As a Biblical figure who doesn’t utter a single word, St. Joseph sometimes gets forgotten in terms of devotion, significance, and his role in Salvation History. However, his importance can barely be overstated as he was responsible for the protection of and the provision for the Holy Family. Nevertheless, at least historically, there seem to be very few shrines or locations dedicated to the foster father of Jesus.
Father Simon designates the scene of the Nativity and the manger as the first shrine to St. Joseph. He remembered as a child seeing Joseph silently guarding Mary and the Baby Jesus and he knew that he was the protector. He encourages parents to treat the Nativity as the first shrine to St. Joseph because of his integral role and to teach their children so. Most homes have such a shrine and it’s a good starting point as devotion to St. Joseph.
The next shrine we take a look at is what is held by some to be the tomb of St. Joseph. While we don’t know for sure where he was buried, it is traditionally believed that his body was placed in the location now known as the Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary in the Kidron Valley. Down the stairs of the Church are both the empty tomb of Mary who was assumed into Heaven and the spot where Joseph’s body once was. While scholars contest the age of the tomb, Father Simon upholds the sacred space as a beautiful place of prayer.
Traveling from Jerusalem to Cairo, we find Father Simon’s third shrine, a commemoration to Our Lady of Zeitoun. Starting in April of 1968, for two years, Our Lady appeared on the dome of a Coptic church in Zeitoun a few days a week. Millions of people witnessed these apparitions and it led to many converting to the Faith. The reason Father Simon brought this up when talking about St. Joseph is that sometimes he appeared with Mary on top of that Church. So as much as it is a memorial to the Virgin Mary, it is also a memorial of St. Joseph.
The next shrine is in France in a town called Cotignac. In 1660, there was a young shepherd named Gaspard Ricard who found himself working on a very hot summer day. It had been so hot that summer that it had caused a drought and Gaspard had no water. While he was working, he came upon an older man who told him that his name was Joseph and that he should lift a large rock nearby to find water. The rock looked heavy, and Gaspard did not think he would be able to lift it, but at the insistence of the man, he tried, and it came up easily. Sure enough, water sprang from under the rock and it flowed down the hill. There, they built a sanctuary and a monastery to mark the miracle.
The first shrine in the U.S. that Father Simon talks about is the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Built in 1873, the space in the chapel could not accommodate a staircase to the choir loft, so they improvised with a ladder system that went all the way up. A rudimentary, frightening, and dangerous system, they prayed a Novena to St. Joseph to provide them with other means to reach the choir loft. On a stormy night when they concluded their Novena to him, they received a knock at their door. They answered it to find a carpenter carrying nothing but a hammer and a carpenter’s square. He said, “You need a stairway built for the choir loft. I’ll build it.” It is known as the miraculous staircase because it is a spiral staircase built with no center support, only wooden pegs built into the stairs themselves.
“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,” Father Simon explained, “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.”
Father Simon also touched on the National Shrine of St. Joseph in De Pere Wisconsin. He says it is a very tranquil place of prayer that honors St. Joseph correctly as part of the royal House of David.
However, Father holds the Montreal Oratory of Mount Royal to be the ultimate shrine to St. Joseph. A huge Renaissance-style building, it is strongly associated with St. Andre Bessette, a distant cousin of Father Simon’s sister-in-law. Known as Brother Andre to those close to him, he had an intense devotion to St. Joseph and was often quoted as giving the same advice: “Go to Joseph, go to Joseph.” A younger Father Simon, used to have a more traditional outlook on Catholicism, thought a devotion to a silent saint as very strange. Eventually though, he discovered, through the Holy Spirit, how much St. Joseph can teach us about protecting Christ and His Church.
We talk a lot about being children of God, but we are, in a way, parents of God. He has placed His Son in our safekeeping through the Holy Eucharist. St. Joseph is our best example of protecting Christ. So let us go to him in our efforts to safeguard the blessing we have been given in the Sacraments.
Prayer to St. 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 everlasting bliss in Heaven. Amen.
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