Once upon a time there lived a pious honest man, who worked as a carpenter; he was with his whole heart devoted to Saint Joseph, the patron of his trade. Saint Joseph was, as you know, a carpenter, and therefore, from the earliest times, all mechanics, and especially carpenters, have honored him and considered him as their model and patron.
The Capuchin Fathers once gave an order to our carpenter to make an altar for the chapel of Saint Joseph in their convent, and he succeeded so well that the whole town came to see it, and admired the skillful manner in which he had handled his tools, especially in the delicate carvings, in which he had represented in a most lively and touching manner the humility and love of the Man-God, Who had not disdained, during His mortal life, the humble dwelling of a poor but industrious carpenter.
It is one of the peculiarities of men that things which they can see with their eyes make more impression on them than those things which they hear, and this is one of the reasons why our holy Mother the Church gives, and has given from the earliest times, so much encouragement to all visible representations in her Temples of the mysteries of our holy Faith.
But to return to our carpenter: As years rolled on, trouble in many shapes visited his little home; first his wife died, then he lost all his children except one daughter, he himself fell sick, and as he had grown old and weak, he could do very little work. At last he became completely blind, and consequently incapable of earning anything for his subsistence.
He bore all these trials and contradictions with the greatest patience and resignation to the Divine Will, never losing his confidence in God, or his trust in his holy patron, Saint Joseph.
His good daughter nursed and tended him as well as she could, but this left her very little time to spare in which to earn anything for their support; consequently she was obliged to part, one by one, with all the little furniture and necessaries in the house, in order to provide food and fuel; so that in a short time they were reduced to the extremity of poverty and distress.
In this sorrowful condition the old carpenter felt his end approaching, and desiring to die as a good Christian, he received all the last Sacraments, and prepared his soul for its passage into eternity. Then, calling his daughter, he desired her to go and fetch a notary, in order that he might make his last will and testament.
“You want to make a will, father!” exclaimed the astonished girl. “Why! what have you that you can leave? Are we not already reduced to the direst poverty and want?”
“Never mind, my daughter, but go quickly and do as I bid thee.”
“The fever is making him delirious,” said the poor girl, wringing her hands in her distress; but still she dared not disobey, so she went out to fulfill his wishes.
The notary, on hearing her request, raised his eyes with surprise, and smiling, said to himself:
“Ah! this old carpenter, who appeared so poor, has, after all, money to leave; he must have become a miser in his old age, and his poverty has only been a cloak to hide his treasures. Well, a death-bed brings many secrets to light. We shall see now to whom he will leave all that he has saved!”
Saying this, he put on his hat, and taking up a roll of parchment, ink, and a pen, he prepared to follow the girl to the old man’s house. After a few minutes’ walk he arrived at the poor cottage, and entered the room where the old carpenter lay sick; a wretched bed and one chair constituted the whole of the furniture of the apartment.
The notary seated himself, and having unrolled and spread out his parchment on the bed, as there was no table, he took out his pen, dipped it in the ink, and wrote the usual form at the head of the will:
“In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity.”
Then he looked to the old man for his instructions how to proceed. The carpenter with an effort raised himself a little, and in a weak and trembling voice began to dictate:
“I bequeath my soul to God, my body to the earth, and I name my holy patron, Saint Joseph, as the guardian of my daughter, and executor of this my last will and testament.”
Having finished these words, he sank back on his pillow, and with one deep sigh his soul passed peacefully into eternity.
The notary, who had expected something very different from this, rose in consternation and affright. Without noticing the poor weeping girl, who knelt beside the bed, he rapidly collected together his parchment, ink, and pen, and left the house more speedily than he had entered.
The poor daughter now felt all the bitterness of her loss. She was alone in the world, and so poor that she knew not how she should be able to provide a shroud and coffin, and all that was requisite for the Christian burial of her poor father. Clasping her hands together, she bowed her head on the bed and wept unrestrainedly.
So she remained until she was aroused by a knock at the door. She rose to open it, and a noble but aged man with a most kind and friendly countenance entered the little room. He wore a plain coat, was wrapped in a dark mantle, and carried a staff in his hand.
“Comfort thyself, my child,” he said to the desolate girl; “be not troubled; I will take care of everything; leave all to me, and I will see all prepared for your father’s burial.”
Then, after a few more words of encouragement and comfort, he went out, and soon again returned with men bearing a coffin and all that was needful. The priests also came, and on the next day the poor carpenter had an honorable and Christian funeral. The noble stranger himself followed the coffin to the grave as chief mourner, and remained to see the body consigned to the earth.
After having performed this last service for the deceased, the stranger turned his steps to one of the principle streets of the town and knocked for admission at the house of a rich and well known merchant. He announced himself as one who had important business to transact, and when the merchant came to him he at once said:
“Do you remember a severe storm at sea which you encountered a few years ago, off the coast of Spain, in which you were in great danger of losing not only your vessel and merchandise, but also your life, and the lives of all the crew?”
“Yes, I remember it well,” answered the astonished merchant, “but how could you know of it?”
“Do you also remember,” continued the stranger, “a vow which you made then, that if God would save you from that peril, you would seek out the poorest and most virtuous maiden, and espouse her as your wife?”
“How!” exclaimed the still more surprised merchant, “how is it possible that you should know this? Never in my life have I mentioned to any person this secret promise I made to God!”
“Have you still the intention to fulfill your vow?” continued the venerable stranger, without noticing the question of the other.
“Yes,” he replied, “yes; and I am grieved that I have so long delayed to perform what I promised to God.”
“Will you then allow me to introduce you to the poorest, but also the most virtuous maiden in this town?”
“By all means; my heart feels so strange and yet so strong a feeling of confidence in you, that I am resolved to be guided in this matter entirely by your counsel and advice.”
The next morning the merchant, accompanied by the noble stranger, went to the dwelling of the desolate and bereaved daughter. The poor girl was in the greatest distress, for already the landlord had given her notice to leave, as he feared she would be unable to pay the rent for the house.
“Weep not, my child,” said her unknown benefactor, “you need have no anxiety for the future; see, this gentlemen who has come with me, he will take care of you. He is good and pious, and blessed with worldly means; he is willing to marry you, and as his wife he will protect and support you.”
The maiden willingly agreed to this proposal, and all the necessary arrangements for the betrothal were made.
When the time of mourning had elapsed the marriage took place with much rejoicing and solemnity, and as all were assembled at the wedding feast, the newly-married pair begged of their benefactor, who was sitting in a friendly manner in their midst, that he would be pleased to tell them who he was, in order that they might know to whom they owed so much happiness, and so many benefits.
The venerable stranger arose, and with a sweet and pleasant smile thus addressed all who were present:
“I am Joseph, who received from God the grace and dignity of being the husband and guardian of Mary, and the nursing father and protector of the Divine Child. Thy pious father, my daughter, consecrated himself and his whole life to my honor, service and devotion, and on his death-bed he appointed me the executor of his last will and testament. I have now punctually fulfilled all. His good soul I presented to God, his body I committed to the earth, and as thy guardian I have also faithfully provided for thy happiness and well being.”
While he spoke these words the roof of the room seemed to open, and a light, brilliant and rosy as the early morning sunrise, and clear as the day, streamed in all around. In the midst of this heavenly light appeared a glorious Child who called, saying:
“Come, Father, come, Mother wants you.”
At this vision the pious couple and all the wedding guests sank to their knees and received with folded hands, and eyes flowing with tears, the blessing of the Saint, who, with his eyes fixed on the bride and bridegroom, took the hand of the Divine Child and held it raised in blessing above them, until his figure disappeared, and was lost in the blue sky of the heavens.
Now, dear children, what do you think of this story? I will tell you one thing, which it ought to impress on your minds, and that is the great benefits which God bestows on those who have confidence in the intercession of Saint Joseph.
For even if it never really occurred exactly as the legend has come down to you, yet, certainly, it could have happened, for there is nothing derogatory in it to the honor of the Saint, and it brings before us the consoling thought that in the midst of the grievous and multiplied trials of life, God sends us help through the means and intercession of His saints, only we must remember this help may not always be granted to us in such a visible and miraculous manner.