We say it every night. The Prayer to St. Joseph. I suppose it's one of those things that makes us Creole, uniquely New Orleans.
New Orleans has a deep sense of tradition surrounding St. Joseph's Day. On March 19th, the feast day of St. Joseph, Catholic churches across the city have elaborate altars in his honor. These altars are covered with enormous quantities of food. Often the different food is symbolic, and the ubiquitous Italian cookie is always present. Every year my great aunt rolls out pound after pound of dough and shapes them into cookies to cover the altar. New Orleans was (and is) a port city, and consequently, quite a few people of Italian descent came to us and remained here. They brought with them the tradition of honoring St. Joseph, and the native Creole population embraced it as well. The tradition hearkens back to Sicily, where prayers to St. Joseph were thought to provide relief during a time of famine. During the famine, a diet of fava beans brought them through, and today they are still placed on the altar. Now we call them "lucky beans."
Here in New Orleans we have another special tradition surrounding St. Joseph. When trying to sell a home, we bury a statue of St. Joseph in the yard and pray to him every night. After your home sells, you dig up St. Joseph and display his statue in your home out of gratitude and love. St. Joseph was a carpenter and also a hard worker, so associating with the home seems natural. Of course, my husband and I speak to God and Jesus very regularly about our concerns, blessings, and petitions. But praying for St. Joseph's intercession for the sale of our home seems like one more step in growing closer to God and those great people who were closest to Him across time.
For a while, I felt guilty praying to God about something as trivial as selling a home. But then I realized that things like home and family are close to His heart. He loves us. Plain and simple.
Why all this urgency to sell our home? What is motivating us to move? More than anything in the world, we want to start a family. And having a family in our 650 square foot, third story walk up, yardless apartment in the middle of the city just doesn't seem right. Couple that with the fact that our dog Henry, truly a member of our family and so very dear to us, endured a serious operation and medical issues that render it impossible for him to go up the stairs to our apartment. No longer will visits to the park do the trick; it is overstimulating and too much for him. He needs a quiet yard and a one story home. Right now, he is with my parents, and I miss him terribly. I feel like our family is divided right now.
Which brings me to why I believe prayer to St. Joseph is so very important in all of this. The Holy Family. For two people who want to begin a family, looking to Joseph is so crucial. Husband of Mary, foster father of Jesus, who better to exemplify all that it means to value family and home? Joseph had some great struggles; how could someone from his time and place comprehend something as extraordinary as the Annunciation, as his betrothed bearing the son of God? How easy it would have been to condemn Mary, to turn his back on her, and to want nothing to do with Jesus. And yet he had such tremendous faith! He trusted in God, grew in love with Mary and Jesus, and made a home for them.
I hold up the prayer card every night when we lie down in bed, and we say the prayer with our whole hearts. My husband joked one night that we no longer needed the card; we know it by heart. What a bittersweet moment! On the one hand, I was saddened that we were still saying the prayer because it meant we were still trying to sell our home. Yet I also felt moved that my husband and I have faithfully stuck to this practice, that each night we come together and share this, that we are growing in faith. St. Joseph will always have a special place in our marriage, our hearts, and our home.