Thy Will Be Done: St. Joseph & Preparing For a Happy Death
As the end of the year of Saint Joseph approaches, it seems natural to reflect on the end of the life of Saint Joseph. One of Joseph’s most common titles is “Patron of the dying”. It is often said that Saint Joseph is the Patron of a happy death because he died surrounded by Jesus and Mary. However, Saint Joseph’s life has many lessons to teach us about how to prepare for a happy death.
Joseph’s Life; Not His Surroundings
It was Saint Joseph’s life, not his surroundings that made his death happy. C.S. Lewis in his novel The Great Divorce notes, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.” Saint Joseph’s death was a happy one because both he and Mary developed the virtue of saying. “Thy will be done,” through repeated actions within their life.
Pope Francis notes this in his Apostolic Letter Patris Corde (With a Father’s Heart) with which he declared the Year of Saint Joseph. Within the letter, Pope Francis discusses 7 characteristics of Saint Joseph. The fourth characteristic is “accepting father”.
“Often in life, things happen whose meaning we do not understand. Our first reaction is frequently one of disappointment and rebellion. Joseph set aside his own ideas in order to accept the course of events and, mysterious as they seemed, to embrace them, take responsibility for them and make them part of his own history.” (Pope Francis, Patris Corde)
A Life of Thy Will Be Done
We observe over and over again in the life of Saint Joseph a willingness to say “Thy will be done.” Scripture mentions Joseph only a few times, and yet these few mentions read like a litany of “Thy will be dones.”
“Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her…When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” (Matthew 19-20,24)
“…behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.” (Matthew 2: 13-14)
“When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. (Matthew 2: 19-21)
Interestingly, Joseph’s acceptance is always mentioned in the context of getting up or rising. One cannot hear this word without also thinking of three other occasions, Jesus’s raising of the little girl, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”” (Mark 5:41), Jesus’s raising of Lazarus, “Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise.' … And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!'" (John 11:23,43) and Jesus’s own resurrection, “He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said…” (Matthew 28:6). Clearly, Saint Joseph’s acceptance and rising from the dead are closely linked.
The Manner of Choice That Leads To a Happy Death
In the words of Pope Francis, “Joseph is certainly not passively resigned, but courageously and firmly proactive.” (Pope Francis, Patris Corde) Joseph’s response is freely chosen. It is his own action which is the direct result of his great courage and it is these very same characteristics that allow Joseph to face death peacefully. His death is happy because he is actively and courageously able to entrust himself to God in a manner beyond mere resignation because he has practiced doing so all his life.
So, then we can face the events of both life and death in two manners. One of peace or one of resignation. The great question for us is whether or not we are people who say “Thy will be done”. If not, the events of our lives and most especially our last moments are likely to be marred by the strain of resignation.
The key to dying well lies in our current actions. It is by practicing saying “Thy will be done” now that we develop the strength of virtue to peacefully entrust ourselves to the will of God at that most difficult moment death.