ST. JOSEPH – HUSBAND AND FATHER
"He that is lesser among you all, he is the greater” - Luke 9:48)
In the midst of Lent the Church gives us a little taste of Christmas joy as we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary, and foster father of the Son of God, Jesus. This while honoring St. Joseph calls to mind that moment in time when God swept aside the curtain separating God from humankind and became Emmanuel, God with us.
The genealogy of Jesus begins with Abraham and concludes with the text, “Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and from her came Jesus who is called the Christ, the Messiah. (Mt 1:16) The little we know about St. Joseph is found in just two chapters of the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew. In the latter we read that ‘he was a just man;’ some versions say that he was a righteous man. “When his [Jesus] mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.” (Matt 1:18-19). To be just or righteous in Biblical language means to be adorned with all the virtues. Abraham is also described as being a just man by St. Paul who writes, “Abraham believed God who took it into account and held him to be a just man,” (Rom 4:3)
From the Gospel of Matthew1:1:16, 18-25 we learn that Mary who was betrothed to Joseph but whom he had not yet taken into his home, was found to be with child. Living in the 21st century we cannot fully grasp the terrible implications to Mary if this news was made public. All could have gone horribly and tragically wrong if either Mary or Joseph had trusted their own instincts rather than God. Into this dramatic and explosive situation, even as St. Joseph was pondering whether he should secretly divorce Mary, an Angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream to explain, comfort and reassure him saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." Verse 24 goes on to tell us, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”
Of all the men living in Israel at the time God chose St. Joseph to watch over, protect, love, cherish and live in close intimacy with Jesus and Mary. St. Joseph, the great Saint of exquisite silence, teaches us to do God’s will without fuss or delay. His silence is not weakness but serves to portray his profound awe at being chosen by God for so great a mission. His silence teaches us much more than any words ever could. His was a simple, childlike faith, to which there is always only one response - total obedience; although he may have trembled in awe at the weight of so great a responsibility, he did not flinch or shrink. From his example we learn that we too can be pleasing to God by our love, obedience and humility; virtues by which we can enter the heart of God and His Kingdom.
St. Joseph was a good husband, father, provider, teacher, worker, leader, care-giver and guide. To this list of adjectives many more can be added. He understood the privilege and the responsibility entrusted to him, because he was always attentive to the voice of God he was able to hear God and fulfill all that God desired of him; he did this quietly, silently, humbly, promptly, obediently and willingly. It is no wonder then that he has been greatly loved and revered and his manifold virtues extolled by many popes and Saints alike.
The doctrine of St. Joseph's pre-eminence received the approval of Leo XIII in his encyclical Quamquam Pluries, August 15th, 1899, written to proclaim St. Joseph patron of the universal Church. In paragraph 3 of this Encyclical the pope tells us why devotion to St. Joseph is fitting. This is what the pope says, “The special motives for which St. Joseph has been proclaimed Patron of the Church, and from which the Church looks for singular benefit from his patronage and protection, are that Joseph was the spouse of Mary and that he was reputed the Father of Jesus Christ. From these sources have sprung his dignity, his holiness, his glory. In truth, the dignity of the Mother of God is so lofty that naught created can rank above it. But as Joseph has been united to the Blessed Virgin by the ties of marriage, it may not be doubted that he approached nearer than any to the eminent dignity by which the Mother of God surpasses so nobly all created natures. For marriage is the most intimate of all unions which from its essence imparts a community of gifts between those that by it are joined together. Thus in giving Joseph the Blessed Virgin as spouse, God appointed him to be not only her life's companion, the witness of her maidenhood, the protector of her honour, but also, by virtue of the conjugal tie, a participator in her sublime dignity. And Joseph shines among all mankind by the most august dignity, since by divine will, he was the guardian of the Son of God and reputed as His father among men. Hence it came about that the Word of God was humbly subject to Joseph, that He obeyed him, and that He rendered to him all those offices that children are bound to render to their parents. From this two-fold dignity flowed the obligation which nature lays upon the head of families, so that Joseph became the guardian, the administrator, and the legal defender of the divine house whose chief he was. And during the whole course of his life he fulfilled those charges and those duties. He set himself to protect with a mighty love and a daily solicitude his spouse and the Divine Infant; regularly by his work he earned what was necessary for the one and the other for nourishment and clothing; he guarded from death the Child threatened by a monarch's jealousy, and found for Him a refuge; in the miseries of the journey and in the bitternesses of exile he was ever the companion, the assistance, and the upholder of the Virgin and of Jesus. Now the divine house which Joseph ruled with the authority of a father, contained within its limits the scarce-born Church. From the same fact that the most holy Virgin is the mother of Jesus Christ is she the mother of all Christians whom she bore on Mount Calvary amid the supreme throes of the Redemption; Jesus Christ is, in a manner, the first-born of Christians, who by the adoption and Redemption are his brothers. And for such reasons the Blessed Patriarch looks upon the multitude of Christians who make up the Church as confided specially to his trust - this limitless family spread over the earth, over which, because he is the spouse of Mary and the Father of Jesus Christ he holds, as it were, a paternal authority. It is, then, natural and worthy that as the Blessed Joseph ministered to all the needs of the family at Nazareth and girt it about with his protection, he should now cover with the cloak of his heavenly patronage and defend the Church of Jesus Christ."
On May 1, 2013, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments promulgated the decree Paternas vices by the authority of the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis. The decree instructs that the name of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, should be inserted into Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV. Already on November 13, 1962, Pope John XXIII had inserted the name of St. Joseph into the first Eucharistic Prayer (the Roman Canon), and now that work has been carried forward to the other three Eucharistic Prayers, initially by Pope Benedict XVI and now confirmed by Pope Francis.
Let us pray to St. Joseph to extend his fatherly protection over our homes, our families and our Church. His intercession on our behalf will always be heard for Jesus could never refuse the father whom He loved, honored and obeyed on earth.