An Eye-opening Prayer To St. Joseph
The mental stresses and lack of sleep during finals week drained me. To push through it, I continually reminded myself of the prayer to St. Joseph in Reitz Memorial High School’s Holy Family Prayer Circle, specifically the line, “I shall work, above all, with a pure intention and with detachment from self, having always before my eyes the hour of my death and the accounting which I must then render of time ill-spent, of talents unemployed, [and] of good undone.” It motivated me to work hard and dedicate my efforts to God, but it also startled me.
When I first discovered this prayer a few months ago, it opened my eyes to a new variety of shortcomings in my spiritual life, and it made the possibility of failure very real. Many of us may do “what’s right” in our efforts to be holy, but “what’s right” has been reduced to the minimal good. To be considered a good person, all one must do is lack the “bad.” People are rewarded for their good behavior, which encourages it as a habit; but this allows many people to settle for just “good” when they should be striving for greatness. This mentality smothers spiritual development.
When I was younger, I never understood the concept that one could never finish improving in their spiritual life. I thought there must be a point at which one could achieve complete holiness in everything they did, just look at the saints! But as St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “He who climbs never stops going from beginning to beginning, through beginnings that have no end…Christian perfection has but one limit, that of having none” (CCC 2015, 2028). It makes more sense to me now, especially in the context of Jesus holding us to a higher standard in Matthew 5:48, when he commands, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Yes, we should step out of our comfort zones and make a habit of doing more for God. But once it truly becomes a habit, then we can recognize that there is, indeed, much farther than we can go; much harder than we can push. Once we reach the success of making one good practice a habit, we start again the practice of making a better practice our habit.
We must analyze our every action in light of this commandment. What we are doing may be good, but is it the best? Is it striving for perfection in holiness? The prayer begins, “St. Joseph, pray for me…to put devotion to duty before my selfish inclinations.” This requires putting aside our desires to belong or be comfortable by standing up for those who need us, not just when they need us most, but in every moment. Such a request demands sacrifice from us, as the Catechism states, “There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle” (CCC 2015). We are certainly not above sacrifice, considering our own God sacrificed himself for us.
It is difficult to keep our spiritual lives from becoming stagnant because we are creatures of habit, but we must make every effort to transform ourselves. St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote, “’Pray that I may never be satisfied with what is easy,’ you say. I’ve already prayed. Now it is up to you to carry out that fine resolution.”
If we truly want to love God with our whole being, we can never be satisfied with good; we can never be satisfied with great; simply, we can never be satisfied. We must always thirst for more, for better than the good we have now, because perfection in holiness is every person’s vocation.
Maria Sermersheim is a 2018 graduate of Reitz Memorial High School. She is serving as a summer intern with The Message, and will attend the University of Notre Dame in the fall.