De quâcunque tribulatione clamaverint ad me, exaudiam eos, et ero protector eorum semper. "From whatsoever distress they shall cry to Me, I will hear them, and I will be their protector always."
These words, which occur in the thirty-sixth Psalm, are there applied to God as if spoken by God Him self; but the Church places them on the lips of Saint Joseph in the Mass of the Feast of his Patronage. Many things that in their fulness are true only of God must in due measure be true of God's servants; and of His glorious servant Saint Joseph this is true, that if any poor souls in distress cry out to him for help, he will hear them and will be their protector always.
Let us try at once to entitle ourselves to a share in the promise that Saint Joseph thus makes to us all, by letting the following very simple and obvious considerations raise our hearts to him. Let us think of him and pray to him, and tell him how much we love him; and let us see if we may not learn to love and honour him a little more.
For you and I, dear reader, are not in the least afraid lest our love for God should grow cold according as our love for Saint Joseph grows warm. Quite the contrary. We know that any worth or beauty or goodness that we can admire in Saint Joseph, or in any other creature, comes from God, and is less, when compared with God's own incommunicable treasures of beauty and goodness, infinitely less than one faint, feeble ray of wintry twilight compared with the full ocean of noonday sunshine that bathes a thousand worlds in light and heat
It is so plain to us children of the Catholic Church, that honour paid to God's saints is honour and not dishonour to God - our minds see this so clearly, and our hearts feel it so strongly, that it seems an irritating waste of time to discuss the point ever so slightly, as if it could for a single moment be reasonably called in question. Heresy forsooth pretends to be scandalised at our praying to the saints, as if this were to ignore God, to pass God by, to encroach upon God's rights. Why, all that we do for the saints, we do for them simply for God's sake, and because they are the dear friends of God, and because He makes them His proxies sometimes in doing us good and in receiving our thanks. He delights in letting His poor children do for Him and for each other what He could of course, if He pleased, do without their aid. God is in this respect, as in many other respects, like a mother.
"They bade me call Thee Father, Lord!
Sweet was the freedom deemed;
And yet more like a mother's ways
Thy quiet mercies seemed."
Will not a mother employ her children to carry her alms to the mendicant at her door, in order to train them betimes to almsgiving and to give them a share in her own merit? Nay, the unconscious infant at her breast she takes a pleasure in making its little hand the medium of her bounty; and if the poor mendicant looks gratefully on the smiling babe, and says " God bless you, dear! " is not this only a better form of thanks to the mother herself? So is it with our Father who is in heaven, and with His children who are in heaven or still on earth. These last are indeed needy mendicants - Dei mendici sumus, as Saint Augustine says while the Blessed are gathered, not into Abraham's bosom, but into the Heart of Jesus, into the Bosom of God. God does not always act immediately upon His creatures; He employs their mutual services one for another. He could have pardoned Job's friends directly; but no, He bade them first ask His servant Job to pray for them, as He desires us now to secure for ourselves the prayers of His saints in heaven.
And then from the creature's side have we not enough of God in us, is there not sufficient generosity in our nature, to make us understand how a part of the heavenly joy and glory of the blessed may well consist in their being thus made the instruments of the Creator's goodness towards their fellow-creatures who are in exile and on their trial? Beatitude is not sleep or torpor or annihilation, but a blessed activity, perpetual life and vigour. And this is part of it. The desire which is felt by all good hearts on earth, the desire which Jesus Christ, who knows the human heart so well, attributes even to a lost soul in the parable (if it be merely a parable) of Dives and Lazarus the desire of helping their brethren how could the blessed saints of God fail to experience that desire, and how could our good God fail to gratify that desire by confiding to them, reigning with Him now in heaven, such a share in the salvation and sanctification of the Church Militant on earth as is implied in the beautiful and consoling doctrine and practice of the Invocation of Saints?
Among the saints whose intercession we are thus drawn to invoke, among these happy agents and instruments of the Divine goodness, one of the chief must necessarily be Saint Joseph. The danger is not of going too far, but of not going far enough, when we say that there are few among the saints so useful in their example as he, and few so powerful in their patronage.
Yes, few so useful in their example; for the example set by Saint Joseph can be copied by all of us at all times. We cannot all, except by generous desires, follow such saints as Francis Xavier to the ends of the earth, bearing the happy news of Christ to the nations that sit in darkness. We cannot all, like Thomas Aquinas, glorify God by devoting the grandest intellectual gifts to the illustration of the truths of faith. We cannot all scale the seraphic heights of love on which Saint Francis of Assisi received the stigmas of Jesus. We cannot all of us, like Vincent de Paul, become the apostles of the poor and sick and suffering. But we can do what all these saints did also we can study in the school of Saint Joseph the virtues of the Hidden Life.
Humility, meekness, charity, love of work, love of prayer, persevering devotion to small daily duties: these are some of the lessons to be learned in the humble home of Nazareth. We all need such lessons. We have all in different vocations to live virtuous Christian lives, for the most part in obscurity and in a monotonous continuity of humble duties. Saint Joseph's example teaches us the dignity of such a life, the great value of small things when done generously for God. The lowly carpenter did not work miracles, or practise great austerities, or preach to heathen nations. A holy and gifted man l asked quaintly enough: "What did Joseph do all his life but hammer nails with a pure intention? Yet Joseph is God's ideal of a saint."
One cannot have advanced far in the knowledge of the Heart of Jesus to be still in doubt as to the place which Saint Joseph holds in that Heart. As he was nearest on earth, must he not in heaven be nearest and dearest to Mary and to Jesus? If God will not let a cup of water given in His Name go without its reward, what reward must He have given in return for the services that He deigned to accept from His Foster-father, the Spouse of His Blessed Mother services that in their tender and continuous familiarity approach closest to the Divine Maternity itself. How great, then, must be the power of Saint Joseph's Patronage!
Saint Joseph is our Patron. In ancient Roman times persons of humble birth attached themselves as clients and dependents to some powerful nobleman who was their patronus, and who, as such, was bound to act towards them the part of adviser, guardian, defender. The saints in heaven are our patrons. Some are specially honoured and trusted by certain countries, as Saint Patrick by Ireland - some by certain religious Orders which they founded or to which they belonged, as Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Bonaventure by the Franciscans, Saint Dominick and Saint Thomas Aquinas by the Dominicans, Saint Ignatius and Saint Francis Xavier and Saint Aloysius by the Society of Jesus - and others again are chosen by individuals for the mere sake of their names or on account of some personal attraction. But the Patronage of our great and glorious Saint Joseph is not monopolised by any class or any country. He is the Patron and the Protector of the Universal Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, not only on account of the relations which he held and holds to Christ and His Mother, but because the Church has solemnly installed him in this office, and bestowed this title upon him, and because she had already done so by establishing the Feast of Saint Joseph's Patronage.
The qualities of an efficient patron are power and goodness - to be able and then to be willing to help us. Saint Joseph has the power and the will. His power in heaven is in some sort the continuation of his authority in the Holy Family on earth. The playful reasoning of the great Grecian warrior, Themistocles, may with all reverence be applied to our Saint. "My little boy Astyages," argued the Athenian leader, "is the real ruler of Greece: for the infant's will is supreme with his mother, and she rules me, and I rule Athens, and Athens is the mistress of Greece." Saint Joseph's prayer is more than a prayer when addressed to his Immaculate Spouse; and she in turn exercises over her Divine Son the "suppliant omnipotence" of a mother.
Nay, we might venture to discover a parallel for Saint Joseph's authority in another incident in the life of this Grecian hero. In one of the changes of his fate he had to fly from the anger of his people, and he took refuge in the palace of Admetus, King of the Molossi. Admetus was absent at the moment; but his wife, pitying the illustrious fugitive, and knowing that her husband was hostile to him, advised Themistocles to take her child into his arms and sit as a suppliant at their hearth. The King Admetus soon entered his palace, and, seeing Themistocles thus, he took him under his protection and guarded him from his enemies. Saint Joseph, too, was once a fugitive, but not for his own sake. " Arise and take the Child with His Mother." Nor was it for his own sake that the Mother of the Child bade him take the Child into his arms. It was to save that Child who was Himself a fugitive and in danger, although the Incarnate Son of the King of Heaven, our Lord and our God.
God never forgets, and the Heart of Jesus feels for Joseph at this moment the affection and gratitude that filled it when beating against Saint Joseph's heart during the flight to Egypt. How great, then, is the power of Saint Joseph's Patronage, equalled only by his fatherly tenderness and his eagerness to use that power in our behalf. May his holy Patronage help us to live, and help us to die!