It has been close to a year since I started these articles and I find myself, again, sipping my coffee in my easy chair, early morning, attempting to clear the fog that envelops my mind. My wife, as usual, is bustling to and fro in organized activity stopping now and then to check her to do list which she diligently fills in each day. She uses a Catholic saint’s planner and spends much time hovering over it, pencil in hand, ready to enter a new task, or to erase one completed. I call this planner her “pacemaker” because without it, her heart would stop. There are times I sneak over to peruse her schedule, secretly hoping that a chore has not been assigned to me, and if one has, that I have time to make up an excuse not to perform it, or at least delay the inevitable. I have been tempted to use a planner myself, but I always figure that just as you won’t know if you need something unless you throw it away, then you’ll never know if something needs to be done unless you don’t do it. As a youth I never practiced this philosophy, but old age has brought me the wisdom to develop methods like these designed to alleviate the stress of everyday life. Now if I could just convince my wife to follow these methods, then we could just spend time in our chairs staring at each other wondering what not to do next.
I’m not too sure what I just wrote, but there must be a kernel of wisdom embedded somewhere in those lines.
The theme of these articles has been twofold; firstly and most importantly, to provide glimpses into the heroic sanctity of St. Joseph, and secondly, to reflect on the nuances of attaining old age. It is a sad statement of old age that one of your hobbies becomes attending funerals. Attending weddings should be occasions of merriment, but I find myself frequently, with morbid curiosity, scanning the room to identify who is likely to pass away next. It is most disconcerting when I find no likely candidate and the lot falls to me. Whatever our age, our final end should always be before us, and we should live our existence so that the worldly gladness of today will not be sadness in eternity. I have always envisioned old age as a time of smug gladness, with my wife and me sitting on the front porch gently swaying in our rockers, smiling at our children — with their children frolicking on the front lawn to our amusement. Knowing the insidious debauchery of the world, we installed a volleyball and basketball court, and even a large swimming pool to keep them from the public beaches, a place of probable mortal sin for most men, and a certain occasion of sin for most adolescents. But the allure of the world has overtaken some of them. To be fair, my wife and I grew up in the notorious sixties, and our lives were far from stellar, but we overcame that gross liberality and returned to mother Church before our children came along. We raised them in the traditional Catholic faith and would always say to them ‘learn from our mistakes’, but little did we know that upon reaching adulthood and on their own in the world, they would turn that around and say, ‘let us live our lives as we wish — after all, we know how you lived your lives as youths — we have plenty of time to make amends.’ The folly of youth! As I am wont to say, the problem with wisdom is that it’s wasted upon the old. And as the good Lord says, the sins of the parents will be visited upon their children (Cf. Deut. 5:9).
My greatest heartache is to see my wife suffer for our children, for she took great pains to instruct them properly. She home schooled all of our children, created a little farm complete with ducks, sheep, geese, rabbits, goats and cows; we raised our own vegetables and canned close to a thousand quarts a year, and all this to provide wholesome activity as an alternative to worldly delights. But how do you keep them down on the farm when they’ve seen old Paris? So we suffer in prayer as we watch some of them leave the faith entirely, some become lukewarm, some with marriages breaking up, others putting themselves in the grave danger of sin by un-chaperoned dating and still others foregoing Sunday Mass because a baseball or hockey tournament has been scheduled at the same time. And I must mention the modern bane of humanity — that of technology, replete with internet access, video games, facebook, tweets, and only God (or the devil) knows what will be invented tomorrow. It has become an addiction depriving us of contemplation and prayer. Someone once asked me just how I defined technology, and I stated ‘‘anything needed after the Fall.” Simplistic, but in truth, our first Father did proclaim, “I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Gen. 3:9), and they realized their need for garments, not only for modesty, but probably for warmth and also protection from the insects which now regarded them as food. In an amazing act of divine condescension, God himself became their tailor: “And the Lord God made for Adam and his wife, garments of skins, and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21). And we have been in need of technology ever since that inglorious Fall.
All of this is a sadness almost too hard to bear, but bear it we must, and must increase our prayer life and hope in God’s mercy, for these heartaches are endured by many parents, and the only solace we have is to throw ourselves at His feet and beg for intercession. After I re-read the previous lines of this article, I thought it prudent to let my wife peruse them for editing or deleting purposes. To me, it read like True Confessions, and I found that a bit disturbing. But lo and behold, Judith said, “Russ, this reads like True Confessions, but let it be printed. We, and parents like us, need all the prayers we can get.” So please, Dear Readers, pray for our children, as we will most assuredly pray for yours. I personally give all to Saint Joseph, for I feel that devotion to this most loving father is the remedy for familial ills.
And with that I will launch into the fifth and final mystery of my Saint Joseph rosary.
The fifth decade I call, Joseph Dies in the Arms of Our Lord and Our Lady. Almost all the commentators on this event are in agreement that Saint Joseph died shortly before Our Lord’s public ministry. The main reason they give is that Joseph, being a strict advocate of the law, would have protested Christ’s innocence, and indeed fought the Pharisees with righteous anger, once they had falsely accused his Son. Unlike Our Lady, he was saved from that agony, though many writers state that he was given foreknowledge of the Passion, so that when he held the Infant in his arms two swords, one of joy, one of sorrow, pierced his most tender heart. The book that I used extensively in the writing of these articles, The Life and Glories of St. Joseph, is filled with facts, tidbits and trivia into the hidden life of Joseph, but remarkably little is said about his death, thus enabling the reader to use his imagination in ending the narrative.
There are many pictures depicting Saint Joseph lying on his deathbed with Mary on one side, Our Lord on the other, and usually Joseph is gazing with rapt contemplation on the face of his Son. Can you imagine that holiest of deaths? — Saint Joseph saying ‘Goodbye Son,’ and in the next instant after death saying, ‘Hello Son.’ When I meditate on the other mysteries of this rosary, I usually alternate the scenes in my mind according to my mood of the day, but this last mystery never deviates. I always have Our Lord escorting Saint Joseph to the Limbo of the Just, and after Jesus departs, I place Joseph in the back of the waiting room, so to speak, where in front of him there are countless souls, each represented by a burning flame, waiting in anticipation for the gates to open. They are arranged in order of merit and all are aware that an event has just occurred that will shorten their confinement in this holding cell. Suddenly, the crowd separates, forming an aisle, and as Joseph passes between, a lily appears above each burning flame which becomes brighter from his passing. Upon reaching the front of that vast multitude, the chamber is glowing with an incredible light, and hymns of praise and thanksgiving are sung for they know that now that Joseph is here, his Son will soon follow to lead them to their eternal reward.
Although the former part of this meditation never changes, I usually have slightly different variations of the ending. Saint Paul stated in Corinthians, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child” (I Cor. 13:11). A good part of childhood is fantasizing, whether it be hitting the game winning home run or being the hero in countless scenarios your youthful mind can dream. I have always felt that this youthful fantasizing should evolve into a grown-up form of spiritual meditation. This is why I meditate/fantasize on my hero Saint Joseph, the only difference being he always ends up the hero, and I, the Joseph devotee, remain content to hold onto his many-colored coat.
So I end this meditation by turning from the happy celebration just described in Limbo, and as I walk away, I feel a hand upon my shoulder. I turn and see the happy smile of Joseph and he says, “I know you well enough to feel that you are not comfortable here, so I will see you again at the first decade of your rosary for in that one we always fish down by the Jordan; but please, next time bring worms.”
It is my hope that I have brought my readers to a greater love of this glorious Saint, and though as I see now through a glass darkly, it is my most earnest hope that upon dying and meeting my Judge, that the clear smiling face of Saint Joseph will be there by his side.