The Christmas season and the preparations leading up to it are such a fantastic time of year in our family. One of our favorite activities is watching Christmas movies and every year we seem to re-watch the Christmas-themed romantic comedy, “While You Were Sleeping.” This year, when we watched this movie yet again, it was the title of the movie that struck me. In the midst of the pandemic, I happened to read an article about a statue that Pope Francis keeps on his desk, a statue of St. Joseph lying down with his head on a pillow.
Pope Francis actively promotes devotion to the sleeping St. Joseph and said in a message to families in the Philippines in 2015: “I have great love for St. Joseph, because he is a man of silence and strength. On my table, I have an image of St. Joseph sleeping. Even when he is asleep, he is taking care of the church.” There are several aspects of this devotion that we can learn a great deal from, especially for our marriages and families.
In Scripture, Joseph had four instances where the Lord sent a message in a dream instructing him about God’s will for himself and the Holy Family. St. Joseph is known for these dreams, but Pope Francis emphasized that he wasn’t a “dreamer.” In a homily about St. Joseph (Dec. 18, 2018), the pope mentioned that he was a practical and very down-to-earth man. He was, in fact, a carpenter and must have developed many skills to do his work with great precision. The pope said: “Joseph had his feet on the ground, but he was open-minded.”
This idea of an open mind to God’s will is one of the things we can learn from Joseph’s example. In each of the Scripture passages describing the dreams, we see that Joseph had a plan. An open heart to God’s will allowed him to change his plans and more effectively do the work God was calling him to do. This was not an easy task, especially for someone who may have been used to plans and structure. This openness to God’s will is a vital skill for all of our families as we set forth into the uncertainties of a new year.
A second aspect we can meditate on is the notion of resting in God. I know from experience that worries and heartaches can keep me up throughout the night. It takes great faith to put all those things aside and lay one’s head down and get true rest. Sitting in the silence and offering our worries up to the Lord can be done easily at night, in a quiet room in our home, an adoration chapel or at church. The act of quieting ourselves and listening to the whispers of the heart, where the Lord could be speaking, is a beautiful practice to do in the quiet of these winter months and beyond.
For St. Joseph, sleeping also meant trusting in God. Because he was a prayerful man, Joseph knew when God spoke to him that he could trust what was being revealed. Building our relationship with God will help us to hear his voice better and know the difference between our own thoughts and what God could be telling us in silence.
Joseph’s dreams did not remain as sweet thoughts. They prompted him to action. He trusted what he heard in his heart and acted on it. This is also a fantastic quality to take into the New Year as we look into the months ahead and discern where the Lord may be leading our marriages and our families. We can build up our ability to hear God’s word better and learn how to trust that God will be with us every step of the way.
Although the uncertainties of the New Year may keep you up at night, let us take to heart this Christmas season the beautiful example of the sleeping St. Joseph. May Christ open our hearts to God’s will for our marriages and families, allow us to truly find rest amongst our anxieties and, when we recognize the promptings of God, may we have the strength to act on them.
Pope Francis is said to place his intentions under the statue of the sleeping St. Joseph. Because of this, Joseph sleeps on a mattress of prayers. As we continue celebrating the year of St. Joseph in our diocese, may we ask good St. Joseph to protect and intercede for all of our marriages and families.
Tremblay is marriage and life ministries director for the Diocese of Green Bay.