A Little Reflection on St Joseph and Sleep
You will know by now that this year has been declared a special jubilee of St Joseph. I thought that each month I would give a little reflection, so as not to let the year go by unmarked. I’m late starting: the year was declared on December 8th 2020! So this first reflection is for December.
In the month of December we always hear the Christmas story—a story in which St Joseph features prominently. He decides to take Mary as his wife, he realises he must go to Bethlehem to be registered, and then he flees to Egypt to protect the child from danger. St Joseph learns to do all these things while he is asleep! He comes to know the will of God in his dreams.
Satan fears the sleep of St. Joseph. The Devil, of course, is the one who will not do what God asks: arrogantly, the Devil says “I will not serve!” (Jer 2:20). So the Devil falls. He is no longer an angel of light but through disobedience, has become the Prince of Darkness.
We are familiar with the obedience of Our Lady. “Be it done to me according to Your word,” is what she says to the Archangel Gabriel. Her obedience reverses the disobedience of the Devil and all who follow his lies. Mary’s ready and obedient “yes” brings light into the world, Our Saviour.
But what of Saint Joseph’s part in the story? Well we are told that Joseph “had made up his mind” to divorce Mary and go his own way when, while asleep he had a dream. In sleep, he learns to become compliant to God’s will. When he wakes from his sleep the Scriptures tell us: “He did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him. The sleep of St Joseph, his rest, makes all the difference. Through sleep he comes to know God’s will and hence the story of our salvation unfolds (Mt 1:20, 2:13, 19 and 22).
According to the New Testament, St Joseph’s sleep is prayer. It is while asleep that his soul becomes open to God’s grace and can be moulded to do God’s will. St Joseph is not so instantly obedient as Mary but in the mysterious realm of sleep, he comes to know and understand the will of God—to let God have more control of his life.
In recent times, a devotion to St Joseph, under the title of “Sleeping St. Joseph,” has been encouraged by Pope Francis. You will hear more of this is the weeks ahead and perhaps as a parish we can begin this devotion in our Jubilee Year?
The French poet, Charles Peguy wrote about the importance of sleep in an incredible poem called “The Window of the Mystery of Hope”. He saw sleep as the window through which God pours hope and encouragement into our hearts. While we rest God gives us confidence and strength to do his will.
“Just sleep! Why don’t people make use of it? I’ve given this secret to everyone, says God. I haven’t sold it! The one who sleeps well, lives well. The one who sleeps, prays.”
The sleep of St Joseph can teach us modern people important lessons about life. One of the most important lessons is that it is good and right to rest. St Joseph, the worker, was not a workaholic, he liked rest, loved sleep. Sleep refreshes the soul.
God communicates to us most effectively when we relinquish control—sleep and suffering are two occasions when we let his word come through.
In the next couple of weeks I’ll distribute one or two things you will need to start a simple devotion to the Sleeping St Joseph. Until then, take it easy and wait to see what the angels of the Lord might say to you while you slumber.
The picture is of the oil painting “Joseph’s Dream” by Gaetano Gandolfi, ca. 1790.