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The Dry Wood – The Eighth Sorrow of Mary: The Death of Joseph

Ave Maria!

With great joy we announce the debut of Hilda Nicolosi’s new column The Dry Wood on AirMaria. Hilda has many years of experience on the forefront of such issues as the ERA and Abortion. As a housewife and mother she has experienced the full range of what is most precious about womanhood and has a burning zeal for preserving the God-given treasure of family life. We are looking forward to her contributions.

-Fra Roderic Mary

The Eighth Sorrow of Mary:

The Death of St. Joseph

by Hilda C. Nicolosi

A most treasured devotion for generations of Catholics is the honoring of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Each of these prayerful recollections is followed by a Hail Mary:

The prophecy of Simeon
The flight into Egypt
The loss of Jesus in the Temple
The meeting of Jesus and Mary on Calvary
The Crucifixion
The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross
The burial of Jesus

Many blessings and graces are assured to those who will pause each day to recall Mary’s sorrows. We draw near to her in a direct and personal way by this devotion because we realize how truly human she was and is.

Our Lady richly deserves the numberless exalted titles that she herself has revealed to us over the centuries. Endless too are the numbers of devoted petitioners who are drawn by her constant love and interest in human affairs. She remains accessible to each of her children without qualification.

Pondering the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady brings us to a deeper appreciation for her very human existence: we see that she is most assuredly within our reach because she has lived, like us, with a multitude of problems. As we consider the dimension of her sufferings, the awesome magnitude of her love for each of us becomes more and more real. Her personal experiences include most of our worst fears.

Indeed, we steel ourselves when we receive the ominous phone call, letter, or telegram – perhaps the unexpected visit from someone who we instinctively realize has bad news for us. Mary has been through these trials we feel so keenly. Even as she held her tiny Infant to her breast, Simeon’s prophecy reveals to her the dire news of future disasters.

The flight into Egypt was precipitated by the action of the government: Herod’s order that all boys aged two and under were to be slaughtered to ensure his primacy on the throne. Imagine Joseph’s horror, that the long-anticipated and awaited Messiah, this beautiful little boy they loved so much, was the direct object of a merciless manhunt to the death. Joseph believed the message conveyed to him to flee and acted at once in obedience. Imagine the Holy Family hurrying through the night in order to find a distant refuge, a place of safety. Government out of control reaping havoc in innocent people’s lives is something people of the twentieth century have witnessed worldwide. Even democracies, John Paul II reminded us, become tyrants when the weakest members are treated with contempt. Mary’s tears over the Holy Innocents certainly encompass the millions of aborted infants in our own time.

Those of us who have raised families can easily relate to the third sorrow, the loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple. How many times do our children tumble and fall despite our precautions? How many sleepless nights have we laid awake thinking of nearly missed accidents? How often has control over a child’s presence been reduced as he ventures boldly away from our protective circle?

“Your father and I have searched for you in sorrow.” Mary understands fully, as does Joseph. Losing our children in one way or another reminds us that they are only on loan to us from God.

It is here that I would suggest one other sorrow to be considered. After the recovery of Jesus in the temple, scripture tells us that the Holy Family returned to Nazareth where “the child grew in wisdom and strength” (Luke 2:52). Here was Joseph by Mary’s side, providing the simple needs of their family in the carpentry shop, instructing the Little One in his trade, protecting them both from harm, seeking out solutions for all of their own family difficulties – a constant and strong presence for Mother and Child. In summary, they were dependent upon him, by God’s holy plan.

We do not know when Joseph died, but we assume it was when Jesus was old and mature enough to take over the family responsibilities, providing for Mary until the time of His public life. Whenever it happened, his death was assuredly a great sorrow for both of them. Did they not both love Joseph and revere him as the one chosen by God Himself to care for them? Joseph had been Mary’s constant companion through her pregnancy to the divinely-ordered birth in Bethlehem, to his own departure from this life. She surely turned to Joseph to discuss every concern regarding the Child’s growth and welfare. Joseph must have shared with her the painful sense that in some way they had failed to fulfill this mission when Jesus absented Himself in the temple “to be about my Father’s work.” (Luke 2:49)

Now God ordains that Mary is to be a widow, and whatever comes after this point in her life she is to face without Joseph. This too is a wrenching sorrow – one we can ponder as an important part of her story.

Mary and Jesus tenderly bury Joseph, accepting by her fiat, “Be it done unto me according to your will,” the unknown, the future, the will of God. She pours out her thanksgiving to God for all the years and blessings she and Joseph shared together. We know that Mary was without sin, but we also know that she was not free from human suffering. Thus she suffered poignant loneliness after Joseph died. She without question looked to the day when she would be rejoined with him in the eternal Kingdom. In summary, they were real people, subject to the trials and misfortunes of human life, and so have true empathy and compassion for us in out daily struggles, and a loving desire to help us on our way!

Widows and widowers may turn to Mary, mindful of her full love and real understanding of their sorrow and difficulties. Statistics tell us that women tend to live longer then men; consequently there is a predominance of widows. It is a great sadness and awesome adjustment to make in one’s life, to carry on without one’s husband and life’s companion. It is equally difficult for the widower who loses his bride and must come to terms with single life again, his house empty without her presence. Both women and men struggle with this trial, often for years, before coming to terms with being alone. They can marvel at the generosity of the Blessed Mother, who desires to help them through this period, which she herself suffered.

Although none of us will have to witness our child condemned to crucifixion, the last four sorrows of Our Lady provide for deep reflection. We call to meditation her heart rendering suffering at the meeting with Jesus on His walk to Calvary, “her eyes spent with weeping” at what had already been done to Him, and at the crucifixion still to come. From the hour of the child’s birth, the most prevalent and constant fear of parents is to see their child in a state of injury and suffering, such that most parents completely forget themselves and are willing to assume the sufferings of their children if such trials occur.

Mary’s heart is broken when she meets her Son, the sword prophesied so accurately by Simeon, and she knows implicitly that she must submit her will to God’s. Were Joseph still alive, would he struggle against the authorities in an effort to save Jesus? Mary knows in her heart that this is part of God’s ordained plan. Joseph’s mission is accomplished before the crucifixion, and he was taken to await the glory of the Resurrection, and ultimately Mary’s Assumption.

Mary is alone in her grief, fulfilling this most grievous aspect of her words to the angel Gabriel. Those who lose a child know she understands their sorrow more than any other human being. The purity of her soul means that she can absorb the fullness of our sufferings. Throughout the horror of the crucifixion she remains steadfast at Calvary. When the tortured body of Christ is removed, she carefully cradles Him for the last time, removing the thorns from His sacred head, and she is there at the burial of her Son.

We see then that the worst of life’s problems have already been lived through by Mary. She is truly present for us – one who understands the wrenching sufferings tied to love. When we consider her eight sorrows, she teaches us not only to love her Son more, but also to love Joseph, her beloved spouse, and to petition him when we are in spiritual or temporal need. Joseph also appreciates more profoundly than anyone the nature and needs of daily family life. He, like Jesus and Mary, has sanctified the family. He is truly the man for our generation.

Joseph, beloved foster father of Jesus, beloved spouse of Mary, pray for us.

Ave Maria!

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