'Befriending St. Joseph', and imagining his silent sorrows
On March 17, St. Patrick may get all the noisy notice, but just two days later, Catholics celebrate the solemnity of St. Joseph — spouse of Mary, stepfather to Jesus, and patron saint of the universal church, fathers, workers, travelers — just to name a few. (At least, most years, it's two days later. This year, the church observes St. Joseph's feast day on Monday, March 20, since the Lenten Sunday takes precedence in the calendar.) In "Befriending St. Joseph: Finding Faith, Hope and Courage in the Seven Sorrows Devotion" (Ave Maria Press, 2022), Deacon Greg Kandra was challenged to find a way to speak of — and perhaps for — this saint of silence. He talked with OSV News about that project.
OSV News: Was "Befriending Joseph" born out of a relationship with Joseph, or was a relationship born of the assignment?
Deacon Greg Kandra: I'd been sort of indifferent about St. Joseph. Like many Catholics, I saw him as that plaster figure over on the side altar, and had a hard time thinking about him as anything more than a silent carpenter. But when Ave Maria Press approached me about this book, it was near the end of the Year of St. Joseph, and he'd been getting a lot of attention. That already had me wondering whether there was more to Joseph than I knew, and it helped give the book its shape.
OSV News: What are the seven sorrows of St. Joseph?
Deacon Kandra: Basically, they parallel the seven sorrows of Mary. They're moments from Joseph's life in which he experienced great sorrow that was later transformed into joy — wrestling with whether to divorce Mary; seeing Jesus born in poverty; having to flee with his family to Egypt, etc. As for the devotion itself, the story goes that two Franciscans nearly died in a shipwreck and prayed fervently to St. Joseph to rescue them. He appeared to them, guided them to safety and asked them to reflect on the seven sorrows of his life. The Seven Sorrows Devotion is the result. This book is really a new take on that, for a contemporary audience.
OSV News: Silence is always a challenge, right? How did Joseph's scriptural silence challenge you with this project?
Deacon Kandra: The interesting thing about Joseph is how, in his silence, he shows us who he is. He shows us a type of fidelity, prayerfulness and discipleship just by "doing." He doesn't have to say a word — it's all in the choices he makes and the path he follows, and so much of it is rooted in holy trust. He listened to angels and basically thought, "OK. Whatever you say. I'm on board." How many of us can do that today? He really was one of the first to "let go and let God," and his simple faithfulness and obedience models a powerful way of following God's will.
OSV News: You were forced to tap into your imagination to write parts of this book, bringing the reader into Joseph's world. This was a different kind of writing for you, wasn't it?
Deacon Kandra: A lot of this involved, kind of, prayerfully imagining what might have been. Again, challenging, but it was actually a great spiritual exercise. But it did feel risky, writing in sort of novelistic fashion to help round out the life of Joseph — putting myself in his sandals, so to speak. I wasn't sure about it but, to my relief, my editor liked it and encouraged me to follow the impulse. From there it almost wrote itself. It was liberating, really, and I'm so grateful at the responses I've gotten from readers.
OSV News: Has completing the book impacted your regard for Joseph, now?
Deacon Kandra: Oh yeah. He's become my go-to guy! I turn to him a lot when I feel insecure, or if I'm anxious about starting something new, or just feeling unable to trust God's will for my life. Writing about Joseph and what he went through has brought me a sense of purpose and peace that I've come to treasure.
OSV News: With the book, you've helped us to better know St. Joseph — and possibly given the church a classic reference for him. Who would you like to write about next?
Deacon Kandra: It might be interesting to tackle the life of another deacon, St. Stephen. We know so little about him, but he's venerated as the first martyr and a patron saint of deacons. Was he married? Did he have a family? What led him to that fateful moment when he gave his life for the Lord? Maybe there's a "Befriending St. Stephen" in my future. I also have a long-aborning labor of love that I need to do: a book about Thomas Merton and his impact on my life and vocation, filtered through the lens of New York City. Maybe I need to just go off to a monastery with my laptop for a year and get these done! My wife would probably appreciate having me out of the house.
By Elizabeth Scalia, culture editor for OSV News.