for whoever does not take up the cross daily and follow Christ is not worthy of Him (cf. Mt 10:38). The cross can make us better or it can make us bitter. Love for the cross does not come from a self-hatred that wallows in misery, but a loving trust that says, ‘yes, this too, is being allowed by a loving God, who does not let me bear my suffering alone.’ It means seeing the crosses caused by others in a supernatural light, knowing that God has permitted sufferings at the hands of others so that a greater good may come of it.
Trials are permitted to fill up in our own flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (cf. Col 1:24) and what is lacking is principally our part in that suffering for the sake of the Church.
6. Living in Faith
“If you want to know the faith of Saint Joseph, observe in the stable of Bethlehem his worshipping of the Incarnate Word, venerating in him his Lord and God.”– St. Joseph Sebastian Pelczar
St. Joseph was a just man who lived by faith (cf. Rom 1:17). He remained steadfast in unwavering confidence in trials until God sent clarity to him to marry the Virgin Mary. St. Joseph was full of faith in the reality of the Incarnate Word, whom he so ardently adored and served. In trust he underwent persecution by the wicked Herod, knowing that God would go before him into the unknown.
Moreover, St. Joseph placed all his hope in God when, for three days, Jesus was lost. In consecrated life, our faith, like St. Joseph’s, must be real and active. We must be imbued with a lively faith or else we will not withstand the temptation to preserve ourselves. Seeing everything only in a natural way, we will begin to seek our own interests, what is truly a calamity for the consecrated soul.
7. Do it All for Jesus and Mary
“If you want to know Saint Joseph’s love for Jesus and Mary, behold how he devoted every moment of his life to them.”– St. Joseph Sebastian Pelczar
For St. Joseph, everything he did was for Jesus and Mary. St. Joseph spent himself completely for love of them and their interests, keeping nothing back for self. As a religious, Joseph is my model of such generous love and service for the sake of the Gospel. St. Joseph could say with St. Ignatius of Loyola:
“Lord, teach me to be generous; teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil, and not to seek for rest; to labor, and not to ask for reward—except to know that I am doing your will.”
St. Joseph Sebastian Pelczar points to this prompt obedience of St. Joseph when he writes,
“If you want to know Saint Joseph’s obedience, look at how he rose at night at the angel’s voice and, giving no care to hunger, hardships or cold, went to Egypt where he led a hard life until the next command of God. Do you have similar virtues?”
My joy is to do your will, O God (cf Ps. 40:9) says the Psalmist, and for the religious this will is revealed through the superiors, the rule of life, the schedule of the day, and the unfolding of daily experiences. The religious is not at the mercy of others, but in the hands of God, and His loving will. As a religious, we can try to have our own way through a myriad of devices, but will never know if we truly do God’s will unless there is a holy resignation to it and openness for obeying it, even as promptly as did St. Joseph.
9. St. Joseph, Our Model in Our Life
St Joseph Sebastian Pelczar gives a beautiful conclusion to these ideals by which the great Saint Joseph becomes our model in our life:
“Consider that God demanded much of Saint Joseph, but he also generously rewarded him on earth and highly exalted him. For his purity, God made Saint Joseph the Spouse, companion and guardian of the Blessed Mother of God. For his self-denial, he gave him the sweet consolation that with his own eyes he could gaze upon the Savior of the world and take him up in his arms. For his obedience, he elevated St. Joseph to such an ineffable dignity that he made him guardian and foster father of his Son, Jesus. For his love for Jesus and Mary, he endowed St. Joseph with the great grace that after his holy life he died peacefully in their arms. And God demands much from you, but he will favor you generously on this earth, and will exalt you, if you will but imitate Saint Joseph in his virtues. Do you sincerely desire this?”
10. Let Christ Live in You
The Saint also adds,
“Consider that yours is a duty to so live in Jesus, according to Jesus, and for Jesus that you could at least repeat the words of St. Paul, yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20). Only this does God want, and to this end, he gives his graces.”– St. Joseph Sebastian Pelczar
Every soul, but especially the consecrated soul, is called to be another Jesus in the world, in contemplation and prayer, self-offering and expiation, in living of the evangelical counsels and in service of neighbor. It is the call to set aside self to live only for God, an ideal impossible to live without divine grace and prayer.
Therefore, as consecrated persons, we must learn from St. Joseph the ways of holiness, silence and recollection, hiddenness, prayer, hard work and generous sacrifice. He who was the first to live in union with Jesus and Mary will surely not refuse us his spiritual guidance and powerful intercession for all the graces we need. Therefore, let us make haste and “Go to Joseph!” (cf. Gen 41:55).