This month’s topic is the Sacrament of the Sick, and while we no longer associate the reception of this sacrament only with imminent death, these two pieces, both entitled The Death of Saint Joseph, teach some profound truths about the sacrament.
This first one, by Giuseppe Maria Crespi, shows the Holy Family in their final tender moments together on earth. St. Joseph’s tools are laid down signifying that his work is finished, and his ever-present staff is still blossoming with three white lilies as a symbol of his purity. Notice the heavenly realities as well: the background filled with angels ready to lead him into paradise. I’d like to think that’s his own guardian angel nearby, wiping his brow.
On this one, Joseph’s lack of color is a striking contrast to the rest of the window, but look at the peaceful expression on his face! The Blessed Mother is by his side as we always pray she will be for us (“now and at the hour of our death”).
In both of these works, we see Christ at the bedside, holding Joseph’s hand and imparting a blessing. That is exactly what happens to those who receive the Sacrament of the Sick – you see the priest there, blessing and anointing, but it is really Jesus right there by your side, blessing, and anointing. That is the wondrous thing about the Sacraments – they promise the grace you need at the moment you ask. In this case, the special graces include strength, peace, courage, forgiveness of sins, and uniting the person with the suffering of Christ.