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St Joseph, Husband of Mary
Patron of the Universal Church and of happy deaths, (entered heaven this day sometime in the first century)
Difficulties praying? Not to worry. There are solutions. I can tell you some of them, but it won’t make a hoot of a difference unless you decide to put them into practice. Are you ready for that? Since you wrote to me about it, I assume you are. So, here goes.
First of all, I should say that I’m not making these up myself. These are tried and true principles of prayer that the Church has inculcated in its faithful for centuries. In fact, they go back to the very beginnings of the Church, to the life of its universal patron, St Joseph himself (who just happens to be today’s saint).
The key to fruitful prayer can be summed up in one word: listening. Prayer is a conversation. If you do all the talking, the conversation will break down. You have got to develop the habitual attitude of listening in order to grow in your prayer life. But there’s a problem here: that attitude is dangerous. We all know deep down that if we listen to God, he will probably ask us to do things that appear difficult, or uncomfortable. That’s because love is satisfied only with the best for the beloved, and the best is usually not the most comfortable – at least, not in this fallen world. So putting on the habitual attitude of listening requires deciding beforehand that whatever God asks you to do, you’re going to do it: it requires the virtue of humility, of obedience to God’s will.
That was St Joseph’s great characteristic. He was always ready to obey. Scripture shows him as the man who was always obeying God’s will, even though God’s will was always burdensome for him. He had to marry a woman who got pregnant out of wedlock; he had to live in perpetual continence; he had to support his family on little income (we know he was poor because of he and Mary offered two doves when they presented Jesus in the temple instead of a lamb); he had to shelter his wife in a cave when she was going to give birth; he had to flee at night on the spur of the moment across the desert to Egypt with a newborn baby and its mother; he had to come back a couple years later only to flee again from Judea to Galilee in order to avoid another tyrant’s potential wrath… God was always asking him to take the narrow road. And Joseph always obeyed, because he was always ready to obey, because he understood that God was God, and that he himself was not God.
And that’s the basic attitude that will help your prayer more than anything. When you pray, you are lifting your heart and mind to God. Prayer is first and foremost about God, not your feelings. It’s a conversation. God wants to hear what you have to say, but he also wants you to hear what he has to say. And if you’re not ready to listen, he’s not going to say anything. He is not rude: he’ll let you blab on and on until you bore yourself into abandoning prayer altogether, though it will hurt him to let you do so. He’ll try to edge in a word here and there, when you stop to take a breath, but if you’re not ready to hear, if you’re not ready to obey, he’s not going to force himself on you.
There’s a lot more we could say, and I’m sure we will in future exchanges. But let’s leave it at that for now. Ask St Joseph to say a prayer for you. The attitude of listening is hard to develop in today’s egocentric, individualistic society, but I am sure St Joseph will be glad to lend you a hand.
Your loving uncle,