During this year commemorating the declaration in 1870 of Saint Joseph Patron of the Universal Church many people are revisiting sources of their devotion to the foster father of Jesus. We hear praise for Our Holy Mother Saint Teresa of Jesus for having stirred up practical devotion for Saint Joseph in the “modern” age, that is, in the period of church history that ran between the Middle Ages and our current era.
A contemporary of ours (she died less than a century ago in 1942 and was a devoted daughter of Saint Teresa too) has left us an entire poem about the head of the Holy Family. Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross composed three stanzas to strengthen reliance on Joseph during troubled times as suggested by Saint Teresa.
Stein wrote it as a namesday gift to her former Cologne prioress, Mother Josefa Wery, for the feast of Saint Joseph March 19, 1939, and the fervor of those lines cannot be missed. A somewhat neglected fact in her story is the chapel of the Carmel she entered in the Lindenthal neighborhood of Cologne in 1933: it was dedicated to Saint Joseph, and the monastery’s patron was the Infant Jesus of Prague. (As the community’s buildings were destroyed by an air raid in World War II, we think more often of the present monastery re-founded east of it in Cologne dedicated to Our Lady Queen of Peace.)
She might have taken the time to add this prayer in verse to her other poetic pieces also because of her Jewish heritage. Joseph, after all, was considered the “last of the patriarchs”, and trained Jesus in his religious formation as he grew in age, wisdom, and grace. Without any particular data to prove this, one might imagine that young Edith Stein must have felt the absence of her own father’s loving support due to his startling death from sunstroke some months before her second birthday. Perhaps she took to writing her poem all the more for that absence (“Benevolent and mild like any father’s eye”) however much she appreciated her mother, provider of so much kind guidance to the Benjamin of the family in her formative years.
May this translation, done by Sister Josephine Koeppel O.C.D., add to the reader’s devotion and appreciation for Joseph of Nazareth, and deepen the richness of this year when we pay him tribute for the help we expect from him. We might want to redouble our prayers of petition as the pandemic continues to afflict humankind.
As he is patron saint of the sick and dying we include a photo taken of a special stained glass window in our monastery chapel in Washington, DC. Joseph assists Saint Teresa in her suffering state, she who entrusted many a cause to him.
SAINT JOSEPH, CARE!
Dark and heavy, the heavens loom o’er us.
Is night to be eternal, and light ne’er ours again?
Has our Father above turned ‘way from us?
As by a nightmare’s throttling,
Our hearts are choked from need,
Is there no savior, near or far, who knows to help?
Behold, triumphantly, a beam bursts through the clouds.
With friendly gleam, a tiny star peers down,
Benevolent and mild like any father’s eye.
And so I take all that affrights us;
Raise, and lay it into those steadfast hands.
Receive it all—
Saint Joseph, care!
Furious the storms that rage across the lands.
Oaks whose deep roots sank into earth’s own heart,
Whose crowns soared proudly up to heav’n,
Lie now uprooted, rent asunder—
Horror, despoilment, round about.
Does not the storm shake faith’s foundations?
And will her sacred pillars break?
Weak are our arms—who’s to support them?
Pleading, we raise our hands to you:
You are like Abraham, faith’s own father,
Stalwart in child’s simplicity,
and capable of wonders,
In power of obedience, and of pure intent,
Protector of new Cov’nant’s holy temple
Keep it safe—
Saint Joseph, care!
When we must journey into foreign lands,
And door to door, our shelter seek,
Walk then before us as our trusty guide.
You who companioned, once, the Virgin purest,
You, the Child-God’s trustworthy, caring Father,
Bethl’em and Nazareth, Egypt, as well, shall be
A home for us, if you but tarry, too.
For where you are, there Heaven’s blessing rests.
Childlike we pace our steps by yours,
Cling to your hands in perfect trust:
Be you, yourself, our home:
Saint Joseph, care!
Text and photo Fr. John Sullivan, O.C.D.