I was recently at the home of some friends and during dinner they were telling me about a particular challenge they were facing as a family. They told me that they were asking for the intercession of “sleeping St. Joseph.” They must have noticed the confused look on my face, because they said with surprise: “You’ve never heard of sleeping St. Joseph?” One of them left the room and returned with a little statue of St. Joseph, reclining with his head on a pillow, sound asleep. They explained to me that it is a popular devotion in Latin America, and that people will write their prayer intention on a little slip of paper and place it under the statue and ask for St. Joseph’s intercession. The devotion grew in popularity after Pope Francis, who has an intense devotion to St. Joseph, revealed that he has a sleeping St. Joseph statue on a table in his apartment in the Vatican.
The reason St. Joseph is sleeping is not because he’s lazy, of course. As a carpenter, he would have been entitled to a good night’s rest after his day’s labor. Rather, he is depicted this way because the gospels tell us that he received messages from God through dreams. It was through a dream that an angel told Joseph not to be afraid to take the mysteriously-pregnant Mary as his wife. Likewise, it was through a dream that the angel told him to quickly leave Bethlehem and take Mary and the infant Christ to Egypt so as to escape the murderous wrath of King Herod. Although the gospels give us no words of St. Joseph, we see that he is a man of action, who swiftly comes to the aid of those who are in danger. With each message received in a dream, the husband of Mary immediately rose and took the necessary measures to protect his family from harm.
The pious practice of leaving a prayer request under the statue of sleeping St. Joseph is a sort of meditation on his remarkable life, and a recognition of his great devotion to Christ and the Blessed Mother. As the patron of the Universal Church, we turn to him as our spiritual father who is intensely concerned for our welfare. Just as St. Joseph immediately responded to the messages he received in his dreams, we ask him to come to our assistance, to hear our petitions, and bring them to the Lord on our behalf.
St. Joseph’s feast day is next Saturday, March 19. The Church designates it a “solemnity,” which means it is among the most important celebrations of the year, and should be embraced accordingly, as a welcome respite from our Lenten disciplines. Since the 19th falls on a Saturday this year, we will have a special Mass for St. Joseph that day at 8am at St. Gabriel Church, followed by coffee and treats. It might require giving up some extra Saturday morning sleep to get there, but I’d especially encourage the men in the parish to bring their families to celebrate their patron, the great St. Joseph, whose quiet strength and watchful eye keep God’s children safe.