Why is St. Joseph the patron of a happy death?
When Joe sings the famous song Old Man River in the musical, Showboat, a lot of people can relate to the line, “I’m tired of living and scared of dying.” But Catholics don’t need to fear death. In fact, in St. Joseph, whose feast day we celebrate March 19, we even have a patron saint who can help us obtain the grace of a happy death.
But why should Joseph, foster-father of Jesus, be the patron of the dying and a happy death? His other patronages make much more sense, considering how little we actually know about him. He’s patron of fathers and families, carpenters and other craftsmen, working people, the poor, and the Universal Church.
The Scriptures don’t tell us much about Joseph, and after the incident of losing – and then finding – Jesus in the Temple when he was 12 or 13, we read nothing more about Joseph. However, because Jesus entrusts Mary to one of His disciples at His crucifixion, we can make the assumption that Joseph died before Jesus fulfilled His mission on earth. For generations, Catholics have painted a picture of Joseph breathing his last with Mary and Jesus by his side to comfort him.
A fifth century apocryphal book, entitled The History of Joseph the Carpenter, tells that Joseph was afraid of dying and saddened that he hadn’t accomplished more in his life. Mary and Jesus comforted him and promised protection and life to everyone who did good in the name of Joseph. With those assurances, Joseph was able to die in peace and contentment – a happy death. By the 17th century, many Catholic groups had developed a special devotion to St. Joseph for those desiring a happy death.
St. Joseph didn’t need to be “scared of dying.” By the little we know about him from the Gospels, he was a caring man who loved his family, a faithful man who did what God wanted him to even when he didn’t completely understand what was going on, and a just man who lived honestly and humbly, working to support his wife and foster-child, fulfilling the laws of his religion, and quietly doing his duty.
Taking Joseph for our model, and asking for his intercession, we too can look forward to a happy death with Mary and Jesus by our side.
Prayer to St. Joseph (believed to be over 1900 years old):
O St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. O St. Joseph do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your heavenly power I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of fathers. O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me, and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen.