Blessed Gennaro Sarnelli propagator of the devotion to St Joseph

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Blessed Gennaro Maria Sarnelli

The Year of St. Joseph, announced by Pope Francis, calls us to honour St. Joseph as the guardian and protector of the Church and her faithful with heartfelt prayer and devotion, encouraging all to take his virtuous life as our model for fulfilling our personal vocation to holiness.

Fr. Vincenzo La Mendola C.Ss.R., exploring the history of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, presents Blessed Gennaro Maria Sarnelli as a propagator of the devotion of St. Joseph:

“Among those closest to Saint Alphonsus are several Neapolitan authors who preceded or were contemporary with him. Among these, a prominent role was certainly played by his first companion Gennaro Maria Sarnelli. He occupies a prominent place in popular Josephine literature for having given the current codification to widespread pious practice, The Seven Sorrows and the Seven Joys of Saint Joseph.”

Here one can access the full text (Italian) of Fr. Vincenzo La Mendola’s article that is entitled Il Beato Gennaro Maria Sarnelli propagatore della devozione a San Giuseppe.

Below we present a large excerpt taken from the article and translated:

“The structure of Sarnelli’s devotional text is schematic and functional to a well-studied spiritual pedagogy. In the seven invocations, the seven sorrows are associated with the seven joys of St Joseph’s life. For each pain and its respective joy, the Gospel episode of reference is recalled, and an invocation is combined in which a precise virtue or grace is asked of the saint. Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be to the Father… are recited between each prayer.

Max Schmalzl, C.Ss.R., Holy Family of Nazareth, Drawing from “Vita di Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo e di Maria Santissima” (1892).

The text responds to a well-articulated structure. In the enunciation of pain or joy, an episode from the life of Christ, reported in the Gospels or the Tradition, is considered. In the invocation that follows each sorrow and joy, a virtue related to the content just enunciated is asked for, of which the saint is an exemplary model or a spiritual grace linked to that particular episode recalled. Combining meditation and prayer was typical of the style of Sarnelli and later of St Alphonsus. For both, meditation precedes prayer. And prayer springs from the meditated text.

The virtues or graces requested are not random but respond to a precise spiritual approach that follows a pre-established order. The first sorrow asks for the grace of contrition for sins, the beginning of conversion, and the last joy asks for eternal life. As the praying faithful retrace the salient moments of St Joseph’s life, they ask the saint himself for intercession for their own journey of faith. Typical virtues recurring in Sarnellian and Alphonsian asceticism are asked for: love of humiliation and the hidden life, aversion to the greatness of the world and to comfort, the primacy of God in one’s affections, zeal for the salvation of souls, fortitude in adversity, love of prayer, fervour, hatred of sin, seeking only God’s glory, final perseverance. In the Settenario all the themes of Sarnelli’s spirituality converge, and then that of Saint Alphonsus, which has its centre in the following of Christ, eloquently expressed in the formula „That I hate everything that Jesus hates and that I love everything that Jesus loves”.

Devotion for Sarnelli is not a simple and natural outpouring of affections and feelings but a commitment and dedication to growing in the spiritual life. In the background, one can feel the missionary’s anxiety for the salvation of his brothers and sisters, the ability of the confessor and spiritual director in tracing an itinerary of evangelical perfection, the preacher’s authoritativeness in exhorting and providing the means and instruments useful for one’s own path to holiness. It is clear that the blessed Gennaro Sarnelli thought of and composed his works as auxiliary and complementary to the mission.”

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