A meditation for the month of March taken from the book -
The Life of St. Joseph
by Maria Cecilia Baij, O.S.B.,
Abbess of the Benedictine Convent of St. Peter in Montefiascone, Italy, from 1743 - 1766.
This biography of the Saint was manifested to Maria Baij by
However this book may also be approached purely as a useful meditation on the life of St. Joseph.
Permission was given to reproduce the
below excerpt on the HomePlate site by the
publisher of the book, Dr. Rosalie A. Turton, foundress of the 101 Foundation. The book
can be obtained from Amazon.com
Following is the entire 24th Chapter of the book, pp. 119 - 125.
JOSEPH IS BESET WITH ANXIETIES WHEN HE LEARNS THAT MARY IS WITH CHILD
Joseph was happy and content with Mary's companionship. One day he took notice of what were obvious indications that She must be with child. He was deeply shaken and disturbed by this, and smitten with a violent pain. He wanted to persuade himself that these indications were due to some illness. When he saw that She displayed the same freshness and the same dispositions as always, he said to himself: "If She were ill, there would be other signs; She appears to be completely well." He continued: "Oh my God, what is this that I observe concerning my spouse? Am I dreaming, or am I awake? Perhaps my eyes deceive me. If so, what is it that I see? I dare not question Her; I dare not speak to Her about it, because She is so holy. Nevertheless, it is apparent in what condition She finds herself to be. Help me, oh my God! Help Your servant! Enlighten me, so that I may understand, for I am unable to draw any different conclusions from what I see so clearly with my own eyes!"
The most holy Mother had already noticed Joseph's tribulation, and She begged God steadfastly to support him with His grace. In the evening Joseph withdrew, overcome with pain, and he deliberated as to what it all could mean. He had very little rest that night. He awakened often, and every moment seemed exceedingly long to him because he desired to see his spouse again. He wanted to convince himself that he had not somehow been deceived.
Very early in the morning he was already in the vicinity of Mary's chamber, anxiously waiting for Her. When the most holy Mother left Her room, She greeted Joseph as usual with an affectionate greeting. The Saint, with his eyes fastened upon Her, found Her to be as gracious and lovely as ever. But in addition to this, he again observed the same signs that he had noted on the previous day. His heart was once more buffeted with pain, for he saw that he had not been deceived, and that it was all quite definitely true. "Oh my God," he cried, "how comforting is the beauty, graciousness, and modesty of my beloved spouse! What a pain smites my heart as I see upon Her person the evident signs of motherhood! Oh, my God! Come to the aid of Your servant in this great trial! My anguish is overwhelming, even unto death, unless You give me strength and uphold me with Your mighty arm."
Mary's prayers obtain some relief for Joseph's anxiety
Since the most holy Mother prayed a great deal for Joseph, the Saint finally did, indeed, experience some relief in his affliction, and he decided to let the matter rest awhile and wait and see just how things would develop with the passage of time. He resolved not to be so anxious in the interim, for he had the fullest confidence that God would not desert him, and the Most High would undoubtedly clarify things and make some definite provision for this situation.
"I am certain," he declared, "that my precious and beloved spouse is very holy and exceedingly loved by God. I cannot suspect anything evil concerning Her. It is best that I calm myself for the present, and wait awhile to see what will come of the matter. Actually Joseph did not succeed in doing this, for every time that he looked at Mary his heart would be rent afresh. Mary, on Her part, sympathized with Her Joseph for being so beset with anxiety, and for this reason She was more gracious and loving to him than ever before.
Every morning Joseph stationed himself at Mary's door, and there he waited with anticipation to ascertain whether these indications were becoming more pronounced. When this proved to be the case, he became so anxious that he actually began to waste away as if stricken by a disease. Of a truth, the suffering that this occasioned was greater than for that of any other evil that might have befallen him, for it wounded his heart and kept him in a state of exceedingly painful anxiety.
Joseph directed many prayers heavenward. He fasted and gave alms, with the intention that God should enlighten and comfort him. He looked upon his spouse with great love and with heartfelt sympathy. To himself he would often remark: "Oh my spouse, although You are the source of my extensive consolations, You nevertheless are now the cause of my most intense pain. Ah if You only knew what anxieties beset me! You would surely not fail to comfort me by revealing to me the cause of Your condition."
The Mother of the Divine Word discerned these thoughts of Her sorrowing Joseph. All this was painful for Her as well. Yet She remained silent, bearing Her sorrow patiently, and waited until God should be moved to compassion and grant relief to His servant so consumed by anxiety. She begged God fervently for this. The Most High wished to test the fidelity of His most obedient Joseph, and give him the opportunity to acquire merit.
Joseph cannot bring himself to ask Mary outright about Her condition
The distressed Joseph finally decided to ask his spouse the reason of this condition within Her. But he was not able to carry this out, even though he decided to do so many times. Whenever he intended to put the question to Mary, he would be filled with shame, together with a most reverential fear. His tribulation was only increased. "Oh my God," he cried, "what is this that I must endure? I see clearly that my spouse is with child. She acts so kindly and lovingly towards me that I certainly should be able to ask Her the reason for the appearance of these characteristic signs. I am sure She would not hide the cause from me, and yet I am unable to bring the question to pass my lips, even though it might free me from my anguish. It is all beyond my comprehension! Oh! Only You, my God, are able to comfort me! Therefore, I have recourse to You, and place before You this great sorrow of my heart." God was still silent, and permitted His servant to remain in his anxieties.
Mary endeavored to comfort Joseph with various amenities. She carefully attended to all his needs and often asked him to take more nourishment. She even inquired of him as to what She might do to alleviate the situation, and frequently She sang a hymn in praise of God to console him. Joseph was able only to admit to Her that his heart was seriously troubled. "My spouse," he said, "You were always such a consolation to me in my trials, but now the anguish will not depart from my heart. Beg God to show His mercy to me."
The sorrowful Joseph would have liked to say more, and to explain more freely the reason for his distress but he could not. "Is it possible," he said to himself, "that Mary does not know why I am in such anguish? Ah, She undoubtedly understands the situation only too well! Very likely it is not possible somehow for Her to give me the explanation."
Joseph's anguish increases
Joseph wept over this often and humbled himself exceedingly in the sight of God, proclaiming that he deserved this affliction for having been so ungrateful for the many benefits God had bestowed upon him. Just as he had previously considered himself to be the happiest creature on earth in obtaining so holy, so eminently virtuous a spouse, so now in his anguish, he considered himself to be the most miserable soul in the world. His anguish increased continually since he realized that the Child which Mary bore in Her womb would no doubt soon be born into the world. As a result, he became completely bewildered, and simply could not assuage his heartache.
Sometimes Joseph gave bent to his anguish by complaining to himself about his spouse with loud groans: "Oh my spouse! How can You have the heart to leave me in such anxiety? In what way did I ever displease or offend You, that You can be so harsh to me? Your attitude towards me seems to have changed. You, who have always been so kind and comforting, now are without mercy. You know the reason for my heartache, and yet keep everything hidden from me! Mary discerned these complaints of Her anxious Joseph. She sympathized with him and grieved for him, yet She remained silent. She could not free him from his anxiety by disclosing Her secret, inasmuch as She had no commission from God to do so. She did not fail, however, to pray a great deal for him.
Joseph applied himself to work, but his strength left him, and he frequently collapsed completely. He returned to his little room and exclaimed: "Oh, my God! Where shall I go so seek relief, seeing that my spouse, who once was all my joy, now is the cause of all my sorrow? For whenever I happen to see Her in this condition, my heart is torn anew with pain. And yet I feel myself powerfully drawn to associate with Her, and to engage in holy conversations with Her."
The Saint went out to Mary, but he cast his eyes on the ground so that he would not see Her. He wanted only to hear Her speak to him, and She did so with such affection and such graciousness that the afflicted Joseph felt comforted, and his mind was relieved. As soon as he inadvertently raised his eyes and perceived Her evident condition, he was again afflicted with pain.
Joseph eventually decided to present a more stern demeanor towards his spouse, and at the same time to avoid Her as much as possible. However, he was unable to accomplish this, for whenever he heard Her voice he felt overpowered by Her love, and consequently, was unable to react otherwise than most cordially. He made many similar resolves, only to find himself incapable of putting them into execution. Though he would feel impelled by passion to take these various courses of action, the divine grace abiding in his soul never allowed to act towards Her in anything but a befitting manner.
The forsaken Saint practices heroic virtue
Joseph deemed himself to be forsaken by God. The angel also ceased making his appearances. In the face of all this he exercised patience, resignation, love and humility to an exceptional degree. He never said anything about his suffering to Mary. He suspected nothing evil, even though he saw what condition She was in. He made no judgments, nor did he give way to despair. Completely resigned, he waited for God to comfort him and to reveal to him the explanation for the motherhood of his spouse. It was, for the Saint, an opportune occasion to practice many virtues and to gain much merit. It was a means of preparing him for the reception of the favor which was revealed to him by the angel. The exalted mystery of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word in Mary's womb.
As he continued thus to abide in deepest anguish, Joseph said to himself: "It is evident that it will not be very long before Mary will give birth to the child. What shall I do? I cannot denounce Her as the Law prescribes, for I am certain of Her great holiness. I simply cannot think anything evil of Her. But inasmuch as I know nothing of the origin of this child, and I myself have no part therein, I do not wish to acknowledge the same as my own offspring. It will be better if I depart and spend the rest of my days wandering about in bitterness and pain. Yet how shall I acquire the courage to leave Her? It seems impossible for me to live apart from Her. She is so holy, and adorned with so many virtues. I feel compelled to separate from Her in order to be freed of this great anxiety." He made a firm resolution to leave Mary and wept unconsolably. His heart was as if immersed in a sea of pain and bitterness, and he received no relief in this grave affliction.
As it was already evening when Joseph made his decision to leave, he withdrew to his little room. Kneeling down, he prayed to God, imploring Him for assistance in this weighty matter. "Oh God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," he prayed. "Oh my God, You have safeguarded me from my childhood, and have promised to support me and watch over me in all my ways. Oh, I beg of You, in virtue of Your infinite majesty, goodness, power, and wisdom, and also by reason of the love which You have always shown to me and to Mary, my spouse, to fulfill Your promise of continual assistance. Oh, do not forsake me in this great tribulation!
Joseph laments that he must leave Mary
"I cast myself completely into Your paternal arms. Do with me what is most pleasing to Your Divine Majesty. I recommend to Your care also my spouse, the One whom You have given to me in order that I might be Her protector. Even until now I have endeavored to do whatever this duty demanded of me, but now I must leave Her entirely in Your Fatherly care. The reason for this decision of mine is already known to You, for nothing is hidden from Your Divine Majesty. I deserve all this as punishment for not having known enough to benefit by Mary's examples and counsels; I desire herewith to do penance for my past sins. It seems to me that I am not sufficiently aware of them, but they certainly are all known to You. So I beg You for forgiveness, and for the grace to bear this great trial. I do not have the courage to take formal leave of Mary, my spouse. I appeal, therefore, to Your divine goodness to give Her consolation in Her trial, and to protect Her in all circumstances.
"Bless also my own steps so that I may first of all be able to go to the temple in Jerusalem, there to adore your Divine Majesty, and then to ascertain Your will for me provided always that it be Your good pleasure to reveal it to me. Look down, I beseech You, upon the needs of my soul and the sorrow in my heart, and have mercy upon me."
After Joseph unburdened his soul to some extent before God in this fashion, he turned in his thoughts to his consort in affectionate lamentation. "Ah, my dove," he murmured, "my innocent dove! See, I am proposing to leave You. Oh, how could Your heart bear to see me in such anxiety and still not obtain for me even a drop of consolation from God? Oh, why do You not tell me the origin of your Motherhood? You have always shown a great love for me, but in this instance You seem to have forgotten me entirely. And what shall I do apart from You, since You have been all my consolation? Oh, my precious, my beloved spouse! See, I am about to leave You, and who knows whether I shall ever have the happiness of seeing You again! I am leaving You all alone, my loved One, even though my heart languishes with pain in doing so; but under the circumstances I cannot do otherwise. I know of no other way to save You from the penalty which the Law imposes, and it also seems to me that it is the only way for me to escape from my miserable predicament."
Amid bitter tears Joseph got up and gathered together what he needed for traveling, and made himself a little bundle. He went to bed to take a little rest and to wait for the coming of daybreak. He had already decided to leave in the early morning, when his spouse would not see him, and also to prevent his neighbors, or anyone else, from noticing his departure. Mary was making ardent supplications to God, asking Him to comfort Her sorrowful Joseph. She, too, was beset with an intense sadness.
[Subheadings within this chapter are the transcriber's]
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was last updated on 02/25/03