St Joseph’s feast day of 2021 was really an unforgettable experience for me. This was the first feast day which I celebrated as a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre in Malta with our patients and their loved ones who are battling the cancer ordeal.
As the day started I felt duty-bound to pay a visit to those patients who were critical. How beautiful it was for me to spend time with these brothers and sisters on the very same feast day of the patron saint of the dying! In the earliest minutes of that special day I had the grace to be at their bedside praying the great prayer of Pope Leo XIII as well as the Rosary with its concomitant litany of St Joseph. It was really beautiful that some staff members could join me in prayer and prayed with me near these patients whom they cared for so much!
The beautiful and comforting atmosphere that was created around these brothers and sisters, as they were journeying the last bit of their earthly pilgrimage, reminded me of the great privilege Joseph had on earth in living with the two holiest creatures our world can ever have: Jesus and Mary. On this point, St John Henry Newman observes about Joseph:
“He is Holy Joseph, because according to the opinion of a great number of doctors, he, as well as St. John Baptist, was sanctified even before he was born. He is Holy Joseph, because his office, of being spouse and protector of Mary, specially demanded sanctity. He is Holy Joseph, because no other Saint but he lived in such and so long intimacy and familiarity with the source of all holiness, Jesus, God incarnate, and Mary, the holiest of creatures.”
After a short break, in a day full of sunshine, I felt deep down in my heart to start blessing the patients of each ward at the hospital, one by one. Thus, after praying with staff members the long and beautiful prayer of Pope Leo XIII to St Joseph I started blessing every patient with the Holy Water followed by a solemn blessing accompanied by the Light of Patriarchs’ intercession. “Father, these few minutes which you are dedicating to each and one of us are really life-changing” told me a young adult patient and a mother. Her comment made me more realize St Joseph’s family virtues which shined in his daily dealings with Jesus and Mary. In this aspect St Madeline Sophie Barat’s reflection really encouraged me to keep going on this holy track shown to me by the Holy Spirit through Joseph most humble. She said:
“Let us love Jesus above all, let us love Mary as our mother; but then, how could we keep from loving Joseph, who was so intimately united to both Jesus and Mary? And how can we honor him better than by imitating his virtues? Now, what else did he do in all his life but contemplate, study, and adore Jesus, even in the midst of his daily labors? Behold, therefore, our model.”
Certainly, dedicating my life to Jesus as present in the sick, as He himself told me in the Matthean gospel: I was sick and you visited me (Matt 25:36) keeps reassuring me regarding St Joseph’s incredible holiness in loving Jesus, Mary and his neighbor by doing small things with an extraordinary love. Hence, St Joseph Marello said: “St. Joseph did not do extraordinary things, but rather by the constant practice of ordinary and common virtues, he attained that sanctity which elevates him above all the other saints.”
Joseph never focused on himself and his needs but always put others’ needs before his own. That is why he remains an excellent example and role model of what a real hospital chaplain should be. Here I cannot refrain from recalling that much inspiring paragraph which Pope Francis wrote in his apostolic letter that magnificently commemorates the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church, Patris Corde:
“Being a father entails introducing children to life and reality. Not holding them back, being overprotective or possessive, but rather making them capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities. Perhaps for this reason, Joseph is traditionally called a “most chaste” father. That title is not simply a sign of affection, but the summation of an attitude that is the opposite of possessiveness. Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life. Only when love is chaste, is it truly love. A possessive love ultimately becomes dangerous: it imprisons, constricts and makes for misery. God himself loved humanity with a chaste love; he left us free even to go astray and set ourselves against him. The logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the center of things. He did not think of himself, but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus” (no.7).
Personally speaking, the first sentence of this paragraph says a lot to me! That whole day, mainly characterized by various hospital visits and prayers to St Joseph, pointed out to me that my pastoral role at the Oncology Centre is that of being a spiritual father and companion to gently introduce or reintroduce God’s children to the reality, eternal life. Mother Church has always and rightly taught that St Joseph is a very reliable guide to Heaven. To him she entrusted herself as well as her children. His prayers on her behalf and also for humanity at large are extremely appreciated. That is why the Church keeps exhorting us to resort to him in all our needs so that, aided by his intercession, we let the Spirit lead us in this valley of tears.
The Decree by the Apostolic Penitentiary given on December 8 2020, during the yearlong celebration marking the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St Joseph as Patron saint of the universal Church, says that the gift of special “Plenary Indulgence is granted to the faithful who shall recite the Litanies to Saint Joseph (for the Latin tradition), or the Akathistos to Saint Joseph, in their entirety or at least some part of it (for the Byzantine tradition), or some other prayer to Saint Joseph, proper to other liturgical traditions, in favor of the Church persecuted ad intra and ad extra and for the relief of all Christians who suffer any form of persecution.”
At the end of a hard working-day with the patients, families and health care staff at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre I realized that if I want to be St Joseph’s student I need to interiorize the thought that I belong to the working class, namely of those who serve. Jesus tells me constantly so while looking lovingly at me in the eye: For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Thanks to his apostolic exhortation on the person and mission of St Joseph in the life of Christ and of the Church, Redemptoris Custos, St Pope John Paul II reignites in me this holy attitude so much present in the life of the Custodian of the Redeemer, when he persuasively instructs me:
“St. Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood. It is precisely in this way that, as the Church’s Liturgy teaches, he ‘cooperated in the fullness of time in the great mystery of salvation’ and is truly a ‘minister of salvation.’ His fatherhood is expressed concretely ‘in his having made his life a service, a sacrifice to the mystery of the Incarnation and to the redemptive mission connected with it; in having used the legal authority which was his over the Holy Family in order to make a total gift of self, of his life and work; in having turned his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of self, an oblation of his heart and all his abilities into love placed at the service of the Messiah growing up in his house’” (no.8).
In order that this unforgettable working day remains alive in each of the remaining time of my life here on earth I want to wholeheartedly follow ad litteram, and in the countless of ways the Holy Spirit will surely be indicating to me, the Pharoah’s words to the people of Egypt during the years of famine: Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do (Gen 41:55). Ite ad Joseph et quicquid vobis dixerit facite. In other words, Ite ad Joseph!