Several years ago, while I was rummaging through dusty old books in a barn in upstate Connecticut, I found a small treasure buried beneath a pile of dog-eared paperbacks. It was a religious book more than 130 years old titled St. Joseph, the Advocate of Hopeless Cases: New accounts of spiritual and temporal favors obtained by the all powerful mediation of this glorious patriarch.
The cloth cover was torn, but it had otherwise endured the century quite well, only to end up among the castaways at a used-book dealer’s. How could I resist buying a collection of miraculous stories about my patron saint, who has pulled my bacon out of the fire countless times throughout my life? Saint Joseph was always there when I needed him and asked for help. Sometimes I was so desperate, I was actually pleading and begging for help.
I bought the book, convinced that I, indeed, found it through the inspiration of my patron saint, who happened to be the patron saint of my father, Joseph, who was also a carpenter, and my mother Josephine. That’s a lot of Joes to have in one household, and on more than one occasion it led to a little confusion. I hasten to add that I received my sacraments at St. Joseph’s Parish and graduated from St. Joseph’s High School in Trumbull. I guess you could say the writing was on the wall. I’ve always believed in the power of St. Joseph’s intercession and have regularly prayed to him over family crises, personal needs, sick and dying friends and any of the many other petitions we have in life.
In the popular imagination, Saint Joseph is considered somewhat of a celestial real estate agent who will help you sell your house, and I’ve known more than one realtor who gave plastic statues of him to clients and encouraged them to pray for a speedy sale in a slow market.
But he’s much more than that. The old book, which offered proof of his influence in heaven, had story after story in which he came to the aid of desperate people. In addition, the author noted that Saint Joseph never failed to intercede for religious communities, particularly the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Carmelites and the Sisters of Charity.
Our home has always had a shrine in his honor, and I’ve been blessed to have statues of him from all over the world. And each year, we prepare for the Festa di San Giuseppe on March 19 with novenas and a large supply of zeppole, which are Italian pastries also known as St. Joseph cakes, made with fried dough and custard. It is a custom that started in Naples during the early 19th century.
Many saints have been devoted to the foster father of Jesus. Among the most noteworthy were Saint Brother André Bessette, an unassuming doorman at Notre Dame College in Quebec, whose inspiration led to the construction of St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal; and Saint Teresa of Avila, who entrusted the care of her Carmelite monastery to him after recovering from a serious illness through his intercession.
“I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to this glorious saint, for I’ve had great experience of the blessings that he can obtain from God,” Teresa wrote in her autobiography. “He gives real help to souls who commend themselves to him. For some years now, I have made a request of him every year on his festival, and I’ve always had it granted. If my petition is in any way ill directed, he directs it aright for my greater good.”
During the Jubilee Year in 2000, we took our four daughters to Montreal on a pilgrimage to St. Joseph’s Oratory. Even though they wanted to go shopping and sightseeing, we had other, more spiritual plans, and made sure they visited the shrine, where thousands of candles burn in the Votive Chapel, giving testimony to the love so many people have for the foster father of Jesus. And on the walls hang scores of crutches that were left behind because of miracles attributed to his intercession
Saint Joseph, as Brother Andre knew, is the advocate of hopeless cases, the physician of the physically and spiritually blind, an intercessor for the sick and dying, a champion for sinners and workers and a protector of Christian mothers and virgins, not to mention the patron of the universal church and the Archdiocese of Hartford.
Over the years, I’ve learned that he never lets a prayer go unanswered – and they’re always answered with your best interests in mind, whether you realize it or not. So pray to Saint Joseph. He won’t let you down.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.