St. Joseph’s many titles make one thing clear about his saintly role: it sounds exhausting.
It also sort of sounds like our modern, busy lives, doesn’t it? Thus a devotion to the Sleeping St. Joseph, recently popularized by Pope Francis, has arisen and not without good reason: in the past year no shortage of global stressors that have torn at our well being, economies, politics and faith forcing us to ‘wear more hats’ than ever before. How interesting then, that the foster father of Jesus, no stranger to unprecedented burdens himself, can offer us a solution in a purely practical and unexpected way: to take a siesta!
Naps are more than just brief, temporary respites from life’s burdens, and their positive health benefits are well documented by scientists and psychologists but what about the religious?
Sleeping as Productivity?
“My siestas are sacred,” the Holy Father said when responding to questions about how he copes with the stress of, well, you know (gestures to everything). Additionally, when Pope Francis feels overwhelmed, he writes his problem on a piece of paper and puts it under his statue of sleeping St. Joseph. Of this practice, the pope has said:
“Even when he is asleep, he is taking care of the church! Yes! We know that he can do that. So when I have a problem, a difficulty, I write a little note and I put it underneath St. Joseph, so that he can dream about it! In other words I tell him: Pray for this problem!” Pope Francis said. “Do not forget St. Joseph who sleeps! Jesus slept with the protection of Joseph.”
Looked at from the perspective of trust, St. Joseph, even in sleeping, challenges us to re-examine whether letting go, even for a temporary time, can be the same as actively putting our faith in God in concrete, albeit, restful way.
In his apostolic letter Patris Corde, the Holy Father writes that, “God always finds a way to save us, provided we show the same creative courage as the carpenter of Nazareth, who was able to turn a problem into a possibility by trusting always in divine providence” (PC). Joseph’s assent to God’s will was not a passive resignation, and probably required a lot of personal energy. Therefore, spiritually speaking, a nap can mean so much more than just sleep. As the example of the Patron of the Universal Church shows us, in rest (and in his particular case, dreams) there can come an added clarity, a willingness and flexibility to faithfully carry out what God may be asking of us. Perhaps by prohibiting faith from becoming too rushed or strictly utilitarian, and practicing letting go of it all, napping may ironically be the most productive act of all.
Maybe, in our sleep, we won’t receive dreams the magnitude of which St. Joseph received (but you never know) where he was repeatedly instructed to relocate his teenage wife and newborn to another country—on foot. But with our usually fast paced world slowly emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic, perhaps one positive takeaway of lockdown is making more of a point to rest from worry, to trust God more and, like Pope Francis, say to the Beloved Sleeping Foster Father of Jesus, “St. Joseph, you handle this! I can’t right now!” And then, practically speaking, we’ll heed the saint’s good advice and example: take a nap!
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