We are presently celebrating the “Year of St. Joseph” to commemorate the 150th anniversary of St. Joseph being solemnly declared Patron of the Universal Church by Pope Pius IX. From May 1, 2020, through May 1, 2021, we, as a diocese, have committed to deepen our understanding of the person of St. Joseph and so to honor him, in a more profound way, as our guardian and protector. One very important way St. Joseph helps us, on our journey to heaven, is through his special gift of intercession as we prepare for our departure from our life here on earth.
St. Joseph is known as the Patron of a Happy Death. It is essential to understand the true meaning of the words “a happy death,” even though the dying person may be experiencing great pain from health issues as well as fear and anxiety over the unknown. The term “happy,” in this context, does not connote the emotion of being glad, or even cheerful. Rather, it signifies being peaceful, full of Faith and hope in Jesus Christ, which carries with it a certain joy. Since every person will eventually face death, each one of us needs and wants the help of St. Joseph, our loving spiritual father, on the road of passing from this life to the next.
St. Joseph is called the “Patron of a Happy Death.” He died a blessed and happy death because Jesus and Mary were at his side. His holy death reflected his holy life. St. Joseph was a just man and lived his life loving and serving Jesus and Mary, through being obedient to God’s will.
“The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death. In the litany of saints, for instance, the Church has us pray: ‘From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord’; to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us ‘at the hour of our death’ in the Hail Mary; and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death.” (CCC #1014)
There is a spiritual battle at the point of death. Therefore, we are called to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph so he will intercede for us, helping us to stay on the right path. Along with this entrustment, we are strengthened in our love and faithfulness to the Lord and His Church by receiving the sacraments—above all, attending Mass every Sunday and receiving Jesus in holy Communion, as well as going to confession on a regular basis. Through receiving the sacraments in a faithful and committed manner, along with daily, fervent prayer, we will be prepared to meet Jesus by having received what the Church provides throughout our life. When we pray for a “happy death,” this includes a heartfelt plea that a priest will be present to give us the last sacraments: hearing our confession, anointing us and bringing us viaticum—the Holy Eucharist—as food for this journey. This is a lifelong preparation and should not be put off, so we can guard against being unprepared at the time of death.
The importance of dying a happy death came to the forefront as my mother passed away on May 1, interestingly enough, on the feast of St. Joseph the Workman and the day that Bishop Callahan proclaimed the Year of St. Joseph. My seven siblings and I were blessed to be with her as her health began to fail and she prepared to meet the Lord. A crucifix, a picture of Jesus and a statue of Mary were nearby to help my mom stay focused on her ultimate goal. Thankfully, in the final week, the local priest came to anoint her. She slept through this, but later, as my three sisters and I explained the anointing, we prayed together and she made a sincere and beautiful act of contrition from her heart. Another day, my mom was most fortunate to receive holy Communion. I realize, ever more clearly, how important this opportunity was, as none of us was able to go to Mass or receive holy Communion during that time due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
As my mom declined, each of us took a two-hour time slot to be with her, to hold her hand, speak with her and, most importantly, to pray with her and for her. She was not conscious, but when she showed signs of restlessness and anxiety, we would speak in her ear, guiding her to reach out and take Jesus’ hand, assuring her of His presence.
It was quite the blessing to find out on the day of my mom’s death that Missouri would “open up from the shutdown” on the following Monday. Therefore, a funeral Mass was celebrated on Tuesday, May 5 for the immediate family. What stood out for me most prominently, after my mom’s death, was meeting Jesus at the time of death is what we are preparing for throughout our lives.
Jesus desires to give us everything we need for the final journey, with the help of St. Joseph interceding for us. Let us “go to Joseph” as our spiritual father, who will lead us to Jesus throughout our lives, and, in a particular way, at the hour of our death.
Director of the Office for Catechesis and Evangelization