Blason  Abbey of Saint-Joseph de Clairval

21150 Flavigny-sur-Ozerain

France


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August 15, 2000
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary


Dear Friend of Saint Joseph Abbey,

On October 13, 1917, at Fatima, Portugal, a great miracle occurred: The sun danced in the heavens for a dozen minutes in front of 70,000 people, in the course of an apparition of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary to three children: Lucy, Jacinta and Francisco. This incredible event, which had been announced beforehand, lent credence to the words of the Virgin on the necessity to pray the Rosary and to do penance for sins. While the crowd watched in awe as the sun moved, and believed that the end of the world was at hand, the three children saw Saint Joseph holding the Child Jesus who was blessing the world. Through this vision, Our Lady showed the little visionaries the importance of the role of Saint Joseph for the salvation of the world.

Some fifty years before, on September 20, 1870, an army of 60,000 Piedmontese, under the orders of the Sardinian King Victor Emmanuel II, entered Rome, the capital of Christianity, and deprived the Venerable Pius IX1 of the temporal sovereignty that the bishops of Rome had enjoyed since the time of Charlemagne. At this critical hour, the Pope and the Catholic world were deeply troubled, unable to see how the Church could remain free from political impediments under such circumstances. Wishing to confide the future of the Church to Divine Mercy, Pius IX placed it under the special protection of Saint Joseph, whom he declared to be «Patron of the Catholic Church.»

Saint Joseph is the «chosen protector.» Indeed, «Joseph was the guardian, the steward, the teacher, and the head of the family in which God the Son wished to live on earth. He was, in a word, the protector of Jesus. And the Church, in its wisdom, has concluded: if he was the protector of the body, of the physical and historical life of Christ, then certainly in Heaven Joseph «would be the guardian of the Mystical Body of Christ, that is to say, of the Church» (Paul VI, March 19, 1968). Pope John Paul II stated that the patronage of Saint Joseph «should be invoked and it is always necessary for the Church, not only to defend it against dangers which are always arising, but also and above all to support it in its redoubled efforts of evangelization of the world and of the new evangelization of countries and nations where Christian religion and life were at one time extremely prosperous and which are now put to test» (Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris custos, August 15, 1989, No. 29).

At first glance, Saint Joseph appears to be a very self effacing character. Pope Paul VI said, «Seen in the light of the Gospel accounts, Joseph is presented to us with marked characteristics of extreme humility: a modest and poor workman, obscure, with nothing remarkable about him, who doesn't even speak in the Gospels themselves. The Gospels report nothing that he said and are content to speak of his attitude, of his conduct, of what he did, all in a silent reserve and perfect obedience» (March 19, 1965).

At our feet

But in reality, Saint Joseph is an incomparable and very approachable teacher: «Joseph was at every moment and in an exemplary fashion, an unsurpassable guardian, assistant and master… Consider his humility. It appears to us to be so brotherly and, we might say, close to our own fragile, mediocre, negligible and sinful natures! How easily one enters into intimacy with a saint who is in no way intimidating, who puts no distance between himself and us and who even, with an unselfishness that amazes us, places himself at our feet as if to say: you see the lowly state which has been assigned to me! Indeed, it is precisely to this lowly level, to this inexpressible submission, that the Lord of Heaven and earth lowered Himself and that He wished to honor by making it the object of His choice and in preferring it to all other human values» (ibid.). In addition, Saint Joseph is «the proof that in order to be a good and true disciple of Christ, it is not necessary to accomplish great things; it is enough to have common virtues which are human, simple, but authentic» (ibid., March 19, 1969).

In the course of history, numerous saints have turned to Saint Joseph to sing his glories, to implore his protection and to imitate his virtues. Thus, Sister Maria Repetto, a Brignoline nun, whom Pope John Paul II beatified on October 4, 1981, had a limitless trust in Saint Joseph. The daughter of a notary, Maria Repetto was the oldest of a family of eleven children. Born on October 31, 1807, in Voltaggio, northwest of Genoa (Italy), she was baptized on the same day. The Repetto parents transmitted to their children a deep faith and the love of the poor. Four of their daughters would become nuns and a son would be ordained a priest. On May 7, 1829, Maria presented herself to the convent of the Daughters of Our Lady of Refuge (called «Brignolines»), at Bisagno (near Genoa) in order to enter into religious life. On August 15, 1829, she received the habit and, two years later, pronounced her vows. Sister Maria observed the rule of the Brignolines with exceptional fidelity, humble and simple, calm and edifying. She was first employed in sewing: this work permitted the Sisters to provide for the material needs of the convent. They embroidered tablecloths, shirts or rich vestments with threads of silk and gold, which they sold to the fortunate people who argued among themselves to obtain them, so perfect was the work. The excellent quality of this work came from the love that the Sisters put into it, in imitation of Saint Joseph. Pope John Paul II has written that one of the expressions of love in the life of the Family of Nazareth was work. The Gospel story specifies by which type of work Joseph provided for the material needs of the Family: that of a carpenter… The obedience of Jesus in the house at Nazareth is also understood as a participation in Joseph's work. He who was called the «son of the carpenter» had learned the work of His adoptive father (Redemptoris custos, No. 22-23). Jesus learned from Saint Joseph to work perfectly: «In the human growth of Jesus in wisdom, in size and in grace, one virtue played an important part: professional integrity» (ibid.).

Patron of diplomats

The painstaking work of Sister Maria, along with the mortification that she imposed upon herself, considerably weakened her sight, and so she was entrusted with the duties of portress. It is easy to open a door, but it is difficult to be a good portress in a religious convent, because that person must play the role of intermediary between the life of the convent and that of the outside world. The portress takes care that nothing unsuitable passes to the interior. On the other hand, she brings spiritual comfort and aid to the people on the outside. Thus it is necessary for that person to be diplomatic, and Sister Maria turned to Saint Joseph as the patron of diplomats.

The Venerable John XXIII, whose heroic virtues were recognized by Pope John Paul II on December 20, 1999, also considered Saint Joseph to be a model for diplomats. At the time of his nomination as Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria, Monsignor Roncalli, the future John XXIII, told Cardinal Gasparri that he had chosen the feast of Saint Joseph in order to receive the episcopal consecration «because this saint must be, it seems, the best teacher and patron of diplomats of the Holy See.» The Cardinal replied, «Oh really! I didn't expect such an answer.» Monsignor Roncalli answered, «But nevertheless, you see, your Eminence: to know how to obey, to know how to be quiet, to speak when necessary, with measured words and with reserve, that is the role of the diplomat of the Holy See, and it is also that of Saint Joseph. It was he who departed suddenly out of obedience to travel to Bethlehem; he undertook to find shelter, then watched over the grotto; a week after the birth of Jesus, he carried out the Jewish rite which consecrated the membership of the newborn to the chosen people; then there he is receiving with honor the Magi, those splendid ambassadors from the Orient, there he is again on the road to Egypt, then returning to Nazareth, always obedient and silent; as events unfold, he presents and hides Jesus, defends Him and nourishes Him. As for himself, he is always self-effaced and remains in the shadow of the mysteries of the Lord, over which, in each event, an angel cast a subtle and fleeting glow of heavenly light.»

In her own way, Sister Maria imitated the example of Saint Joseph. She received visitors with grace and kindliness, never letting anyone depart without a kind word. A sort of attraction came from her composure which inspired trust and respect. Angelic as her patience was, it did not come naturally to her. She herself repeated: «It is necessary to go against the grain,» thanks to prayer and sacrifice. In spite of impolite behavior, stormy events and troubles, she worked at preserving her smile. Every day, there were ten or twenty people who rang the bell, but the last one to do so found her just as amiable as the first.

«Saint Joseph has been touched»

She had complete trust in Saint Joseph. She never ceased to advise recourse to him. When someone asked something difficult of her, she would first go pray before the statue of Saint Joseph, in the corridor next to the entrance to the convent, then return and give the answer that the person was waiting for. One day, the mother of a young woman of 21 came complaining, very upset that her daughter, who had lost the faith, was going to die without being reconciled to God. Sister Maria answered, «I can't do anything about it.» The visitor begged her: «Pray to Saint Joseph!» The reply: «I have prayed to him, nothing can be done.» But suddenly, raising her eyes to Heaven, she said: «Listen: Saint Joseph has been touched. The grace has been granted. Go home. Father N. will take care of everything.» Arriving at the bedside of the dying woman, the visitor indeed found this priest that the sick woman had called to administer the sacraments to her.

Another day, it was a wife who asked for prayers for her husband who had gone blind. Sister advised her to pray to Saint Joseph, then she went to her room and turned the picture of the saint towards the wall, saying: «Try yourself to see what it means to be in the dark.» The next day the woman returned and said that suddenly her husband's sight had returned. Sister Maria quickly ran to her room and turned the picture back around, simply saying: «Thank you, Saint Joseph!» Her behavior, which might seem a bit surprising, shows her complete childlike freedom with respect to the great saint.

To carry out her apostolate, Sister Maria kept at hand medals of Saint Joseph, which she distributed widely. She also frequently gave away «Giuseppini» («little Saint Josephs»): representations of Saint Joseph, of fabric or paper, of an inch or so in size. One woman came asking for prayers after she had undergone a delicate operation with a wound that was not healing. Sister Maria answered, «Put a Giuseppino on the sore spot. I will pray to Saint Joseph and he will cure you.» Soon after, the prayer was heard: the wound stopped suppurating and a scar formed. Numerous other cures were obtained in the same way.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, «The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church's sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross, the rosary, medals, etc. These expressions of piety extend the liturgical life of the Church, but do not replace it» (1674-1675). Through the use of medals, the faithful place themselves under the protection of the saints that are depicted on them; they are disposed to trust in them, and the prayers that they address to them can obtain numerous graces.

Miserly selfishness, or provident charity?

The veneration of Sister Maria for Saint Joseph led her to use worldly goods in a spirit of poverty. Pope Paul VI said, «With the poor and laboring Saint Joseph, busy like ourselves in making a living in order to survive, we will think that thrift is also worthy of our consideration as Christians, on the condition that it is not considered as an end in itself, but as a means of sustaining life oriented toward ends of a higher level; on the condition of not being the object of a miserly selfishness, but the impetus and source of a provident charity; also on the condition of not being meant to get us out of working ourselves or of favoring an easy and soft enjoyment of the so called pleasures of life, but on the contrary of being honestly and widely given out for the benefit of all. The hardworking and worthy poverty of this evangelical Saint is still today an excellent guide to find the footsteps of Christ in our modern world» (March 19, 1969).

Sister Maria imitated the humble Christ. She never wore a new habit but rather wore the clothes that had been discarded by other sisters, which she fitted to herself. She said, «It is a luxury to wear new clothes when the old ones are good enough.» She also showed her love of poverty by the care that she took for the indigents that came to her. Never had so many poor people asked for help at the Brignoline convent until the time when Sister Repetto became the portress. Not being able to shower the poor with large gifts, she gave what she had of bread or other food, clothes, and spare change. In the refectory she set up a collection box which carried the following inscription: «For Sister Repetto's poor» and the other Sisters likewise helped her to meet the needs of the unfortunate. She also asked for help from her Mother Superior, from the trustees of the convent and from well off people who came to the convent. Receiving with one hand, she gave out with the other.

From the moment her ear had heard...

But the care that she showed to the poor was not always well understood in her community and it led to some problems. Thus, one day her Mother Superior asked her to no longer act as portress. Sister Maria thought, «It is my sins that led to this.» But she humbly submitted to the Divine Will shown through her Mother Superior. Saint Benedict wrote, «Obedience without delay is becoming of those who hold nothing dearer to them than Christ. Because of the holy service which they have professed, the fear of Hell, and the glory of life everlasting, as soon as anything has been ordered by the superior, they receive it as a divine command and cannot suffer any delay in executing it. Of these the Lord says: No sooner did he hear than he obeyed me (Ps 17:45); again, He tells teachers: Whoever listens to you, listens to me (Lk 10:16)… Assuredly such as these imitate that saying of the Lord wherein He says: I have come not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me (Jn 6:38)» (Rule, ch. 5). No longer being solicited by visitors, Sister Maria spent more time in prayer in the chapel. But a few months later, the role of portress was again entrusted to her. By following the Divine Will, she was imitating the remarkable example of Saint Joseph.

Pope Paul VI said on March 19, 1968, «Saint Joseph's characteristic adherence to the will of God is the example on which we must meditate today. We see in Saint Joseph an amazing docility, an exceptional promptness in obedience and execution. He didn't debate the situation, did not hesitate, did not claim any of his rights or hopes… Joseph accepted his destiny because it had been told to him: Do not be afraid to take to thee Mary thy wife, for that which is begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit. And Joseph was obedient. Later on, he would be ordered: you must leave because the newborn Savior is in danger. And he faced a long journey across the burning desert, without resources or any knowledge of the places, exiled in a foreign and pagan land; still faithful and attentive to the voice of the Lord, who next would order him to take the road back. Hardly having returned to Nazareth, he again took up his daily routine as a craftsman,» alternating between work and prayer. Likewise, Sister Maria, outside of her duties as portress, spent her time in prayer. Always reserved, she ceaselessly conversed with God, even while in the corridors of the convent. Without the least affectation, but in a breath of love, she uttered the names of Jesus and Mary. She meditated ardently on the Passion and daily recited the Way of the Cross. In order to pray well, she entrusted herself to Saint Joseph, because «this heavenly protector favors, in a striking fashion, the spiritual advancement of souls who turn to him,» wrote Saint Teresa of Avila (Autobiography, chap. 6). The reformer of Carmel also wrote: «Knowing through long experience the amazing esteem God shows toward Saint Joseph, I would like to convince everyone to honor him with a particular devotion. Up until now, I have always seen people who had a true and sustained devotion to him through good works make progress in virtue… So I am happy, for the love of God, to beseech those who wouldn't believe me to test it for themselves; they will see through experience how helpful it is to trust in this glorious patriarch, and to honor him with special devotion. People of prayer above all should always love him with childlike tenderness… May the person who cannot find anyone to teach him how to pray choose this admirable saint as their teacher; they will not have to fear becoming lost under his guidance» (ibid.).

The incomparable teacher of prayer, Saint Joseph is also the «guardian of virgins» and protector of conjugal chastity. Chosen by God to become Mary's husband, he was endowed with a purity more dazzling than that of the sun. The Most Blessed Virgin also gave herself to him with total sureness as the guardian of her virginity. Likewise, Sister Maria entrusted her virginal consecration to the powerful protection of Saint Joseph. She also prayed zealously to him for the conversion of sinners. The health of souls was of foremost importance to her. When some sick people were entrusted to her, she answered: «The first grace to ask for is the salvation of the soul.» In order to make her prayer more effective, she performed penance. It pleased the Good Lord to reveal to this simple and humble soul certain events that would occur in the future. For example, one particular family had not received any news of their son Bartholomew for over a year. His mother sent her daughter to Sister Maria, who went to pray in the church before the picture depicting Saint Joseph, then she returned with a joyful attitude: «You asked me for news of your brother: he is already in Genoa and is waiting for you.» On another occasion, a certain Sister Emmanuelle asked her when the foundress of the convent, Virginia Centurione, would be placed on the altars. Sister Maria assured her: «One of her daughters will be honored before she is,» not realizing that in saying this she actually meant herself, otherwise she would not have said anything. Virginia Centurione was beatified, indeed, in 1985, four years after Maria Repetto.

Not yet!

In spite of work and penance, Sister Maria led her religious life for 60 years without ever being ill. But the years finally started catching up with her. On September 8, 1888, she asked the Lord to take her with Him to Paradise. He answered her: «I will take you, but you can't come yet; you must spend time in Purgatory.» She replied, «Leave me here until I am worthy of you.» At the infirmary, accepting her suffering with patience and serenity, she became worthy of Heaven. Every day Sister Maria received Holy Communion and remained deep in thought for a long time. To those who came to see her, she freely spoke of Paradise.

On January 5, 1890, Sister Maria had a mild convulsion. Shortly after, she opened her eyes, raised them up, and extended her arms while whispering with a smile: «Regina cæli, lætare, alleluia, (Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia!).» At last, she passed away: her soul was in Heaven in the infinite Love of the Trinity. On October 4, 1981, Pope John Paul II proclaimed her Blessed and said on that occasion: «Beyond opening the door of her convent, she opened her heart to all, in order to give always and everything to God and to the poor, in serenity and joy.»

Following the example of Blessed Maria Repetto, let us turn to Saint Joseph for all of our needs, earthly and spiritual, and let us work to imitate his virtues. Venerable John XXIII said on March 19, 1961: «Whoever wishes to be saved, to be secure in the house of the Father and to keep the precious gifts of nature and grace received from God, has only to follow the eternal teaching of the Gospel and the Church, of which the humble life of Saint Joseph offers us a most attractive example.» That is the grace that we wish for you.

Dom Antoine Marie osb.

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