In the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria (Our Lady of Victory) in Rome resides Bernini’s stunning sculpture The Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Directly across from this statue appears The Dream of St. Joseph, sculpted by Bernini’s lesser known contemporary Domenico Guido.
Guido remarkably depicts St. Joseph as a man of great strength through his larger-than-life size and muscular features. An angel touches Joseph’s left shoulder, coming to him in his dream to assure him that he should “not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home” (Matthew 1:20b). At his feet lies a large lily, a symbol of purity often associated with St. Joseph. He is a man strong, pure and wise, chosen specifically by God the Father to be the earthly father of His Son and the spouse of His Mother.
But when I first saw this sculpture in Rome, more than being struck by St. Joseph’s fatherhood of Jesus, I was struck by the fact that St. Joseph is my father, too. His gentle but strong presence is there to guide me and guard me. In fact, I have him to thank that I was able to see this image of him in person at all.
I have not always had a strong devotion to St. Joseph. But in March, I heard about a new book being released called Consecration to St. Joseph by Fr. Donald Calloway. When I first heard about consecrating oneself to St. Joseph, I thought, “That would change my life.” I believe this thought must have been from the Holy Spirit, for it has certainly proved to be true.
I began a brief preparation of nine days before consecrating myself to St. Joseph. (I would later do a full 33-day preparation with Fr. Calloway’s book.) By the time I completed the novena preparation and made the consecration, school had been closed due to the pandemic, and I was struggling to teach 10- and 11-year-olds online. Soon we started putting in place extra precautions at the convent as well. Before long, it became clear that we would not be teaching in person for the remainder of the school year. There were definitely points during all of this when I prayed, “St. Joseph, when I thought, ‘That would change my life,’ I wouldn’t have imagined anything like this!”
But there were life-changing graces at work, too. I began praying a short renewal of consecration to St. Joseph prayer each morning, so each day was marked by his quiet but strong fatherly presence. Through this and other graces God gave, a deeper trust and a deeper peace grew in my soul during the next several months. And three months after I first consecrated myself to St. Joseph, I received a new assignment — to study in Rome. But the already complicated paperwork process to study abroad for a year was made even more complicated because of the pandemic. When I asked for a Sister’s prayers for this process, she told me she would pray to St. Joseph that if Jesus wanted me to get there, I would. St. Joseph worked miracle upon miracle — although not without continuing to grow trust in his Son in my soul, for I received all the paperwork I needed only five days before my intended departure.
Consecration to St. Joseph changed my life not only through the cross or even through being in Rome, but also and most importantly in drawing me closer to Jesus in loving trust and surrender and in the peace that comes from finding Him and accepting His will in all things. And this is the kind of life-changing experience St. Joseph wants to give to each of us every day; just like his Spouse, Mary, he only and always brings us to Jesus. May we allow St. Joseph to lead us, in conversion and surrender, ever closer to the Heart of his Son.
Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.