My friend Carol runs a Catholic bookshop in South Carolina—the heart of America’s ‘Bible Belt.’ Carol told me that every Friday a suspicious looking man would come into the shop and buy a dozen little statues of Saint Joseph. She finally got up the courage to ask him why he bought so many.
The man looked a bit sheepish and said, ‘I heard that if you are selling your house and you bury a statue of Saint Joseph under the “For Sale” sign, then the house will sell quickly.’
Carol smiled, ‘That’s a bit superstitious, but that’s what some people think.’
‘Well’, said the man, ‘I’m an estate agent and I want to sell the houses quickly so I’m giving it a try.’
‘And does it work?’
The man grinned, ‘It sure does! That’s why I have to buy so many.’
‘Then if you don’t mind me asking,’ said Carol, ‘Why do you look so, umm, shifty?’
‘Because I’m a Southern Baptist. I thought maybe we weren’t allowed to buy statues of Saint Joseph.’
It would seem that Saint Joseph is the patron saint of both Protestant and Catholic house hunters. He is the saint of house hunters because he had to provide a home for Jesus and Mary on their travels. But in a more serious way Joseph had to provide a home and security for Jesus throughout his boyhood life. In a wider sense, Joseph is the patron saint of fathers because he reminds us of our most basic duty as Dads. We are called to protect, guide and care for our children. This extends much further than simply bringing home a pay packet each week. As married men we may wonder how we are supposed to serve God and the Church. If we have children our primary vocation is to help them grow up with strong Christian values.
Our society has a rather low view of fathers at the moment. Dads are seen as unreliable, lazy and abusive. The role of father is down played and Dads who take their job seriously are often humiliated by the media as being old-fashioned and oppressive. Some feminists have attacked fatherhood generally and blamed all society’s ills on bad fathers. Its true that there are bad fathers, but there are many more good fathers. There are even more men who want to be good dads and need all the help and encouragement they can get. Saint Joseph is the perfect patron saint for modern fathers.
He is an example for fathers in four different ways. First he is an example in his role as protector and provider. Saint Joseph reminds us of our primary vocation to look after our children with all the compassion, care and concern. We can muster. St Benedict says the abbot of a monastery has to show the ‘tough attitude of a master and the tender affection of a father.’ The same applies to ordinary fathers. We have to be both tender and tough. Our children are not pets which we keep for our own pleasure. They are a God-given responsibility. Children are not just the duty of women. Dads need to be involved as well. Fathering a child is easy. Being a father is hard work.
Secondly, Saint Joseph reminds us of our responsibilities as workers. Jobs these days are temporary. The job market is tough and competitive. Saint Joseph is the patron saint of workers because he got on with the job. He worked with his hands. He reminds us what a job is for. Its not just to earn money. Its to make a difference in the world. We must work not just to make a high standard of living, but to have a high quality of life. If we are employers, then Saint Joseph also reminds us of the need for fair treatment for the workers. If we are unemployed or retired, then Saint Joseph reminds us that there is still work to be done—even if it is part-time or voluntary.
Thirdly, Saint Joseph reminds us of our responsibility as husbands. If we are married then we have taken vows which are just as serious and binding as the vows of a nun or a priest. We break those vows not only by committing adultery, but by sexual sin of any kind. Saint Joseph’s chaste marriage to the Blessed Virgin Mary reminds us that purity within our own marriages is God’s high standard. In a sex-crazed society, Saint Joseph reminds us that there are higher values than constant sexual satisfaction.
Saint Joseph reminds us of our duty as fathers. He reminds us of our responsibility as workers or employers. He reminds us of our duty as husbands. But Saint Joseph not only reminds us of these matters. He is a powerful helper as well. Once when I was unemployed I prayed to Saint Joseph for work and was offered an excellent job within a few weeks. Saint Joseph is a powerful prayer partner. He will help us with the difficult task of being a father. Do we have a problem with the children? Does it seem like there is no way out? A prayer to Saint Joseph will often help us see the way through the problem. Saint Joseph is also helps in the area of temptation. Do we have a problem with pornography or do we wrestle with the desire to be unfaithful in our marriage? If are really resolved to avoid the problem, then the prayers of Saint Joseph really can help.
Down through the ages many Catholics have turned to Saint Joseph and found his friendship and prayers to be of great help. Saint Teresa of Avila said, ‘I know by experience, that the glorious St. Joseph assists us generally in all necessities. I never asked him for anything which he did not obtain for me.’ One Catholic father who I’ll call Mike says that devotion to Saint Joseph has changed his life. Before he began paying attention to Saint Joseph and asking for his help Mike’s marriage was on the rocks because of his unfaithfulness. He didn’t care about his children and he had trouble holding down a decent job. Mike said things began to change with the help of Saint Joseph. By thinking about Saint Joseph’s example and asking for his prayers Mike’s spiritual life, career and family life has been turned around.
There are various resources to aid a devotion to Saint Joseph. A search on the web will give you various sites for prayers and devotions. Any Catholic bookshop will stock books, medals and statues of Saint Joseph. Saint Joseph is more than a lucky charm to help you sell your house. He’s there as part of that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ which the Bible talks about. He’s a role model, a spiritual mentor, a father in God and a great wonder worker. Be in touch.