The Church has recommended to us many prayers and devotions that should be frequently on our lips and hearts as we adhere to Christ in this time. As we turn to prayer, one central treasure for our meditations is the life of the Holy Family—of Jesus, Joseph, and Mary—both on earth, and as they are in heaven. The Holy Family knows what it is like to live in this world and do battle against temptations to value worldly things above Christ. The sufferings of the Holy Family on earth can inspire us in our own trials; and the reality of their place in heaven, interceding for us and inviting us to holiness, can give us substantial spiritual power as we endure through this “valley of tears.”
Newman’s devotional writings show a profound awareness of the power of meditating on the Holy Family. Here, we will look at just one: his “Triduo to St. Joseph.” Newman wrote many of his own unique devotions—his own re-workings, in beautiful English, of traditional prayers. He wrote many of these after his conversion to Catholicism; some of them he simply wrote for friends to help deepen their prayer life, giving them spiritual exercises and examinations of conscience in his own specific style.
What is revealed in Newman’s beautiful meditations and devotions is a sort of ‘expertise’ in the faith, similar to those of many other saints before him, that shows just why it is so appropriate for him to also be a saint. Like many doctors, mystics and saintly scholars before him, he shows a masterful intuition about the teachings of Scripture and the Church, and applies them skillfully to pursuing individual holiness through contemplation. Reviewing these writings and using them for prayer will be a valuable practice in these coming weeks. Perhaps, also, reviewing these writings will give more reason to argue, as some are, that Newman should be a Doctor of the Church!
For example, let us briefly look at one of his devotions: his Triduo to St. Joseph. This is invaluable in deepening a relationship with Newman and with Christ and the Church whom he so ardently loved.
Although St. Joseph’s feast day is already past, Newman’s “Triduo to St. Joseph” shows why this saint is important for our time, who is called the “Hope of the Sick,” the “Patron of the Dying,” “Terror of Demons,” and the “Protector of Holy Church.” Like many saints before him, Newman intuits St. Joseph’s supreme importance on earth and in heaven: he was a virgin like Mary, and must have been a man of eminent sanctity in order to fulfill such a high calling as espousal to the Blessed Virgin and earthly father of Christ.
Take some of these beautiful passages as examples:
“[Joseph] was the true and worthy Spouse of Mary, supplying in a visible manner the place of Mary’s Invisible Spouse, the Holy Ghost. He was a virgin, and his virginity was the faithful mirror of the virginity of Mary. He was the Cherub, placed to guard the new terrestrial Paradise from the intrusion of every foe.”
Like many saints before him, Newman thinks that Joseph and Mary both lived a consecrated, virginal life.
Here is another:
“[Joseph] was our Lord’s father, because Jesus ever yielded to him the obedience of a son.”
Again, like many other saints, Newman sees a mystical reality in the fact that Jesus obeyed his earthly father (Luke 2:51), which is why, still in heaven, St. Joseph is a powerful intercessor—because the Son of God is humbly willing, still, to obey him!
And again, Newman shows us how his own theological and spiritual intuitions are in line with those of the most powerful doctors, saints and scholars of the Church, but bring out a profound reality about the supreme Sanctity of the Holy Family that can nourish our own prayer life:
“HE is Holy Joseph, because according to the opinion of a great number of doctors, he, as well as St. John Baptist, was sanctified even before he was born. He is Holy Joseph, because his office, of being spouse and protector of Mary, specially demanded sanctity. He is Holy Joseph, because no other Saint but he lived in such and so long intimacy and familiarity with the source of all holiness, Jesus, God incarnate, and Mary, the holiest of creatures.”
The mystery of the Incarnation demands holiness—Mary and Joseph, together, could not not be holy! Let us ask the Holy Family for “intimacy and familiarity with the source of all holiness, Jesus,” as the surest defense against temptation in this time of trial. Like St. Joseph and Holy Mary, with the assistance of St. John Henry Newman’s profound devotional insight, let us empty our self-love and strive to love God with our whole hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves.
Here can be found the full “Triduo to St. Joseph:” http://www.newmanreader.org/works/meditations/meditations8.html#triduojoseph
May Newman’s heartfelt prayers, written for the benefit of the faithful, inspire us to use this time, and all times, to grow closer to the Heavenly Persons who call us into eternal communion: the saints, Our Lord, Our Lady and the Blessed Trinity.