As a little girl, did you ever wear your dad’s coat? If so, you probably remember how the sleeves dwarfed your arms, how you felt so secure wrapped in more fabric than your body could hold up.
The Church has a beautiful tradition of honoring the cloak — the coat — of another father in our lives: St. Joseph. In tucking ourselves and our most precious intercessions into the folds of this saintly father’s cloak, we are invited to rediscover the joy of our identity as daughter and learn from the heart of this father whose cloak held even God made flesh.
When, on Dec. 8, 2020, Pope Francis declared a year of St. Joseph in a beautiful letter to the Church, Patris Corde, I felt a quiet but insistent prompting to take seriously the opportunity to get to know this holy man. I had grown up surrounded by his patronage: St. Joseph Hospital and similarly named parish, grade school and high school; my hometown even flanks the St. Joseph River, located in St. Joseph County! Yet Jesus’ earthly father remained characteristically silent, a hidden but largely unnoticed intercessor in my life.
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At Pope Francis’ invitation, I resolved to start noticing this ever-present patron during the Year of St. Joseph. A friend and I began a consecration to Jesus through Joseph that concluded on the feast of the Holy Spouses, which is celebrated in the traditional liturgical calendar on Jan. 23. The same friend then introduced me to the Holy Cloak Novena.
The novena, offered in honor of the 30 years which Jesus could have spent under the roof of St. Joseph, consists of a series of prayers said for 30 consecutive days. It begins with an offering, followed by prayers to St. Joseph under various patronages, such as patron of the universal Church and protector of the dying. It continues with supplications and a few additional prayers before concluding with the Litany of St. Joseph. Accustomed to novenas of short bonus prayers said for a few minutes for nine days, I was shocked to discover that the Holy Cloak Novena would add a solid 20 minutes to my daily routine.
Still I began, with some apprehension, to pray the novena on Feb. 17 in anticipation of the Solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19. In 2021, that start date happened to coincide with Ash Wednesday, so I tucked myself into the cloak of St. Joseph and set out into Lent.
I had entered into the novena with two particular titles of St. Joseph in mind, intending to pray with Joseph, lover of poverty, and Joseph, guardian of virgins. Discerning a title to hold particularly in prayer can be a very fruitful practice. However, I quickly learned that these titles had not been discerned so much as stubbornly self-selected, and the Lord had some different images in mind. In the midst of my vocational discernment, I wanted God to reveal what he wanted for my life beyond college and for my senior year, as I considered graduating early. I clung to what I had envisioned for the novena for a few days, but a grace of this lengthy novena was that he had the time to work on my heart, bringing me instead under the cloak of Joseph, mirror of patience, and Joseph, most obedient. It was a painful and purifying Lent, as the Lord changed my plans and revealed his, but my constancy was the Holy Cloak.
The most surprising blessing of that first Holy Cloak Novena was a whole group of friends whom the Lord placed in my life in those 30 days. Only on and after March 19 did I begin to notice just how precise and generous God had been through Joseph. On Feb. 17 I had approached my novena with a deep desire to be accompanied in my discernment and a fear that I would not have community to share life with in my final semesters of college if I didn’t graduate early. By March 19 I was making dinner in a kitchen full of new friends to celebrate our new patron. It was during those 30 days spent under the Holy Cloak that I had met and come to know and love them — and we began spending nearly all our time together. I recognized in them an answer and a promise, that the Father would provide what I needed to persevere in following him. And he has been faithful to his promise!
Though it is no longer the Year of St. Joseph, it is always timely to spend some time in prayer in the cloak of this good father! How might we pray this Holy Cloak Novena fruitfully? I want to offer three tips from my experience:
1. Offer it up. Offering your novena for a particular intention of someone or something beyond you can ground your prayer and free you from expectations of what an “answer” looks like — and it can give you a reason to pray when the month wears long. Consider making a spiritual bouquet where you can record the days of the novena and other offerings prayed for that intention.
2. Be gentle with yourself. Neither our father Joseph nor the Father is an exacting accountant, only giving grace if all 30 days were said in any particular way. Set aside the time necessary to make space for the novena, but know that the time might be split into multiple prayer periods or be offered with the help of a recording.
3. Gather the graces, but let them surprise you. Revisiting my prayer after the novena allowed me to see that while the lover of poverty and guardian of virgins walked that Lent with me, it was primarily obedience and patience that God had been teaching me through him. Trust that your prayers will be answered, but take time to ask God to reveal the surprising ways he moves through Joseph’s hidden work in our lives.
May St. Joseph draw close to each one of us and invite us into a deeper relationship with Christ!
You can find the text of the Holy Cloak Novena here.