UPDATE 12 noon 11 December – Please see the second version of the booklet above; this includes a very beautiful poem for each mystery by Fr Steven Shakespeare SMMS. I am very grateful to Fr Steven for writing these and to Fr Nevsky for updating the booklet with these and other material.
When I was appointed Head teacher in 2008 I immediately dedicated my work to the patronage of St Joseph the Worker. The ‘worker priest’ movement had always appealed to me. There is also something appealing about St Jospeh as the silent one, the one who dreams dreams but does not speak. Perhaps, for someone like me who uses a lot of words there is a strong element of ‘opposites attract’. The popularisation of the statues of St Joseph the Sleeper also speak powerfully to me. Although I like to think of them more as St Jospeh the Dreamer. Sleep has always been important to me, but as much because I dream vividly as because of the need for rest. Dreams are a way I process things and in which I often hear God speaking – although rarely in ways in which it is easy to understand at the time. The Sleeping Buddha statues of the Thai tradition have also been significant to me in prayer life – at Amaravati in north London behind the main shrine particularly.
Appointed as Sub Dean at Christ Church, Oxford earlier this year I consecrated my work here too to the patronage of St Joseph. This was a community, I knew, that had suffered much over recent years and the still, contemplative, dreaming presence of St Joseph, as well as the craftsman taking great care in his work seemed significant to me. This was re-inforced when a friend said he had rescued a large statue of St Jospeh from a night club in Blackburn and did I want it? Another friend, a sister in the Sodality and priest who lives near Taizé offered to buy me a beautiful icon of St Joseph to be the principle image of the saint above the altar in my domestic Oratory.
When I was offered the job I hadn’t seen the house (all the interviews were Zoomed). A few months later as my predecessor showed me around the Sub Dean’s Lodgings I felt slight apprehension that I would have to use one of the bedrooms as an Oratory – complete with carpet, fireplace and wash-basin! But then he took me down to see the (extensive) cellars and I knew at once this was meant to be. The niches, many rooms and ancient walls – possibly the foundations to the huge chapel Cardinal Wolsey intended to, but never did, build -resonated immediately. On the day we moved in I celebrated Mass for the first time below the house (itself built in about 1670). The presence of Our Lord ever since has had a profound spiritual effect on the house and my work. The chapel is full of heating pipes, electric cables, remains of the internal workings of the house in other ages. Post-industrial chic barely does justice to it. The large (and expensive to run!) boiler keeps the whole space warm and cosy even in these December nights. Th staff here have kindly added additional sockets, sorted out sticking doors and even added a wi-fi point.
Although I call the whole space the Sacro Speco – named after St Benedict’s sacred cave; the Oratory itself is dedicated to St Joseph the Worker. Each day I pray a Vigils office here in the early hours as the dark of night prepares for dawn and at the end I sing the Daily Commemoration of St Jospeh found below. Each Wednesday I offer a Votive Mass of St Joseph and pray the Joseph Mysteries of the Rosary which I conceived of a few year ago.
I am delighted that my friend and brother Sodalist Fr Nevsky, chaplain up the road at Keble College, has extended the brief work I did, and his extended text is posted above as a PDF.
In this year of St Joseph may we all be blessed in our work. May those without work be blessed with work. May those whose work makes them miserable be liberated from their unhappiness. May we all see the spiritual life, our progress towards holiness as the greatest work of our lives and may St Joseph help us to dream dreams, sleep well, and imagine the impossible. May the holy craftsman pray for us as we craft our lives.
My post of a few years ago about the Jospeh mysteries together with the daily commemoration is re-produced below and is available here as a PDF.
Meanwhile here are photos of St Joseph in the sacro speco in Oxford.
Here’s a set of Joseph mysteries that I use and find helpful. I use them with the traditional prayers of the Rosary, but others could be prayed instead. One of the reasons for my own devotion to St Joseph is that we have such a negative attitude to work in our culture and to ‘craftsmanship’; I don’t think we can really educate children if they don’t believe that work is a good thing and that happiness in life might consist of more than winning Pop Idol, the Lottery or becoming a footballer. Joseph’s ‘hiddeness’ is a good counter-cultural symbol. As is his chastity in a society where being ‘a man’ is so coarsely associated with ‘having sex’.
Joseph is also a good patron for those who, as teachers or in other roles, look after children who are not their own. Finally, just using the word husband – and I always commemorate ‘Joseph, husband of Mary’ in the Eucharistic Prayer – is good in raising the profile of marriage.
Mysteries of Saint Joseph
1 Joseph descended from David
2 Joseph the Just Man
3 Joseph following a dream takes Mary as his wife
4 Joseph warned in a dream takes Mary and Jesus into Egypt
5 Joseph the Carpenter
Here is a daily commemoration of Saint Joseph that can be prayed after the Office each working day:
Hymn to Saint Joseph
Joseph true servant, trusted by the Father,
from whom Christ learnt a human Father’s kindness,
pray we may know and reverence God at all times
in the defenceless.
Joseph, true workman, teaching Word incarnate
patience and pride in honest labour finished,
show us who work, God’s plan for skill and service
in every calling
Joseph true saint, your Sanctity unsought for
won in you doubt and suffering and struggle,
pray we keep faith in every tribulation
till God shines clearly.
V. This is a wise and faithful servant.
R. Whom the master placed in charge of his household.
God our Father,
you willed that your Son,
under Joseph’s authority,
should experience daily life and human work.
By the prayers of Saint Joseph,
help us to sanctify the present moment,
to be concerned for our neighbour
and be faithful to the tasks of every day.
hear us, through Christ our Lord.
Saint Joseph, husband of Mary: Pray for us.
Saint Joseph, patron of workers: Pray for us.
Saint Joseph, the craftsman: Pray for us.
Alternative hymns of Saint Joseph from New Camaldoli, Lauds and Vespers:
– A –
O hidden saint of silent ways,
we do not know a word you spoke;
but deeds not words were all your strength
when to your calling you awoke.
Come as it might, you heard God’s word
and never stopped to count the cost
content to be his instrument,
and count your reputation lost.
Incarnate Lord, who came to save,
show us by Joseph’s prayer anew
the secrets of your darker ways;
keep us in life and dying true.
We have so little word of you;
how hidden, Joseph was your life.
yet what you chose to do speaks much,
in taking Mary as your wife.
The dreams you honoured led your soul;
you never stopped to count the cost,
content to listen and to act
than fear your reputation lost.
How often had you thought you’d failed
the flight by night, the life-long fears?
Yet quietly you stood your ground,
and, faithful, laboured through the years.
Lord Jesus, formed and fathered well
by one so faithful and so free;
may we not flee life’s darker days,
but live them fully, trustingly.