III. Devotion to Saint Joseph
1. The Meaning of Devotion
Strange as it may sound, many people have a false understanding of devotion even though, admittedly, this is the principal act of the virtue of religion. Generally it is thought of as something soft, sentimental, somewhat effeminate.
Some years ago Father Gerald Kelly, S.J., pointed out that people commonly attach high importance to devotion in every sphere but religion. He wrote:
In all other affairs devotion has a lofty signification. Men speak with respect and awe of the soldier who is devoted to his country, of a husband devoted to his wife, of parents devoted to their children, of a doctor devoted to his duty, and so forth. In all these uses, devotion means something solid - a spirit of self-sacrifice and of true heroism. Yet, in the religious sphere the word has a 'fluffy' connotation; the mere accidentals are frequently mistaken for the substance.
Devotion, as the principal component of the virtue of religion, is the highest of all forms of devotion. It means a perfect willingness to fulfill the will of God in all things; the readiness to perform all our duties and obligations towards God, no matter what the cost may be. It is concerned with honoring and serving God as He deserves to be honored and served.
A man filled with devotion to God is moved to serve Him with a zeal that amounts to perfect self-dedication.
This is the goal towards which we must all aspire. Blessed is the man who serves his God with his whole heart, his whole mind, his whole strength and his neighbor as himself! Every Christian is called to this type of holiness according to the words of Christ: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect".
When we consider Saint Joseph the first thing that naturally comes to our minds is the fact that he was the most devoted man who ever lived. No other human being was ever as devoted in his service to Christ and to Mary as the holy Patriarch of Nazareth. In this lies his chief accomplishment and his highest praise.
2. Devotion to a Saint
But the word, devotion, conveys a different meaning when we speak of a person having devotion to a particular saint. Thus it can be said that some people are devoted to Saint Anthony or Saint Patrick.
Cardinal Newman is particularly helpful in explaining the true connotation of devotion to a saint. His thought can be summarized thus: we believe that all the canonized saints are in heaven and that they were outstanding in the practice of their religion when they were on earth. This is something we hold on faith. But whereas we believe that there are any number of saints in heaven, we do not claim to have a special devotion to all of them. It would be foolish to claim that every Catholic has a special devotion to a Saint Achiles or to a Saint Casimir, though no one would deny their being numbered with the blessed.
On the other hand, devotion to a particular saint always means that the saint in question is held in high personal regard. Not only do we have particular reverence for the saint, but we are spiritually fascinated by his life, works and virtues. Somehow we are able spiritually to enter into his life; we seem to understand and grasp something of his unique spiritual genius. Not only that, but we want to be influenced by this saint because the way he lived and practiced virtue on earth is viewed as a thing of compelling beauty.
Being devoted to a saint implies a personal conviction that the saint is a significant person, that he has become a meaningful person in our spiritual march towards perfection. We are persuaded that he fully understands us and takes a personal interest in our spiritual and material needs, and that he is pleased to be able to help us on our way. By the grace of God, when we are led to have the attitude of reverent trust and confidence that we have been describing, is this not the same as declaring that a strong personal bond of affection and friendship has been established between ourselves and the saint we hold in veneration.
3. Devotion to Saint Joseph
The popes encourage us to have devotion to God's saints. Naturally it is not possible for us to have strong devotion to every saint. Because of our limitations, we must be contented to venerate many of the saints only in a general way. But in the providence of God, it is desired that we have more than a general devotion to Saint Joseph because of the remarkable services he performed for Jesus and Mary. This was underscored by Pope John XXIII in his talk to the Roman workers when he said:
All the saints in glory assuredly merit honor and particular respect, but it is evident that Saint Joseph possesses a just title to a more sweet, more intimate and penetrating place in our hearts, belonging to him alone... Here we are able to estimate completely all the greatness of Saint Joseph, not only by reason of the fact that he was close to Jesus and Mary, but also by the shining example he has given of all virtues...
Though the Church from the beginning was aware that Mary was given to be the spiritual mother of all, it is a fact that the consciousness of Saint Joseph as the spiritual father and protector of every Christian was only gradually arrived at. In the last one hundred years, the Church has taken ever more cognizance of the role of Saint Joseph. Quite obviously this devotion is a grace that has been reserved to this present age. Cardinal Newman tells us that the Church always had faith in Saint Joseph from the beginning, but that devotion to him was slow in developing. Here are his words:
Who, from his prerogatives and the testimony on which they come to us, had a greater claim to receive an early recognition among the faithful than he? A Saint of Scripture, the foster father of Our Lord, he was an object of the universal and absolute faith of the Christian world from the first, yet the devotion to him is comparatively of late date. When once it began, men seemed surprised that it had not been thought of before; and now they hold him next to the Blessed Virgin in their religious affection and veneration. 
4. Why Devotion to Saint Joseph is Highly Recommended
In encouraging her children to be more attentive in their devotion to Saint Joseph, the Church is, in the first place, concerned with the fulfillment of a debt of gratitude towards God. For the exalted dignity and the innumerable graces conferred on Saint Joseph are a splendid manifestation of the good and gracious God. They were not, if we may use the phrase, private graces bestowed on Joseph for his personal benefit alone - they were given that he might be worthy of the office that he exercised towards our Saviour and towards Mary. Hence, ultimately, those graces and blessings are of advantage for all of us. Showing Joseph honor and respect and veneration are means of rendering glory and gratitude to almighty God for the merciful graces he poured out upon this saint.
The second reason why the Church encourages us to be devoted to Joseph is that he was a model in the heroic practice of all the virtues. The example of virtuous living that he gave in the exact fulfillment of the duties of his state of life is worthy of our reflection.
Read the gospel and you will see his faith, hope and charity practiced under trying circumstances. He was prudent in caring for his wife and the child; he showed great leadership in protecting them and assisting them. He was religious in every sense, with that delicacy and sincerity of conscience that is proper to the saints of God. He was just in his dealings with God and man. He was conspicuous for his fortitude and courage. He was truly outstanding in the practice of virginal chastity. More: he protected and defended Mary's virtue in the time of courtship and all during their life together. They had made a promise of chastity, and because they were resolved to live it for God they were blessed above all others. While Mary inspired him to practice this virtue perfectly, he, as a real man, understood the profound meaning of her inspiration and how it came from a heart that was steeped in the love of God. In protecting and defending Mary's honor and virtue, he proved himself to be more and more worthy of her love. It is often said that true love must be built on sacrifice and a spirit of unselfishness. Never was this realized as well as in the case of Mary and Joseph. Consequently, their love and affection was more chaste and more pure and more human even if virginal - and precisely because it was virginal it was the more sublime! It is the greatest example to the world that love between a man and a woman built on the love of God, and concerned primarily about the laws of God, is the most enobling and the most rewarding type of love. It is the highest, truest, deepest understanding of the word love.
Time and again the Church has made it clear that Joseph is not a saint for only a certain number of souls, but that he can help all men. Joseph is the patron of the universal Church and his patronage or fatherly protection is extended towards all who seek it. In a particular way certain classes of people will find in him a special patron: families, workers, husbands, virgins, the dying.
5. A Devotion Specially Reserved for This Modern Age
If devotion to Joseph is so important, it may be asked, why did it not flourish in the Church until more recent times? The only answer that can be given to this question is that in the providence of God it was necessary for Joseph to remain in obscurity in order to protect the mystery of the Incarnation and the virginity of Mary. In the eyes of God "a thousand years is like a day", and we are becoming increasingly aware that God's providence always brings to full flowering in the Church the devotions relevant to a particular time. God also inspires the Church to define a certain dogma of the faith at the particular moment in history when it is most helpful to the faithful. Obviously the definition of the Assumption of Mary did not become a revealed truth in 1950 with the solemn definition of Pope Pius XII - this truth has been the Church's from the beginning. But in the providence of God this definition was reserved to our age because of its special aptness to the times in which we live.
Thus with devotion to Saint Joseph: it is a powerful antidote to many of the moral dangers of this age. Stirred by the workings of divine grace, the Holy Spirit has granted the people of God the inspiration and enlightenment necessary to discover in the person of Joseph a cure for the problems that afflict them. Among these problems can be mentioned: failure of men to accept the role of leadership in their homes; neglect of spirituality in marriage; lack of sanctification of labor by the working man; a general weakening of esteem for the practice of religion and virtue, especially purity.
6. Prayer to Saint Joseph
It goes without saying that the surest sign of personal devotion to Saint Joseph is manifested by praying to him frequently. His good friends have always called upon him in time of need, when in doubt or discouraged.
We are not only speaking of the prayer of petition. We should of course ask the saints to help us in our material needs, such as finding a job or succeeding in our work. But here we are thinking of prayer on a deeper level. In this perspective, we should pray to Joseph in order to have a greater appreciation of the meaning of religion and the practice of virtue. More important still, we should pray to him to gain a better understanding of a genuine, authentic Christian life - that is, of a life which is lived in Christ and with Christ and for Christ.
Saint Teresa of Avila, the great apostle of devotion to Saint Joseph, is truly outstanding in explaining the manner in which we should pray to Joseph. She writes in the sixth chapter of her Autobiography:
I took the glorious St. Joseph for my advocate and protector, and commended myself earnestly to him; and it was clearly he who both healed me of this sickness and delivered me from great dangers that threatened my good name and the salvation of my soul. His aid has brought me more good than I could ever hope for from him, I do not remember once having asked anything of him that was not granted... God seems to have given other saints power to help us in particular circumstances, but I know from experience that this glorious Saint Joseph helps in each and every need. Our Lord would have us understand that, since on earth He was subject to this man who was called His father, whom as His guardian He had to obey, so now in heaven He still does all that Joseph asks. Others, who have turned to Joseph on my advice, have had the like experience; and today there are many people who honor him and keep on finding out the truth of what I say.
Teresa's advice is especially valuable because she tells us that she discovered this from her own personal experience. And she assures us that those who follow her example have learned that she was telling them the truth. Teresa grew in devotion to Saint Joseph through her meditation on the infancy scenes of the gospels. As she reflected on the perfect obedience that Christ practiced towards Joseph on earth, she concluded that Our Lord would refuse him no request. That is why she reasoned that Joseph was able to obtain a favorable answer to all his petitions, whereas other saints can only help in particular circumstances. Pius XI was later to confirm this intuition of Teresa when he spoke of "an almost omnipotent power" that Joseph still has over the heart of Christ.
Of all the people I have known with a true devotion and particular veneration for St. Joseph, not one has failed to advance in virtue; he helps those who turn to him to make real progress. For several years now, I believe, I have always made some request to him on his feast day, and it was always been granted; and when my request is not quite what it ought to be, he puts it right for my greater benefit.
And then Teresa reminds us:
Prayerful persons, in particular, should love him as a father. I do not know how anyone can think of the Queen of angels, at the time when she was undergoing so much with the Child Jesus, without giving thanks to St. Joseph for looking after them in the way he did. If anyone has not a guide to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious saint as his master and he will not go astray.
In this passage Teresa uncovers for us most profound meaning of devotion to Saint Joseph. For Teresa, Saint Joseph was truly the patron and master of the interior life; and those interested in cultivating the interior life of personal intimacy with Jesus and Mary should take him as their master and guide. She confidently asserts that those who complain that they do not understand how to pray properly, or who feel that they are not making progress in the art of genuinely and sincerely conversing with Christ, need not despair - even if they can find no director to help them. But if they turn to Joseph and take him as a father they will never go astray or fail to make real spiritual progress.
So convinced was Teresa from her own personal experience that she did not hesitate to challenge anyone who doubted her words:
All I ask, for the love of God, is that anyone who does not believe me will put what I say to the test, and HE WILL THEN LEARN FOR HIMSELF how advantageous it is to commend oneself to this glorious patriarch Joseph and to have a special devotion to him.
34 G. Kelly, S.J.. Moral Beauty in our Duties toward God, in Review for Religious 1 (1942) 250-251.
35 Mt 5:48.
36 Certain Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching, London 1891, vol. II., p. 30-31.
37 Allocution on March 19, 1959, quoted by F.L. Filas, op. cit., p. 619.
38 See footnote 36.
39 Life of Saint Teresa written by herself, chap. 6.
40 See the text of the discourse given on March 19, 1938, quoted in Cahiers de Joseph. 9 (1961) 141-142.