Recently I encountered a priest who asked me if I was familiar with the Litany of St. Joseph. I responded that I was and he smiled and went on to call attention to one of the titles that St. Joseph has been called; the “terror of demons”. I’ve always loved this title of St. Joseph, because well it is just bad a@*. The priest, who was very elderly and I could barely understand, unpacked this title for me and said that he was called that because of his faithfulness and the interior peace that shined forth from him in his home in Nazareth. He then projected these characteristics of St. Joseph on to me and implored me to be the terror of demons when I stepped foot into my own home.
This was a profound moment for me, an encounter with an old sage who drew something out of me that I didn’t see in myself. It also allowed me to reflect a bit on the life of St. Joseph and what he really was like in the perilous and dangerous circumstances he faced in raising Jesus, the savior of the world.
Who was St. Joseph?
He lived in a culture much like you and I live in, which is filled with a propensity to despair, a sort of love affair with fear and anxiety. He was surrounded by a pagan culture which clung to power, riches and pleasure because it had lost sight of the human person’s inherent dignity, and that there was a God who is good. This incessant thirst for self-propagation was fueled by a mantra of maximizing pleasure while avoiding suffering at all costs. There was a loss of knowing the answers to some of life’s most important questions: who we are, why we are here and where we are going. One who does not know the answers to these questions can find themselves quickly rolling downhill with increasing momentum, landing in a pile of despair. Sound familiar?
Our culture struggles with many of the same basic issues and I have found myself running down the same hill of fear and anxiety like everyone else. With the seemingly obvious way in which the world is spinning out of control it has been easy for me to slip into a state of fear of the unknown or apparent suffering that is headed our way. From the rapid increased threat of terrorism and a “holy war” declared by extreme Muslims to the unknown future of our country, things all around us look bleak. Throw in all of the stress of raising 5 children, money problems, and a job where I must be on constant alert for ambush attacks because police officers have somehow become the “bad guys”, there are many ingredients for a recipe of despair.
It has been helpful in a world filled with chaos to look to the life of St. Joseph and see a man who was righteous even though he was thrust into circumstances that were much tougher than any of mine. He was called to protect the dignity of his wife in a situation where the culture simply wouldn’t understand and would pressure him to toss that relationship he had with Mary away. His family was hunted by a blood thirsty jealous king and had to flee with his family to the country of Egypt where Israelites weren’t exactly a favored group. He also must have dealt with great pressure in raising Jesus, seeing as his son learned the trade of carpentry from him instead of being sent off to a famous Rabbi to be brought up in the faith and mentored.
What is the Anecdote?
St. Joseph is called the terror of demons because of his faithfulness and interior peace. He would have been steeped in the Old Testament and fully aware of the Theo-drama that his people had taken part in throughout the centuries. When the world around St. Joseph appeared to be turning upside down he would have recalled what God said in Isaiah 8:12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people call conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread”.
In other words, the world will be anxious and frightened by many things: losing wealth or health, friends moving away, political turmoil….you name it, they fear it. God tells us that they fear these things because they don’t know Him, they haven’t encountered Him. So, St. Joseph in a particular way would have the insight of the Jewish story, but also a front row seat of how the story is fulfilled in his very own home, with him leading the family that changed the world.
“In the world, you shall have distress” (John 16:33).
Living in a time of great trial, St. Joseph would have been fully aware that Jesus, his beloved son, was not like a lucky rabbit’s foot that would magically make trouble disappear, but rather he could see and trust that he didn’t need to be overwhelmed by that which threatens to make others afraid.
This peace, joy and faithfulness that is exemplified in the life of St. Joseph indeed causes the demons to tremble because his interior strength is impenetrable, and flows from the encounter he had with Jesus. How do you overcome fear in these tumultuous times? Who brings you peace? Are you the terror of demons when you step foot into your home?
St. Joseph, pray for us!