19 on the 19th – The Shrines of Saint Joseph with Fr. Richard Simon



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

Saint Joseph. The silent saint. It’s interesting that there are not a lot of shrines to Saint Joe, there are not a lot of stories about visions of Saint Joseph. Why? Well, there are a number of theories. One of them is that Saint Joseph doesn’t say much in the New Testament, and for us, it’s all about talk, talk, talk, especially somebody like me. It’s all about talking, and Saint Joseph didn’t talk that much. He didn’t talk at all in the New Testament, so how can you have a devotion to Saint Joseph? He didn’t say anything.

Well, he may not have said much, but he did a lot.

You know shrines to Saint Joseph? The first shrine to Saint Joseph is the Christmas crib. When I was a little kid, that was a vehicle of catechesis for me, seeing that crib under the tree and there was Saint Joseph on his knees, and I just knew instinctively he was there to protect the Blessed mother and the baby Jesus. A little kid, I’m talking four or five years old. And my parents were kind of permissive. They allowed me to play with the figures in the Christmas crib. And Saint Joseph, I knew what he was there for, so in a sense, the very first shrine to Saint Joseph is in every home that has a Christmas crib. Use it that way. Point it out to your children, be they two, three, four, five, even one, that this is Jesus’ family, and this is the guy who took care of Jesus like your daddy takes care of you.

You know, a lot of people ask me, “Where is Saint Joseph’s tomb?” Where is it? We don’t even have relics. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a relic of Saint Joseph, per se. Where was Saint Joseph buried? Well, there is a place that claims to be the tomb of Saint Joseph. Scholars don’t always agree, but well, scholars don’t always agree with each other about anything. There is a tomb in the Kidron Valley near the Garden of Gethsemane, which is a traditional Jewish place of burial.

There is a little church called The Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary. It’s a low, flat building. It’s essentially subterranean, and there is the empty tomb of the Blessed Mother because we and the Greek Orthodox believe that she was assumed into heaven. You don’t have relics of the Blessed Mother, except occasional items of clothing that are thought to have been part of her wardrobe, her very small, poor wardrobe. On the way down the stairs into that almost subterranean church, on the left side, I believe it is, you’ll see a little Chapel and the Orthodox who have control of that church claim that to be the tomb of Saint Joseph. There’s nobody in it, of course. That would have been lost over the eons, but there is a place that’s regarded as the tomb of Saint Joseph. Now some scholars say, “No, that comes from the Middle Ages.” Who knows? But it’s a beautiful place of prayer. The tomb of the Blessed Mother is clearly from the 1st century, but you know it’s a place to remember Saint Joseph. In a sense, it’s the second shrine after the Christmas crib.

Then there’s another shrine called Our Lady of Zeitoun.
Well, that’s not about Saint Joseph, but I want to tell you about Our Lady of Zeitoun. Zeitoun is a suburb of Cairo. And beginning on April 2nd, 1968, for two and a half years, a few times a week, the Blessed Mother appeared on the roof of this Coptic church in Zeitoun, near Cairo, Egypt. Two or three times a week for two and a half years. There are pictures. Go to the web and look it up. Our Lady of Zeitoun, Z-E-I-T-O-U-N. It’s thought that perhaps millions of people saw it and many people converted to the faith. Why do I mention that? Because in a sense, it’s also a shrine to Saint Joseph. It’s one of the places that, according to tradition, Saint Joseph took the Holy Family, took our Blessed Mother and Jesus. They stayed there when they took refuge in Cairo, and occasionally the Blessed Mother appearing on the dome of this church in Zeitoun appeared also with Saint Joseph. So that’s a memorial of Saint Joseph, as well as of our Blessed Mother. But if you’ve never heard of Our Lady of Zeitoun, do look it up. You will be amazed.

Now, there are not many shrines to Saint Joseph. Increasingly there are, but traditionally there are not.
However, there is one in the town of Cotignac in France. This is a place where, in the Renaissance era of 1660, there was a shepherd named Gaspard Ricard who was just very thirsty. I think there was an exceptionally hot summer to the point of there being a drought in France and this poor shepherd was just so thirsty. And he was a man of about 22 and he turned around and there was this older fellow there who said to him, “I’m Joseph,” and the man just pointed to a rock and told Gaspard to lift it.
This was a huge rock and Gaspard thought, “This is nuts,” but the man had said, “If you lift it, you’ll find water underneath.” Well, Gaspard went up thinking he was not going to be able to lift this rock, but the man repeated his instructions, so he decided to try. And the rock moved easily, and water flowed from the hillside. Well, that convinced them to build a sanctuary. It still stands today in the town, at the monastery of Besillon. And it’s a beautiful place to visit, this wonderful, wonderful place. And Saint Joseph, well that’s the kind of miracle I think that he did. He found water when water was needed.

There’s another interesting place that is unfortunately no longer the property of the diocese, but it’s still a fascinating place in New Mexico. In Santa Fe, there was a convent that built a Chapel in 1873 in the French style, the French Gothic style, which is very high. The French Gothic style invites you to look up to heaven and, well, they put it in, and then the choir loft was put in. And the choir loft was just way, way up there and the poor nuns to get to the choir loft had to climb a ladder. It was rather frightening, and they wanted to build a stairway, but they couldn’t build a stairway because it would have the coil off so high that it would have taken up too much room in the Chapel. They knew what to do and this is good advice for you. They knew what to do when there was a carpentry problem: They said the Novena to Saint Joseph. Well, the night they completed that Novena, a Carpenter knocked on their door. And as I heard the story, it was a rainy, stormy night. But the night they finished that novena, there was a knock on the door, and it was a Carpenter who appeared just with a hammer and a carpenter’s square. And he said, “You need a stairway built for the choir loft. I’ll build it.” And so, he built it.

It’s called the Miraculous Staircase. You can look it up. It’s just made with wooden pegs and it’s a rare wood that isn’t native to the area. And I’ve heard that there were no receipts for purchase of wood at any local lumberyards. Well, he made the staircase, and this staircase looks like a spiral. It’s a spiral staircase that has no center support. It’s as if it’s a spring suspended in midair, and if you see it now, it has railings, but it didn’t have railings then. The story is told that one enthusiastic nun who, when the chapel was finally opened and the stairway completed, when she saw this, ran up the stairs so excited and then she realized there were no railings, and she was afraid to come down. But railings have been put in, but it’s an amazing thing. I’ve seen it. Unfortunately, as I said, it’s no longer the property of the church, but you can visit it. It’s called the Miraculous Staircase, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to see.

And then you have, of course, the National Shrine of Saint Joseph in De Pere, Wisconsin near Green Bay. That’s a place I’ve also been to that’s just a wonderful place. It is so very, I guess the word is tranquil. It’s a beautiful shrine. It was built by Father Durant, and I think it was finished in I think 1892. Pope Leo XIII recognizes the National Shrine of Saint Joseph and eventually, the image was consecrated by the bishop. And Saint Joseph is wearing a crown, and that’s appropriate. He’s from the royal House of David. Well, then it was moved across the street to the current location in 1969 at Saint Norbert’s Abbey, and it’s a beautiful, tranquil place. If you’re in that part of Wisconsin near Green Bay, do visit it. It’s just a wonderful place of prayer and I highly recommend it.

However, the shrine to Saint Joseph is, of course, in Montreal, and it’s one that’s particularly dear to me. This is the Oratory of Mount Royal or Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont Royale. Forgive my French, it’s not so good. But it’s a vast, beautiful building. It’s huge. It’s this Renaissance-style building, and the interior is more modern. There’s a beautiful crypt. The reason it’s kind of special to me is because of its association with Saint Andre Bessette. He’s the cousin, distant enough, of my sister-in-law, may she rest in peace. But we know about Brother Andre. We called him Brother Andre because that’s what my sister-in-law, Jean called him, Brother Andre. And she had a great devotion to Brother Andre and long before he was even venerable. The family talked about Brother Andre and Brother Andre had a great devotion to Saint Joseph. The reason I bring this up and it’s so dear to me is because it really challenged me.

As I was coming back to a more traditional kind of faith, I thought, how can someone have a devotion to Saint Joseph? My brother Andre was just devoted to Saint Joseph. He would say, “Go to Joseph, go to Joseph.” And brother Andre had amazing gifts of healing. He was truly a miracle worker, but he never took credit. The Lord did it through Saint Joseph. He would anoint people with oil from the lamps around the shrine of Saint Joseph. You can still get that oil up there. Saint Joseph’s oil. I thought, “How can you have a devotion to someone who doesn’t say anything? What are you going to learn from him?”
And I realized, and I hope it was the Holy Spirit, that showed me that Saint Joseph teaches us…now hold on, this is going to be a little startling…He teaches us how to be the parents of God. Parents of God? Oh yeah.

You see, we’re children of God and we talk so much about being the children of God. But do you realize that God is put in your safekeeping? I’m sure if you’ve ever heard me talk, you know I love Eucharistic miracles, and when they analyze these hosts that have become visibly flesh and blood, which happens more often than you think, invariably it’s heart tissue. And think about it, God is putting into your hands His very heart. What’s our heart if not our children? You know you hear people say, “I don’t care what you do to me. You touch my kid, I’ll kill you.” Our children are our heart. Well, God in Holy Communion puts the heart of his heart into your keeping. What a responsibility? How do you handle that? Well, I quote Brother Andre, “Go to Joseph.” Joseph is the example of how to care for the Son of God put into your safekeeping.

You see, he teaches us how to be the fathers and mothers, the parents of God. It isn’t just a matter of talking. It’s a matter of doing. To protect what is innocent. To protect what is weak. This is the call that we get through the life of Joseph. You know, every day Jesus heard the sound of hammer on nail, Joseph prepared Him wordlessly for the crucifixion. Because the last sound that Jesus heard in His mortal body was the sound of hammer on nails. Joseph taught Him in the carpenter shop, taught Him his trade, and reminded him every day that He had come as the Lamb of God to be a sacrifice to His true father. Joseph isn’t silent hardly. Joseph speaks eloquently through what he did and what he does. Saint Joseph, a mighty patron, a guardian who prepared Christ for the crucifixion, who guarded the Blessed Mother no matter what it took, kept them safe until he died.

You know, I will always be grateful to Brother Andre, Saint Andre Bessette, for teaching me to love Saint Joseph and to realize that I have a father. I think that Saint Andre, Brother Andre developed a special fondness for Saint Joseph because, well, he had lost his mother and father when he was quite young. And sometimes we need a parent and God is our father. However, sometimes we need a father who’s a little more tangible. We need a foster father. And that foster father who protected Jesus, that foster father, who was so little thought of in the world because, well, he was quiet. He’s quiet because he’s watching, he’s guarding. And he’s quiet? That makes him all the more able to listen to hear. So never hesitate to ask Saint Joseph’s intercession and to ask his protection and to help prepare you for what you need to face in your life just in the way that Saint Joseph faced it.

You know, there’s a beautiful prayer to Saint Joseph:
To thee, O blessed Joseph, we have recourse in our affliction, having implored the help of your holy spouse, now, with hearts full of confidence, we beg you to take us under your protection. By that charity which united you to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, and by that fatherly love with which you cherished the Child Jesus, we ask you and humbly pray that you look down with gracious eye upon that inheritance which Jesus Christ purchased by His blood and help us in our need by your power and strength.

Defend, O most watchful guardian of the Holy Family, the offspring of Christ. Keep from us, O most loving Father, all blight of error and corruption. Aid us from on high, most valiant defender, in this conflict with the powers of darkness. And even as of old you did rescue the Child Jesus from the peril of His life, so now defend God’s Holy Church from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity. Shield us under your patronage, that, following your example and strengthened by your help, we may live a holy life, die a happy death, and attain to everlasting bliss in Heaven. Amen.

Thanks for joining us for this special Year of Saint Joseph presentation from Relevant Radio. Invite your friends and family to sign up to receive these monthly talks at relevantradio.com or on the Relevant Radio app.

Father Richard Simon, who jokingly refers to himself as Reverend Know-it-All is the host of Fr. Simon Says on Relevant Radio. Father Simon delves into the daily Scripture readings, shares a Word of the Day to help you sharpen you vocabulary, and opens the phones to your questions about the Faith. After just a few minutes with Father Simon, you might be convinced that he truly does know it all!