Anton Raphael Mengs, “The Dream of Saint Joseph,” 1773
In these last days of Advent, daylight is short, the weather is cold, and we are weary of the stress and hustle and bustle of preparing for the holidays. In The Dream of Saint Joseph by Anton Raphael Mengs (1773), we meet the sleeping Joseph, who dozes off at his workbench. He is worn out, like we might be these days. His sleep is heavy with the burden of heartbreak and hard decisions, his dreams haunted by the fading hope of a life and family that might not be. His cloak and dark garments weigh on his shoulders as if to symbolize his burden.
Into his dark and heavy sleep enters the light of an angel. The angel illuminates the scene with a lightness to her whole being—an image to balance Joseph’s burden. She is light, she is hope, she is assurance, she is direction, and she is purpose. Her finger points boldly into the darkest corner of the scene as if to say: This, your deepest and darkest fear and worry, is where the Good News of Jesus Christ will meet you. Do not be afraid.
For Joseph, his greatest burden will become his greatest blessing. His dream is a consolation to us all in these darkest days of the year, whether we experience the darkness externally or internally. The light of Christ will shine to dispel the darkness—where in your life do you yearn for it most?
Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, assistant professor of liturgy, catechesis, and evangelization at Loyola University New Orleans.
Ask children to look at Joseph’s face and body language closely. Say: Our bodies and our facial expressions often show how we feel, even if we don’t say a word. Let’s practice showing our emotions without speaking. Have children stand up, and when you call out an emotion, have children act out or pose in a way that shows that emotion. Some emotions children will be familiar with include frightened, joyful, sad, prayerful, and curious. Close the activity with a discussion about saying kind words to people who have heavy burdens or are going through difficult times.
Prayers for Strength (Ages 9–11)
Explain to children that Joseph was feeling overwhelmed and worried. Say: God sent an angel to show Joseph that with God in his life, everything will work out. Have children think about times when they are scared or unsure. Have them write a prayer to God, asking for guidance and for strength. Have children decorate their prayers, perhaps with their own versions of an angel that will guide them. Encourage children to keep their prayers in a prominent place in their homes, such as their bedrooms, as a reminder to talk to God when they are feeling blue or scared.