Thoughts for the Feast of St Joseph

The death of St Joseph


With great earnestness recommend to His mercy the poor souls who are in their agony. What a dreadful hour, an hour tremendously decisive, is the hour of our death! Surround with your love these souls going to appear before God, and defend them by your prayers.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Joseph. We traditionally pray to St Joseph for many things – work, fidelity to one’s vocation, purity, the protection of the Church, even selling a house. But St Joseph is also regarded as the patron saint of a happy death, because tradition tells us that he died with Jesus and Mary at his side – a happy death indeed!

I chose a reflection on death today because today is the anniversary of Fr Doyle’s mother – Christina Doyle died at 7am on this day in 1915. Fr Doyle had just returned from a mission in Glasgow and was with her when she died, and was able to say Mass immediately for her soul. Fr Doyle’s parents are buried in Deansgrange Cemetery, very near Dalkey where they lived. Below is a photo of their grave.

The grave of Fr Dole’s parents. His mother died on this day in 1915.

St Joseph is a powerful patron; many saints were greatly devoted to him. St Teresa of Avila tells us that he always answered her prayers. Blessed Pius IX proclaimed St Joseph as the patron of the Universal Church. We should have recourse to him for the needs of the Church, and of course in particular for our new Pope Francis who will be installed as pope today.

It is quite remarkable to have a Jesuit pope. Many people expressed the view that a Jesuit could never be pope. They were wrong – God’s plans are often so different to ours. Pope Francis is an interesting man, and one who I think would strongly identify with Fr Doyle. They have more than membership of the Jesuits in common. Pope Francis is clearly dedicated to the poor, and carries an important message for us in that regard. This was also a concern very close to Fr Doyle’s heart. As a child he was renowned for his charity with the poor of his own town. He brought them food, painted their houses, prayed with and for them and assisted them at their death. And all as a child! As a priest he longed to go to the missions in Africa and die there with the poor. When this wasn’t possible, he assisted the poor in other ways that his ministry allowed. These include fundraising for poor African babies, going out on missions to find the poor in the slums or to find workers on their way to factories at dawn. The story of his charity and gentleness with the street prostitute “Fanny Cranbush” has been recounted here several times. His great apostolic work was his desire to establish a retreat house for working men at a time when retreats were seen as the preserve of the religious and clergy or else an elite of educated and wealthy laity. And of course, he lived absolute poverty as a military chaplain in the war, sharing in the deprivations experienced by the soldiers, just as Cardinal Bergoglio shared in the poverty of his flock in Buenos Aires. Remarkably, Fr Doyle’s love of the poor even extended to a desire to live amongst poor lepers in a leper colony if he survived the war.

But the similarities between Pope Francis and Fr Doyle do not end there. Some years ago, Cardinal Bergoglio stayed in a residence run by a secular institute in Madrid, and gave them a series of talks, one of which was on mortification, a theme obviously very close to the heart of Fr Doyle.

Let us pray for Pope Francis today, and pray to St Joseph for the welfare of the Church under this pontificate.

Lord, source of eternal life and truth, give to Your shepherd, Pope Francis, a spirit of courage and right judgement, a spirit of knowledge and love. By governing with fidelity those entrusted to his care may he, as successor to the apostle Peter and vicar of Christ, build Your church into a sacrament of unity, love, and peace for all the world. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Today is also the third anniversary of the Pope Benedict’s letter to the Catholics of Ireland. The text can be found here:

Perhaps we should read this letter again today, and examine our consciences. As individuals, have we followed its suggestions? Have we offered up prayers and penances in reparation? How have we responded as parishes? As a country?

St Joseph, pray for us!