Joseph’s Interior Life of Prayer and Contemplation (part 2)
Jul 16th, 2021 • 7 min
In order to taste the sweetness of contemplation, it was necessary for Arsenius, that solitary so famous in ecclesiastical history, to retire into the desert. “Fly, Arsenius; leave the world, and keep silence,” were the words by which the angel called him from the imperial court into solitude. But Joseph, toiling in his workshop, making laborious journeys, and daily treating for the purposes of his trade with persons of various classes, had his spirit always perfectly united to God and hidden in a mysterious solitude.
The spouse in the Canticles says that her spirit watched during her bodily repose: “I sleep, but my heart watcheth”. Joseph, on the contrary, might have said that his body watched while his spirit slept, for, according to the Father of the Church just quoted, while his exterior senses were occupied in those important affairs with which Heaven had charged him for the government of the noblest family which ever existed on earth, his spirit was always in a mystic sleep conversing with God, having been raised by contemplation above all created things, and separated from all the importunate ideas which sensible objects suggest; almost after the manner in which angels perform their offices on earth without losing either the memory or the savour of heavenly things.
The Archangel Gabriel, when treating with the Blessed Virgin of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, was not distracted from the contemplation of the Supreme Good; nor did Raphael cease to fix his eyes on God while acting as guide and companion to the young Tobias. Our Lord, indeed, expressly tells us that the angel-guardian of every little child beholds the face of His Father in Heaven. St. Athanasius lays it down as almost an impossibility that Joseph could for a moment turn away his mind from the contemplation of heavenly things.
The young Tobias, says St. Augustine, led his blind father by the hand to guide him on his way while that ancient saint taught his son the road to Heaven by his salutary counsels; but we may say, on the contrary, that, while Joseph guided Jesus on His journeys, his own soul was rapt into the empyrean by profound contemplation, to which the Divine Infant drew him.
How much we should love to know the nature of this high contemplation of our saint while he held Jesus in his arms! He does not tell us; he speaks not, either because his tongue is unable to describe the greatness of those things which God manifests to him, or because words must cease in the mouth of one whose spirit no longer discourses, since it has found its joy and perfect repose in one idea which occupies and fills it. If fervour of heart should unloose the tongue in contemplation, it will only be, says St. John Climacus, to form one word:
“Master!” exclaimed Magdalen, in the ecstasy which the sight of the risen Saviour caused her. “My Lord and my God!” were the sole words which the Apostle Thomas could utter when called to touch the wounds of Jesus. “O Goodness!” was St. Bruno’s ejaculation when in prayer. “My God and my all!” were the sole words which the tongue of the great St. Francis of Assisi could pronounce during his long and delicious contemplations. St, Louis, Bishop of Toulouse, spent his time of prayer in saying these three, words: “God suffices me”. It needed only the exclamation, “Charity!” to send St. Francis of Paula into an ecstasy; scarcely had he uttered it when his spirit was raised above all created things into closest union with God.
Thus we may believe that during his continual prayer Joseph could only say, “O Jesus, my Son!” and that in pronouncing these words his spirit would enter into the profoundest contemplation of the infinite perfections of the God-made-Man. If the prayer of the contemplative is, as we may say, only one word addressed to God, so also it is but one word that God on His part causes the contemplative soul to hear. Witness what the Evangelist relates of Jesus, who said only “Mary” when making Himself known to her who in her rapture could say only “Master”. In the same way we may imagine the Infant Saviour saying only to our contemplative saint, “Joseph, My father,” but in these words, accompanied with tender embraces, He says all things to him.
As we know that the Eternal Father and His Only Son have for the everlasting ages uttered but one single word, Each to Other, a word which exceeds all discourse, for it comprehends all things, and will continue to utter it for ever, a word which never ceases, but is repeated through eternity; so also the earthly father of Jesus and this beloved Son-made-Man spoke few words during the long period of their association, but undoubtedly they treated each other as father and son; and, in saying this, we say what furnishes abundant matter for contemplation, and, indeed, it contains more than we are able to grasp or comprehend; for it would be necessary to penetrate into the very depths of the interior of Joseph’s soul as well as that of our Divine Lord to understand its full signification.
St. John the Evangelist enjoyed for a brief hour a blissful ecstasy while reclining on the Bosom of the Saviour, but how many times did not the Saviour Himself take His repose on that of Joseph, and sleep sweetly in his arms! Every kind of divine and human light inclosed in the Heart of the Saviour must, in a sense, have been infused into the soul of Joseph, when He thus lovingly reposed in his embrace. “Come ye to Him and be enlightened,” says the Royal Prophet. But how could Joseph approach nearer to Him? He has Him in his arms, resting on his bosom. Jesus, then, does not treat Joseph merely as a friend, to which privilege He admitted His Apostles, communicating to them some of His secrets, but as a father, raising his spirit to understand the highest mysteries; so that, if we are to credit St. Bernardine, we must place the incomparable Joseph at the head of all the greatest contemplatives, since he lived in a continual state of contemplation, in its most exalted form.
His life was, therefore, a life of divine illumination; and, if the Israelites could not endure to look on the face of Moses when he came down from converse with God on the Mount by reason of its dazzling brightness, so we may conceive that the very angels themselves beheld with astonishment the radiance of Joseph’s countenance, when, raising his spirit to God by contemplation, God came to him in resplendent beams of light, imparting to him a thousand extraordinary gifts for the perfect illumination of his soul.
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