The Seven Sorrows and Joys of St. Joseph (Part 2)



Thanks for joining us for this special Year of Saint Joseph presentation from Relevant Radio: 19 on the 19th, a 19-minute talk on St. Joseph on the 19th of the month, the day dedicated to Saint Joseph.

That’s right, my friends. Welcome to our February 2021 19 on the 19th, where we share with you 19 minutes of reflection on the life of Saint Joseph, on his person, and the mission of Saint Joseph during this very blessed year of Saint Joseph that the Church has given to us.

I am Father Matthew Spencer, Provincial Superior of the Oblates of Saint Joseph and Director of the Shrine of Saint Joseph in Santa Cruz, CA.

Last month you might remember we reflected, we began this three-part reflection on the Seven Sorrows and Joys of Saint Joseph, a traditional popular devotion to Saint Joseph. And I say ‘popular’ because among those who are devotees of Saint Joseph, it’s quite well known.

But I think we have a long way to go in sharing this with the population at large, and especially with our Catholic brothers and sisters.

Maybe you’re just discovering this devotion, and in that case I’m so excited for you, because it’s certainly my favorite devotion to Saint Joseph.  Last month, you recall we reflected on the origins of the Seven Sorrows and Joys of Saint Joseph. We discussed how they were prayed – either in a group setting a large congregation perhaps, or a small group. They can also be prayed alone.

They can be prayed with additional prayers inserted between them, such as the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory be.There is flexibility in praying the Seven Sorrows and Joys of Saint Joseph.

But what is included, no matter the mechanics of how you celebrate it, is the contemplation of these seven different moments in the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Looking at them through the eyes of Saint Joseph, and in particular remembering that there are sorrows in all of them, there is pain, and some suffering that God allows Joseph to experience in all of them. And yet there is also great joy that arises out of it. And isn’t that our life as well?

Last month we also reflected on the first of the Seven Sorrows and Joys of Saint Joseph, when Joseph thinks that maybe he isn’t called to be the earthly husband of Mary and father of Jesus. But then eventually he learns that in fact, God has this destined for him. So we reflected on that. And today we’re going to reflect on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Sorrows and Joys in this devotion, all of which come from the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel.

And all of which are, I think, very, very understandable to parents. I think you could say that about all of the sorrows and joys because they reflect on Saint Joseph’s life in relationship with Jesus and Mary. So as a father and as a husband, the pain and sufferings he experienced but also the great joys of family life and of being a husband that he experienced.

But these mysteries in particular, I think every father and every mother will be able to know the pain that Joseph experienced. And to also appreciate the joy that God gave him through the sufferings that he permitted.

Before I dive into them, there’s an interesting point of reflection that I’ve been thinking about as I prepared last month’s reflection, as I prepared this month’s reflection, and as I’m looking forward to, not the final 19 on the 19th, but the final edition of the Sorrows and Joys reflection. What I’ve been thinking about is the simplicity of the Gospel on the one hand, and yet the depth of richness inside of it.

And what do I mean?

Pick any of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. You could sit down and you could read it in its entirety in one sitting.

That is to say, the life of Jesus is described and summarized by the four Evangelists in a way that is not as long as JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Sometimes we would like to know more about the life of Jesus. Sometimes we wish there were more details for us to reflect upon. But the Gospels themselves leave a lot to, I don’t want to say to the imagination, but rather to the understanding of the faithful Christian.

We read them and we have to read between the lines of what the Evangelists are saying, because they’re very terse in how they write.

And I think that’s true about the Infancy Narratives inside of Matthew and Luke. That is to say, the birth of Jesus, how that birth came about, and in those early years of Jesus following his birth. We call these the Infancy Narratives because they describe the childhood of Jesus.

They’re very slim, aren’t they? There aren’t a whole lot of details inside of these and yet look at our celebration of Christmas. How rich that celebration is. We sing Christmas carols. We reflect upon what the angels must have proclaimed to the shepherds. We ponder what the shepherds themselves experienced in their hearts.

And there is an unending fountain of reflection that you and I can find inside of Scripture. Isn’t that amazing? It’s so simple, and it’s rather short to be honest. And yet there is so much that we can glean from it, so much we can we can learn from it.

And I say that as a preface to these three sorrows and joys because it’s very important for us as we pray the Sorrows and Joys of Saint Joseph, to enter into the mysteries.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola would encourage his followers in their meditations and reflections to use their imaginations to put themselves in the Gospel events and to see themselves right next to Jesus. Of course, many other saints also would propose a similar methodology in reflection.

And it’s very helpful as we pray together the Seven Sorrows and Joys of Saint Joseph that we don’t just read the words. That we don’t just complete the prayers. But then also we spend time pondering what these events in the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph must have been like, and therefore what do they mean for us?

So we continue now. Let’s look at the Second Sorrow and Joy of Saint Joseph. Your translation might vary. There are lots of different translations so don’t let your heart be troubled if that’s the case, but it goes something like this.

Faithful Guardian of Jesus, what a failure you thought you were when you could only provide a stable for the birth of the Holy Child. And then what a wonder it was when shepherds came to tell of angel choirs and wise men came to adore the King of Kings.

Through your example and prayers help us, Saint Joseph, and all we love to become like sinless mangers where the Savior of the World may be received with absolute love and respect.

I was thinking about my sister who has a whole gaggle of kids in the house now. Can I say that? That’s not being mean, I love them all dearly. And I’m their favorite uncle, so how could I not love them?

I was thinking about my sister – maybe her fourth or fifth child, I don’t know exactly how long ago it happened. Now that I’m thinking about it, she was just about to give birth. She had done this a few times before and felt pretty confident that she knew how the process went.

So she starts going into labor and she’s not concerned about it. She knows she has some time – or she thinks she has some time. She lets her husband know, my brother-in-law, “Don’t worry, everything’s fine. You know, we’ll get over there.”

And then before you know it, she’s thinking – wait, this baby is coming right now. Like right now and we really need to get to the hospital right away.

They jump into the car.

My mom happened to be with them at the time and they don’t make it to the hospital. My sister on the back seat of the minivan, I believe, gives birth to her child there. In fact, to give you a little context, I believe they had pulled into the parking lot of a corner store, a corner liquor store, and gave birth.

I know it doesn’t sound like maybe the most dignified circumstances. And yet, in God’s Providence, great joy was given to the family.

And I imagine what was going through my brother-in-law’s head at the time.

Maybe thinking I should have left earlier.

I should have convinced us all to leave earlier.

I’m trying to provide for my family and here I am and I can’t even get my wife to the hospital in the right amount of time.

Maybe thinking that those weren’t the circumstances that he wanted his child to be born in.

You can imagine all these different thoughts may be going through his head.

Not unlike what Saint Joseph might have experienced at the birth of Jesus, I should have phoned the hotel in Bethlehem much sooner… I should have gotten reservations through online.

No, I’m just kidding, you know, but Joseph wondering if he should have made more preparations if there was something else he could have done, if maybe only he had should have done more.

And, what great grief that must have given him! Not only because of maybe his wondering about his own competency for this position to serve as the earthly father of Jesus, but also simply looking at the dignity that he wants to give to the Child Jesus, and perhaps despairing. I don’t think Saint Joseph despaired in the moral sense, but emotionally distraught that he couldn’t provide more for this child.

And yet, you and I know because hindsight is 20/20… at least usually… you and I know that all of this was in the plan of God. That all of this was ordained by God.

Maybe you have lost a child for a brief time. Maybe you haven’t been able to provide for your child for a brief time. Maybe you as a father or as a mother have felt that you’re not worthy of your own vocation, and that if only you had done things differently, you wouldn’t be such a “failure” that you might think you are — as Saint Joseph perhaps felt in this moment.

This sorrow and joy reminds us that we are not alone in feeling like failures sometimes – that we are not alone in feeling like we don’t provide in the way that we should. That we’re not there for others in the way that we should.

It’s not giving us a pass. It’s putting things in context and helping us to realize, wait a second – sometimes God allows these very heartbreaking moments, where we feel that we’re not providing as much dignity as we could in order to teach us something, something better, something greater.  In order that you and I, as we just prayed, might become sinless mangers, simple vessels where the Savior of the World may be received with absolute love and respect.

It’s what Joseph did in these very humble circumstances, and it’s what you and I are called to do as well.

We move on to the Third Sorrow and Joy of Saint Joseph, which is the Circumcision of Jesus. It’s one verse in the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel, and yet sums up the whole approach that Joseph and Mary take with this Child.

That is, they are faithful to the law. They know that this is what must happen with their child. That also this very important moment in the circumcision, and also the conferral of the name of Jesus upon this Child will be the milestone in salvation history.

Let’s pray the Third Sorrow and Joy together:

Tenderhearted Joseph, you too felt pain when the blood of Jesus was first shed at his circumcision.

Yet how proud you were to be the one privileged to give the name Jesus, Savior, to the very Son of God.

Pray for us, Saint Joseph, that the sacred blood of Christ poured out for our salvation may guard our families so the divine name of Jesus may be written in our hearts forever.

I know that when you take your child to the hospital, or you see your child ill, and you need to give them some remedy – maybe some bad tasting medicine, maybe take them to the emergency room – and it pains you doesn’t it?

It hurts you because you don’t like to see your children suffer, and you certainly don’t want to see them in pain for any length of time.

And Joseph, how much more – knowing who this Child is – knowing of His divine origins, doesn’t want to see this Child in pain, His blood shed.

And yet, Joseph is the first one to see the blood of Christ shed. There in his pain is able to also recognize that this blood will be the salvation of the world.

That this blood poured out for you and for me might wash over us, all over our families, that it might cleanse us of our sins and lead us to eternal life. So it’s true. It hurts us to see others suffer, but when we can see that in God’s plan He can bring great goodness out of it, then it gives us joy and consolation. As it did for Saint Joseph.

The Fourth Sorrow and Joy of Saint Joseph also comes from the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel. From verses 22 and forward, a much longer passage from Luke’s Gospel, and well known to all devotees of the Holy Rosary. The Presentation in the Temple, which we celebrated this month. This important moment when, again fulfilling the law, Jesus is offered to the Father as the first-born Child of Mary and Joseph.

Let’s read the prayer, the 4th Sorrow and Joy of Saint Joseph:

Loving husband, how bewildered you were when Simeon spoke the words of warning that the hearts of Jesus and Mary would be pierced with sorrows.

Yet his prediction that this would lead to the salvation of innumerable souls filled you with consolation.

Help us, Saint Joseph, to see with eyes of faith that even the sorrows and pains of those we deeply love can become the pathway to salvation and eternal life.

Can you imagine having somebody come to you, somebody that you know stands in the place of God, and tell you that your spouse will suffer deeply – that even a sword will pierce your spouse’s heart?

Can you imagine how you might feel?

A bewilderment as we just prayed, certainly, maybe trepidation, great concern. And yet, along with that prediction comes another prophecy. That this Child will lead to the salvation of the world.

And that, my friends, is so important for us to remember in the midst of our own suffering and seeing others in pain and knowing that others will be in pain.

That Jesus is still in charge. And that His Passion and His death, while being a source of sorrow for us initially, can transform our lives and our sorrows into great joy.

Joseph was one of the first to be able to experience this dynamic in a much deeper way than anybody before him would have. Because while everybody prior to Joseph experienced pain, none of them had the Christ Child in their arms.

None of them except the Holy Spouses Mary and Joseph were able to see that all this pain and suffering would be resolved by the blood of Christ.

And that’s why, my friends, we continue to pray the Sorrows and Joys of Saint Joseph.

I believe it’s also why we commemorate this Year of Saint Joseph. Because we’re going through quite a bit of sorrow and pain in the world, in our Church, in our communities, in our families, and even in our own hearts.

And maybe sometimes we’re bewildered. Maybe sometimes we feel like failures, and maybe sometimes we feel pain at seeing what everyone around us is going through.

But Joseph reminds us that out of very dark times and very difficult experiences can come great joy.

And we know, I am quite confident, that this is also true with this time in which you and I live. God will bring great joys out of the sorrows that we experience now with faith. Let us imitate Joseph and Mary in trusting that God will bring that about.

So next month, we’ll conclude this little mini-series on the Seven Sorrows and Joys – we’ll reflect on the final sorrows and joys.

Until then, may Almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Thanks for joining us for this special year of Saint Joseph presentation from Relevant Radio.

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Fr. Matthew Spencer is an Oblate of St. Joseph and former host of St. Joseph's Workshop here on Relevant Radio.