GOD’S FAITHFUL AND PRUDENT SERVANT – Pope Francis and the miraculous image of the sleeping St Joseph

PHOTO CAPTION: A statue of the sleeping St Joseph at the Macau St Joseph Seminary. Photo by Fr Leonard Dollentas.

– Fr Leonard E Dollentas

When it comes to patron saints and intercessors, Pope Francis seems to play favorites. This has become apparent when many times he mentioned that he has special devotions to St Joseph and the Virgin Mary.

Hence, the Pope keeps a St Joseph statue in his office. However, the image that sits on his desk is no ordinary St Joseph image with his carpenter tools, with the child Jesus learning his trade or with a staff blossoming with the flowers of purity. This image, is a representation of St. Joseph that we are not accustomed seeing and having … St Joseph in slumber.

Indeed, the image representing St Joseph sleeping is an unusual image in the eyes of Americans and Europeans, and much more to us Asians. The devotion is nonetheless, widespread among South American Catholics.

Way back in 1953 and while still a youngster in Argentina, Pope Francis already had fostered a connection with St Joseph. It was on this year that the young 17-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio discovered his vocation of dedicating his life to God and His people. He treasured this in his heart because this special day took place in the church of St Joseph in Buenos Aires. This event became even more meaningful when after many years, when that young boy would be inaugurated later as Pontiff and head of the Catholic Church on March 19, 2013, the feast of St Joseph.


Pope Francis made it clear in various audiences, such as his meeting with families in the Philippines in 2015, that indeed St Joseph is at the top of his list of intercessors.

He explained why he particularly loves this image of sleeping St Joseph during his meeting with families in the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines during his visit: “I have great love for Saint Joseph, because he is a man of silence and strength. On my table I have an image of Saint Joseph sleeping. Even when he is asleep, he is taking care of the Church.”

The devotion to sleeping St Joseph not only manifest spiritual affection, it has a biblical significance and foundation.  God speaks to Joseph in a particular way in dreams, when he was asleep and was most silent, so that in his silence he may understand God. The four dreams are as follows:  First, Joseph was told not be afraid to take Mary as his wife, because she has conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20-21). Second, Joseph is warned to leave Bethlehem and flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:3). Third, while in Egypt, Joseph is told that it is safe to go back to Israel (Matthew 2:19-20). Fourth, after being warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee instead of going to Judea (Matthew 2:22).

In these dreams and while he encountered God’s message he always, without hesitation, obeyed the counsels given to him from God. There had not been any amount of hesitation or complaint from this righteous man. He took everything in his heart what God wanted him to fulfill for Mary and Jesus, in unreserved humility and obedience.

We recall, in one of the dreams for example, that St Joseph received messages from God warning him about the evil plan of King Herod against the Baby Jesus. God instructed him to flee to Egypt and entrusted to him the love and protection of Mary and the Baby Jesus. St Joseph then, became the attentive and tender guardian of the Holy Family. He was a just man who accepted and guarded the mysteries of God, as he willingly has chosen to accept and protect Mary, the woman chosen by God to be the Most Holy and Immaculate Mother of His only Son Jesus. His obligation of protection to Mary and the Jesus is reflected to his role as the patron of the whole church, an archetypal figure of protector, defender, and consoler of all people.


Pope Francis revealed some valuable lessons about St Joseph that we can use in our ordinary life as Catholics: “Joseph’s rest revealed God’s will to him. In this moment of rest in the Lord, as we pause from our many daily obligations and activities, God is also speaking to us… But like Saint Joseph, once we have heard God’s voice, we must rise from our slumber; we must get up and act.” (Pope Francis to families in the Philippines, 2015)

Hence, the devotion to the sleeping St Joseph teaches us two valuable lessons:

  1. We need to have a space for silence in our lives. God doesn’t speak to us so directly and dramatically, but he can often speak in times when we are quite and we are in silence both in our outer and inner worlds.
  2. We recall that after Joseph’s dreams, he immediately would get up each time and would act immediately (even doing a perilous task such as fleeing the country in the middle of the night). While we undoubtedly should strive to quiet ourselves to hear God’s plan and will for us, we also need to act on what God tells us.

In today’s much confusing world, perhaps we may simply feel weighed down by suffering and stress, we must act prudently and prayerfully. After our silence, there will be somehow a moment when we know God insists that we have to arise, with St Joseph to guide us in a special way.


Pope Francis explained how he conversed with St Joseph on a more practical level: “When I have a problem, a difficulty, I write a little note and I put it underneath Saint Joseph, so that he can dream about it. In other words, I tell him: pray for this problem.”

After he entrusts his problems and special intentions to St Joseph, Pope Francis said he can sleep peacefully, and happily told the people listening to him that now St. Joseph “sleeps on a mattress of notes.” In accord with this devotion of Pope Francis to St Joseph, St Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, wrote of St Joseph: “A master of interior life, a worker deeply involved in his job, God’s faithful servant in continual contact with Jesus: that is Joseph. Ite ad Ioseph. With St Joseph, the Christian learns what it means to belong to God and fully to assume one’s place among men, sanctifying the world. Get to know Joseph and you will find Jesus. Talk to Joseph and you will find Mary, who always sheds peace about her in that attractive workshop in Nazareth” (Christ is Passing By, 56).


As St Joseph was a compassionate and caring man, the Church has given him multiple tasks of being the patron saint of the Universal Church, families, fathers, expectant mothers (pregnant women), travelers, immigrants, house sellers and buyers, craftsmen, engineers, working people, and patron of a happy death. St Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death because, assuming he died before Jesus’ public life, he died with Jesus and Mary close to him. Being with Jesus and Mary, as we breathe our last, assures as of happiness and joy that awaits us in eternal life.