Pope Francis declared this year “the year of St. Joseph.” It’s about time! Joseph can teach us many things.
Long ago I heard a bishop recount in a homily how at Christmas his mother would set up the Nativity scene at their house. Every year she would take the stable and figurines out of the box and display them. However, there was little room for them, so each year she would return the statue of Joseph to the box, saying, “Joseph will understand.”
But often in life this foster father of Jesus did not understand. He had to exercise supreme faith. Strangely, the Gospels do not contain a single word that Joseph said. However, his life speaks volumes. Here are thoughts culled from an article I had published entitled “More Than a Carpenter.”
Some people desperate to sell their homes bury a statue of St. Joseph upside-down. These are probably the same people who turn Joseph’s statue to face the wall when they want a favor. I doubt that Joseph takes these actions as insults. He probably just smiles at the simple faith it shows. I imagine he also smiles at our portrayal of him as as old man, something artists did to underline Mary’s virginity.
Little did Joseph know when he espoused Mary that their relationship would make him the foster father of Jesus and that he would one day become patron of many important things.
The patriarch Joseph of the Old Testament helped the world as chief administrator in Egypt. During a famine the pharaoh said, “Go to Joseph.” People from all over came to Joseph for life-saving grain. Today the Church tells us, “Go to Joseph.”
• When families are in crisis, threatening the structure of our whole society, we turn to Joseph, the guardian and protector of the Holy Family.
•When the Church is grappling with divisions and scandal, we turn to Joseph, the patron of the universal Church.
•When confronted with abortion, euthanasia, and suicide, we turn to Joseph, the patron of a happy death.
• When unstable economies leave millions of people jobless, homeless, and hungry, we turn to Joseph, the patron of workers.
How did Joseph merit such weighty responsibilities? His brief appearances in the joyful mysteries offer clues.
The Annunciation: When Mary became pregnant, Joseph was dumbfounded. Heartsick, he planned to follow the Jewish law and divorce Mary, but quietly. (Breaking off a betrothal, or engagement, required a divorce.) God intervened in a dream and told Joseph to marry Mary because her child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, called a just man in scripture, struggled to do what was right. Like the Joseph before him, he trusted divine providence and listened to the Lord.
The Visitation: Not every man would allow his espoused to leave town for three months to care for a relative. Obviously Joseph respected Mary’s wishes, supported her in her ministry, and shared her compassion for others. But he must have missed her!
The Nativity: Joseph took Mary, in the last month of pregnancy, to Bethlehem, complying with a government decree for a census. He must have been terribly worried about her. Instead of giving birth surrounded by family and friends, she gave birth in a strange town. Joseph must have deeply regretted not having a better shelter than a stable for his wife at such a time. Then Joseph had to flee to another country in order to save the life of Jesus. Imagine the terror that filled his heart.
The Presentation: Following Mosaic law, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to consecrate him to the Lord. They sacrificed two turtle doves because they were too poor to afford a lamb. Joseph must have often wondered why he had been entrusted with the care of Mary and Jesus. When Simeon took the child and declared him “the salvation of the world,” Mary and Joseph were amazed. Then Simeon prophesied that Jesus would be a sign that would contradicted and that Mary would suffer. How this dire prediction must have disturbed and pained Joseph!
The Finding in the Temple: When Jesus was twelve, the family made the annual trip to Jerusalem for the Passover. On the way home, Jesus was missing. When he was found in the temple, it was Mary who reproached him. Joseph was silent. How do you think he felt when Jesus said, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Although he often did not understand what was happening, Joseph admirably fulfilled his vocation. He is arguably the greatest and most powerful saint next to Mary. It was Joseph who was “abba” for the Son of God on earth. This man shared his faith with Jesus and taught him a trade. Joseph helped God learn what it meant to be a human being. St. Joseph, pray for us, who want to be faithful though we don’t always understand.