St Joseph the Silent One

Silence is a strange thing – it can be comforting and reassuring, and by the same token disturbing.  It can give opportunity to provoke thought and inspiration, yet also its very presence can cause the mind to play tricks and allow unhealthy concentration on trivia and for us to dwell on negative things. Many will have experienced periods of extended, enforced silence this past year.

Pope Benedict wrote this in 2005

“Joseph’s is a silence permeated by contemplation of the mystery of God, in an attitude of total availability to his divine wishes. Let us allow ourselves to be “infected” by the silence of St Joseph! We have much need of it in a world which is often too noisy, which does not encourage reflection and listening to the voice of God.”

Which leads to wondering what the silence of St Joseph is. We know that he was the earthly father of Jesus and that he was a carpenter – but we know little more than that.  The Church has venerated him, and there is that delightful phrase “her spouse most chaste” in traditional forms of Benediction which suggests a slightly dysfunctional family life.

But, we come back to being “infected by the silence”.  A silence which is open to God, a deliberate use of silence to allow God to work in our lives – be it daily for 15 minutes or so or a longer silence in retreat.  Joseph is silent in the Gospels, we revere him because of what he does NOT SAY – but rather in his silent support for Mary and the child Jesus, for his fortitude in providing for his family, by listening and responding to the voice of God revealed to him.

Pray: for St Jospeh’s prayerful support for us as we try to listen and respond to God’s message for us, and let us try to set silent times apart for God. Today plan a little extra time of silence and stillness reflecting on Joseph’s silence.

Thank you to Fr Chris for this refection in our St Joseph Novena.

After a period of silence you may like to pray about any person or concern currently on your heart. And say our Novena Prayer.

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
and defend us from every evil.

St Joseph, pray for us

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St Joseph, patron saint

Detail from Workshop of the Master, ‘The Flight into Egypt’, about 1515 (National gallery)

Joseph, our patron, is the theme of today’s post in our nine days (Novena) of prayer before St Joseph’s Day. The following is an extract from the very influential theologian Karl Rahner, from a sermon he preached on St Joseph.

A nation needs men and women who do not lose confidence in God’s grace, even when they have to seek it as lost, as Joseph once sought the divine child. Such individuals are urgently needed in every situation and in every class.

Moretto de Brescia, St Joseph (16th century, National Gallery)

We have a good patron, who is suitable for everyone. For he is a patron of the poor, a patron of workers, a patron of exiles, a model for worshipers, an exemplar of the pure discipline of the heart, a prototype of fathers who protect in their children the Son of the Father. Joseph, who himself experienced death, is also the patron of the dying, standing at our bedside. We have inherited from our Father a good patron. But the question put to us is whether we remain worthy of this inheritance, whether we preserve and increase the mysterious rapport between us and our heavenly intercessor.

Joseph lives. He may seem far away from us, but he is not. For the communion of saints is near and the seeming distance is only appearance. The saints may seem eclipsed by the dazzling brightness of the eternal God, into which they have entered, like those who have vanished into the distance of lost centuries. God, however, is not a God of the dead, but of the living. He is the God of those who live forever in heaven, where they reap the fruits of their life on earth, the life that only seems to be past, over and done with forever. Their earthly life bore eternal fruit, and they have planted that fruit in the true soil of life, out of which all generations live.

And so Joseph lives. He is our patron. We, however, will experience the blessing of his protection if we, with God’s grace, open our heart and our life to his spirit and the quiet power of his intercession.

Prayer: Consider how Joseph and the saints are close to us. Close in worship, close in prayer, close in care. Today think of how Joseph was open to God’s love and closeness. Pray that you too may have confidence in God.

Pause to remember your own particular concerns today, and you may like to pray the Novena prayer.

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
and defend us from every evil.

St Joseph, pray for us

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Sleeping St Joseph

I was very pleased to receive recently an unusual statue as a gift. It is of sleeping St Joseph. I first came across this statue in the chapel of the SMA fathers near St Chrysostom’s Church.

Later I read that Pope Francis himself had a devotion to sleeping St Joseph. Speaking in Manila in 2015 Pope Francis said, about the statue:

“I have great love for Saint Joseph, because he is a man of silence and strength. On my table I have an image of Saint Joseph sleeping. Even when he is asleep, he is taking care of the Church! Yes! We know that he can do that. So when I have a problem, a difficulty, I write a little note and I put it underneath Saint Joseph, so that he can dream about it! In other words I tell him: pray for this problem!

Those precious moments of repose, of resting with the Lord in prayer, are moments we might wish to prolong. But like Saint Joseph, once we have heard God’s voice, we must rise from our slumber; we must get up and act .”

Rembrandt: The Dream of Joseph

Joseph slept and in his sleep and dreams he received guidance from God. Guidance to take Mary as his wife, guidance to go to Egypt for safety, and guidance to return home.

Wordly wisdom sometimes advises us to ‘sleep on’ a problem. As Christians, at times of difficulty and anxiety we are encouraged to pray, to seek others’ prayers and seek the prayers of the saints of God.

My statue of sleeping St Joseph is at my bedside. Like Pope Francis from time to time I leave a note under it. I ask him to pray for this problem!

A friend and I recently discussed this devotion. He, like many of us can be quite sceptical. He recently told me: “A few days ago, having gone to bed thinking about sleeping St Joseph, without any specific intention, I woke next morning with an awareness of something particular I should do as an act of care for a friend. In spite of a fleeting early morning reaction of ‘can I be bothered’ I followed the prompting- it was the right thing to do, powerfully so.”

Pray: Reflect on St Joseph sleeping. Think of your own concerns and anxieties, your own prayers. If you wish write them on a piece of paper and imagine placing it under a statue of sleeping St Joseph. Be still for a few moments then pray our Novena prayer.

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
and defend us from every evil.

St Joseph, pray for us.

Fr Ian

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St Joseph – homeless father

I once worked in a Salvation Army hostel for homeless families.  I remember one 17 year year old pregnant girl whom I will call Alison.  Alison had no family and grew up in care; the father of her child was the same age and homeless.  Like most young parents, they wanted something better for their child.

As the birth drew closer, their anxiety increased.  They had no money and Alison’s maternity grant didn’t go very far, even buying second hand, and they had no family to help.  They felt very ashamed and embarrassed; they felt like failures.  As time drew close, this struggling embarrassed girl finally plucked up the courage to ask for help, because she simply had no money even for the stuff she needed to go into hospital.  The reality was that she couldn’t afford items such as breast pads, maternity pads and nipple cream, all essential items.

In addition to financial challenges, there is the stigma.  Alison’s child would now be around 29 years old, and there is now an even greater stigma to giving birth in poverty.  With the advancements of social media, everyone has an opinion that can be spread across the internet.  ‘If you can’t feed ‘em, don’t breed ‘em’ seems to be the populist view; only those with money should have children has become the narrative. Children become reduced to a mere commodity: a luxury item. Judgement rains down on complicated families living in poverty from wider society. In my work as a priest, I’ve seen such love and care in families who have nothing and yet there are those who would deprive those people of the joy of children. 

Jesus was one such child, born to a poor and complicated family; Mary was young and unmarried, Joseph was not his birth father.  However, his parents were obedient to God’s word and raised a child that has changed the world and saved us from the horrors of death.  As family forced into homelessness, forced to flee and live as refugees, they would be called ‘illegals’ and ‘scroungers’ by some elements of the media, and yet the world needs this family more than ever.

Thank you to Mtr Kate for this reflection for our St Joseph Prayer Novena.

Prayer: Bring to mind families with babies you know. Pray for them, and pray for parents, like Mary and Joseph, who bring children up in difficult circumstances.

God our Father and Mother, we pray for women giving birth in poverty and for those who support them.  Help us to seek justice and be compassionate towards families in need, recognising in them the image of the Holy Family, and giving thanks for their place in this world.  Amen

Pause to remember your own particular concerns today, and you may like to pray the Novena prayer.

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
and defend us from every evil.

St Joseph, pray for us

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Joseph the Carpenter

St Joseph the Carpenter, Craig Fisher (2010)

The Bible suggests St Joseph was a carpenter by trade , though some suggest the translation should be stonemason . Either way , he was a craftsman.

I do some craft myself- a small amount of embroidery , patchwork , crocheting and knitting. My knitting , it must be confessed , is a bit hit and miss. I still recall with pride the jumper knitted all in the round without seams for a university friend, and the fine lace 2 ply blanket knitted over two pregnancies. On the other hand a jumper for my  son – in -law was a disaster , being absurdly too short. Attending to detail and working with precision are characteristics of a good crafts person so that counts me out. 

I am fortunate , though , in having in my home a number of handmade objects by others . My bedroom mirror was carved from a discarded window sill by my sister’s then boyfriend over forty years ago. A patchwork quilt draped over the bannisters was a gift from my mother.

The cushion covers made by Hungarian peasant woman  in my living room are among many items of embroidery including a mat sticker by my daughter in the style of her Transylvanian ancestors. I also have a number of pieces of hand thrown pottery . Some of pieces are quirky individual , others follow traditional patterns but are nevertheless unique .

Some items were bought in other countries and I have often found it hard to agree a just price. Tour guides have often told me to barter down but I can’t do it. I am acutely conscious of the skill and time which has gone into their creation especially as these are people whose livelihoods depend on their craft.

The appeal of objects made by skilled craftspeople lies primarily in their appearance. I look enviously at friend’s bookshelves made by a joiner friend of hers; they are a real contrast to my IKEA bookshelves though I have a tiny sense of pride that I managed to follow the instructions to assemble them.

And therein lies a contrast between handcrafted and mass produced : when an object is mass produced its creator has minimal satisfaction from its creation; when it is made by a skilled craftsman, the creator can have the pleasure and satisfaction in their creation because they created it .They can stand back and say ‘ and it was good ‘ . They can speak and act in imitation of God .

That satisfaction does not prevent them from thinking how they might do it differently next time. We say hand made objects but all creation  involves mind, hand and perhaps heart. Moreover, skilled people go on honing and developing their skills for years .

Whether St Joseph made roughly hewn furniture for the poor or finely polished furniture for the rich , or he  carved stones for  buildings, I hope he was one who was trusted to do the task well and that he gained satisfaction in his own work, and passed on his skills to his son.

Thank you to Sandra Palmer for this contribution to our series of blog posts on St Joseph in our Novena of Prayer to St Joseph.

Prayer: Look around you carefully at home and consider what work has gone into furniture and objects, small and large, around you. Give thanks for those craftsmen and women who create in our world.

Pause to remember your own particular concerns today, and you may like to pray the Novena prayer.

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
and defend us from every evil.

St Joseph, pray for us.

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St Joseph Prayer Novena

Today we begin a prayer novena to St Joseph. As we begin let’s find out what this is about and how we can join others in taking part.

What is a Novena?

A novena is a nine day period for prayer focused on a particular topic or saint. The nine days may lead to a feast day at the end, or some other celebration. So our St Joseph Novena begins on 10th March and finishes on 18th March, and the next day March 19th is St Joseph’s Day.

Why nine days?

The gospels tell us that the Mary and the disciples prayed for nine days after Our Lord ascended into heaven and on the tenth day the Holy Spirit came upon them – at Pentecost. This nine day period of prayer by Our Lady and the disciples is then a model of one type of prayer – the first novena.

What do I do in a novena?

That is up to the individual but usually the church will help by making suggestions for prayer and providing some material to stimulate thought and prayer. At the same time we have our own concerns on our heart and we will particularly wish to pray over these things during the novena. Sometimes people write these things, often called ‘our intentions’ down and pray about them through the novena.

Why St Joseph?

In 2020 Pope Francis, who has proved to be such a great Christian leader in these difficult days, encouraged Christians, and especially, but not exclusively, Roman Catholics to consider the example of St Joseph, and his role as Patron of the Church. Pope Francis suggested this be a year of St Joseph and so it seemd a good idea for us, during this time to have a special focus on him in a Novena. In addition some of our church members have a particular devotion for St Joseph, so we do, already, honour him – we have a statue of him in church.

How does our prayer novena work?

Each day a blog will be posted in the morning. Several are written by church members. They will focus on an aspect of Joseph’s life or on his qualities. The post will encourage reflection and prayer. At the end you are invited to pray quietly, then offer your own intentions, then say the Novena prayer or another. It is as simple as that. You pray alone, but know also that others at church are praying with you, we are joined in prayer.

Is there more I can do?

Of course. You can find out more about St Joseph. Look at artwork depicting him, and join in our celebration of St Joseph’s Day.

… and now?

This is the first of our novena blog posts. Now you are invited to pause to pray your own prayers and intentions quietly, pray for God’s blessing for this novena. Be still for a few moments and then say the Novena prayer:

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
and defend us from every evil.

St Joseph, pray for us.

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#Positives

May be an image of outdoors

A year ago few people had heard of Zoom, the R number or even social distancing. We had never imagined we would need to go shopping wearing face masks, or that holidays would be impossible. Our lives have changed, and it is remarkable how quickly the change has happened. Of course such change affects us all in large and small ways. Many of us have got to know our local area far better than we did. We notice things more, and in some ways our world has got smaller.

We are aware that different people have been affected in different ways. Those who have had to shield have been cut off from much every day social contact. Those who live in cramped or inadequate accommodation have had added pressure put upon them. We are aware that mental health issues have increased particularly among young adults. Domestic abuse has increased. Home schooling, or home studying by university students, simply is not of the standard children or students would receive if attending school or university, and the lack of social engagement, encounter and play, has significant effects for young, and indeed not so young, people.

May be an image of indoor

Church life, and how we express our Christian faith has changed too. For people of our tradition at St Chrysostom’s the Mass is central to church life. It is what shapes, forms and energises us as a Christian community. We have found new ways to be Church, and live out our faith, while also doing our best to have the Mass as central.

In among the difficulties we have found seeds of hope, of new life. We’ve discovered positives, sometimes in unusual places. I have noticed a greater sensitivity of people to one another, and indeed we will have encountered the kindness of strangers too. A stronger sense of local community has grown. There have been wonderful acts of heroism from everyday people. Doctors, nurses, care home workers, medical researchers, and many more have risen to the occasion and shown a spirit of self sacrifice in order to protect and help others. At this basic level our faith in fellow human beings has been encouraged.

The Black Lives Matter movement, happening in pandemic days, received our attention and in many ways has been as great positive, pointing to equality, and care and the need to stand up for justice for our fellow human beings.

At church the founding of our Chi Rho movement with its emphasis on the Mass and service has been a great positive as has the setting up of our Maranatha Prayer Circle.

As individuals we’ve found positives sometimes in strange or unexpected places. Often in times of stress small beautiful acts, or small beautiful things have inspired and lifted us in ways we never expected. We now talk more of blossom on treees, spring flowers, seeing people, the value of a smile or phone call… Silence and prayer have become great positives for many. At first these may seem small things yet in another way they are very important to us, positive, encouraging and hope giving.

This week I’m inviting church people, through our Church Facebook Group to share some positives of their recent experience, and hopefully this will help us to look to our future together, with hope. Do join in if you can. #Positives

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#Beauty

William Wordsworth’s poem I wandered lonely as a cloud, more commonly known as Daffodils is one of the best know poems in the English language. Perhaps, like me, you had to learn it at school, or perhaps you came across it later in life. If you’ve not read it you must! Here is a link to it.

Wordsworth describes the beautiful site of a host of daffodils, ten thousand ‘beside the lake, beneath the trees.’ Often, he says, when alone and thoughtful that beautiful scene comes to him, and then, he says ‘my heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodils.’

It is a lovely and lasting image for us too. We can imagine ourselves revisiting such a wonderful scene and finding our hearts filled with pleasure.

The French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal wrote: In bleak and difficult times you must always keep something beautiful in your heart.

Over the last few months, especially in periods of lockdown, many people have been discovering beauty close at hand. It is as if we have discovered time to stand and stare. People have talked of the beauty of blossom, of birdsong, of flowers, of music and everyday meetings with special significance. Beauty, we have discovered, is close at hand and it is not just what we see – music, touch, taste have all given us a sense of beauty.

Taking time to pause, to remember, to recall the beauty, allows a space when for us too our hearts may be filled with pleasure, uplifted and dance.

Wordsworth wrote a poem describing the beauty he saw, and in doing so brought beauty to others. Sharing beauty in whatever way we choose – by word, photograph, letter, e mail, poem or whatever is a kind and considerate thing to do. No doubt we will find that some will wish to share something of beauty with you. This will help us tune more our senses to beauty wherever it is found.

In the second week of Lent we encourage members of our Church Facebook group to share something of beauty which brings comfort to their heart. We’re invited to share it in the group for others to see. This a simple and encouraging way we can help one another through ‘bleak and difficult times.’

Fr Ian

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A walk of 150 days

The starting point, Church of Notre-Dame du Bout du Pont, Saint Jean Pied de Port

I enjoy going on pilgrimage, and I’ve enjoyed pilgrimages to many places, La Salette, Rocamadour, Ladyewell, Montserrat, and Walsingham, to name a few. I’m starting a very different pilgrimage on March 1st. I hope to walk 480 miles, meet different people, think, pray, be enriched by the pilgrimage and look at my journey in my life. On July 25th, I will arrive at my destination.

In these unusual, constrained, lockdown days this will be a virtual pilgrimage. I will indeed, hopefully, walk 480 miles, on an average of about 3-4 miles each day. However, I will be at home, doing my usual work, and living as usual.

Some days, as circumstances permit, I will walk with another person, many days I will walk alone. I will also take the time to read, to listen to music, to seek peace and all within my daily life. In this way it will be an inner journey as well as on outer one. As with any pilgrimage I will pray, and I feel sure I will be supported by the prayer and care of others.

I know it will need some discipline and imagination. I’m looking forward to doing it.

The route

To help and encourage me I will, virtually, follow the traditional pilgrimage route from Saint Jean Pied de Port, to Santiago de Compostella – the Camino Frances – the northern route. It is, of course, a well trodden pilgrim route. Seeing on a map where I would have reached according to the miles I have walked will be an encouragement to me. It will also good to see short videos of places along the route, and read of the experience of fellow pilgrims. Hopefully I will ‘arrive’ in Santiago de Compostella on it’s great feast day – the feast of St James, July 25th.

A different pilgrimage, in different days. This isn’t a ‘sponsored walk’ but I have been encouraged to set up a donations page, with money given going to support the work we do at St Chrysostom’s for trafficked people. Perhaps, at least, a meal could be organised for July 25th for the trafficked men, in Church! That donations page will be online in a week or two.

On my personal Facebook feed I will keep a note of progress. At certain points I will invite people to join me online for a short period of reflection and prayer. I’m looking forward to reporting back here on the blog from time to time.

Fr Ian

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She is watching me

A lockdown walk took me along Dickenson Road towards Longsight. As I walked I looked up and noticed, in a bedroom window, a statue of Mary. What was striking was that she was not looking into the room, but rather looking outwards, to the passers by.

‘She is watching me!’ I smiled to myself. Then words which open Barbara Pym’s novel An Unsuitable Attachment came to mind:

They are watching me, thought Rupert Stonebird, as he saw the two women walking rather too slowly down the road. But no doubt I am watching them too, he decided.

She is looking at me me. Without doubt I am looking at her. She is watching me. I find that rather comforting, and very different from that old text once framed and hung in bedrooms ‘Thou God seest me…’ I always found that rather threatening!

When I was in my late teens I had an emotionally bumpy time in life. Part of the issue was the loneliness and isolation I felt living away from home for the first time. I was moved by the variety of people who helped me. Some showing the kindness of strangers.

One weekend I went home and when I left my mother gave me a small prayer card showing Mary. I later learned it was a representation of Our Lady of Fatima. It had no particular artistic merit, it was in fact typical of many popular prayer cards of that time. As she gave it to me, my mother said ‘She will look after you, as well.’

The sentiment no doubt arose from my mother’s Roman Catholic upbringing in the 1930s. I don’t dismiss it for that. It brought me comfort, it still brings me comfort. I thought of this small event many years later. At Walsingham, my mother, by then very frail, and I sat quietly in the Holy House looking at the statue of Mary. I glanced at my mother and remembered her words to me as she gave the card of Mary ‘She will look after you…’

In these lockdown days many have felt isolated and alone – not just those who live alone, but others too. It is an emotionally bumpy time. Many have found comfort and kindness in some unusual places, including the kindness of strangers and some have been comforted by the thought that we are being watched over by Mother Mary.

In my imagination I can look now up at that bedroom window and see Mary watching me, … and I pause and for a while look at her. She will look after us.

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