Recently, my husband and I meandered into a Catholic shop we had never been to before. We slowly made our way through the aisles taking inventory of what was offered. I was in the back corner of the shop when I came upon a statue of a man peacefully sleeping on his side, his haloed head on a pillow. He wore a green tunic that enfolded his reclining body. His top arm rested on his side, his bottom arm was bent and cradled by the pillow, and his bare feet were laid out beneath him. Next to the statue was a flyer with a short explanation titled, “Pope Francis’ message about the devotion to sleeping St. Joseph.”
The Goodness of St. Joseph
St. Joseph came into my life almost two decades ago. I felt drawn to his faithfulness, obedience, and protection of Jesus and Mary. I also was drawn to his silence and the influence of his example. So I began turning to him in prayer.
Since then, St. Joseph has interceded for me, guided me, and protected me. My husband and I pray novenas to him every year, and the results have born fruit through job opportunities, wisdom in parenting, and even the opportunity to purchase our current home (though we’ve never buried his statue anywhere). As a sign of gratitude for his patronage, we named our youngest daughter after him—Josephine.
A New Image of St. Joseph
This image of the sleeping St. Joseph was new to me, but I was intrigued. The flyer next to the display shelf explained that Pope Francis keeps an image of sleeping St. Joseph in his desk. When he has a problem, he writes it down and places it under the image, and he knows St. Joseph is working it out in his dreams.
The first thing I thought after reading the explanation was, “That’s adorable.” I loved the idea immediately.
However, as I’ve reflected on this devotion, I have realized that there are powerful connotations to the image of St. Joseph sleeping.
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The Power of the Sleeping St. Joseph
The Lord spoke to Joseph three times through dreams. First, when Joseph had decided to quietly divorce Mary after learning of her pregnancy—itself a merciful decision that defied custom—an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said:
Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She is to bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. -Matthew 1:20-21
The scripture emphasizes, “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Matthew 1:24).
Two more times “the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.” Once, when God told Joseph to flee to Egypt to protect the infant Jesus from Herod (Matthew 2:13-14). Another time was when the Lord called Joseph to bring Jesus back to the land of Israel (Matthew 2:19-21).
Immediately after God spoke to Joseph, he responded exactly as he was told.
St. Joseph Teaches Us to Rest
One thing I have often overlooked is the fact that the Lord spoke to Joseph when he was in a state of complete rest. This realization struck me particularly hard because this year the “word of the year” I received from Jen Fulwiler’s word generator was rest.
The past few years of my life have been rife with intense undertakings. I also struggle with insomnia, so the word “rest” has both physical and spiritual implications for me. Once again, St. Joseph is nurturing me, teaching me, and giving me a silent example of the disposition to assume before the Lord.
When Joseph was faced with the dilemma of an inexplicably pregnant wife, we can assume he worked out the solution of a quiet divorce with great care and discernment, for Scripture reveals that he “was a righteous man” (Matthew 1:19).
Yet God penetrated Joseph in a vulnerable moment, in a period of rest, to show him another way. No matter how carefully Joseph strove to find a solution while he was awake and alert, God revealed to him the wonderful plan of salvation while he was resting.
Sleep Implies Trust
Not only was Joseph able to receive God’s astonishing plan, but he received God’s plan through the precarious means of a dream. He trusted the message, and he trusted the means in which God gave him direction.
Joseph’s trust indicates his strong faith and his deep intimacy with the Lord. Joseph knew it was the Lord speaking to him. He was familiar with God’s voice in his life, which means he must have had a deep, consistent prayer life. It’s not enough to just rest, either spiritually or physically. We must know who we are resting with, or rather who we are resting in.
While I’ve never received a message from the Lord in a dream, when I do sense God speaking to me, I often wonder if I am just imagining things. Or I question whether the prompting is true. I doubt the Spirit and hesitate to act. Yet Joseph awoke assured, ready to respond. He showed a holy animation, inspired and generated during a period of rest, that only comes from deep communion with God.
Intimacy with God
For me, the sleeping St. Joseph image is a model of the trusting, familial, vulnerable attitude I am called to have before the Lord. My prayer, under the tutelage of St. Joseph, is that I can develop a deep intimacy with God along with the ability to rest, so that when God speaks to me in my rest, I can trust His word and readily respond. I pray to follow Joseph’s example upon awakening, allowing the Spirit to animate me into holy action that realizes God’s divine plan in my life.
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Jacqueline Hollcraft lives in central California with her husband and seven vibrant children. She is a lecturer in the English department at Stanislaus State, and she is an editor and contributor for The Daughters of Mary Blog. In her free time, she enjoys serving with her husband in their parish’s hospital ministry, hiking (especially in Yosemite), drinking craft beer, and reading or watching murder mysteries.