Catholic Faith Corner

Living in the Light
of Jesus Christ

Sea of Galilee at Sunrise

Catholic Faith Corner

Living in the Light
of Jesus Christ

St. Joseph, Second Greatest Saint, a Foster Father

In a humorous video on Facebook, a man lamented that St. Patrick’s feast was celebrated in grand style, while the Solemnity of St. Joseph two days later was observed quietly. This subdued celebration reflects the personality of the foster father of Jesus. The Gospels report not one word that he spoke. (By the way, the greatest saint is not St. Patrick, but Joseph’s wife, Mary.)

                  Joseph was the right partner for the most powerful woman on earth. Theirs was a match made in heaven. This humble carpenter (or construction worker) in the hick town of Nazareth had the reputation of being just and upright. God chose him, then, for a special honor and privilege. Joseph was entrusted with rearing the Son of God and being a companion to holy Mary. He was responsible for supporting and protecting them. Joseph taught Jesus the Jewish faith, his trade, and how to be a man.

I like the painting above because the artist depicts Joseph as a handsome, virile guy. Other paintings make him an old man, presumably to protect Mary’s virginity. The lily Joseph holds and his white heart in this modern painting by Giovanni Gasbarro symbolize his purity.

                  For canonization, a person must have exhibited heroic virtue. In this, Joseph excelled. He had obedience, courage, and ultimate trust in God. His unique vocation was challenging, but he fulfilled it admirably, as the Gospel shows.

His Marriage

While looking forward to wedding Mary, Joseph was shocked to learn that this sweet young girl was pregnant, and he wasn’t the father. Imagine the turmoil in his mind and his anguish: What man in Nazareth won her affection? Was she raped? What do I do now? To protect Mary from being stoned to death (the penalty for his supposedly unfaithful bride), Joseph decided to settle the matter privately by breaking off their engagement. Divine intervention prevented this. In a dream God told Joseph to marry his intended after all. God revealed that the child was the savior, conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit. Luckily, Joseph believed his astounding dream.

                  Soon after that, Joseph’s beloved wife left for three months to care for a relative. That is a long time to be separated from a loved one.

The Census

When Mary was nine months pregnant, Joseph had to take her to Bethlehem in obedience to the government call for a census—a journey of at least ninety miles on foot. He was responsible for her care. To his chagrin, in town he could locate no lodging except for a crude animal shelter. There Jesus was born.

The Escape

In a dream Joseph learned that Herod was determined to kill Mary’s baby as a rival to his throne. Immediately Joseph heeded the warning, and the little family traveled to Egypt. There as a refugee, Joseph found work and made a home among strangers in a foreign land.

The Presentation

When the couple took Jesus to the temple to consecrate him to the Lord, Simeon prophesied a dire future for Joseph’s wife and her child. That must have saddened and shaken Joseph.

Loss of Jesus

Jesus was missing in Jerusalem for three long days. As any parent would be, Joseph was distraught, anxious, and probably tortured with guilt. Many times in his life he didn’t understand what was happening or why, but he was faithful.

Joseph’s Patronage

In addition to carrying out a key role in salvation history, Joseph has other tasks. It’s assumed that he died before Jesus left home. In that case Mary and Jesus were at his deathbed. This gave rise to the practice of praying to Joseph for a happy death. In 1870, the foster father of Jesus was named the patron of the Universal Church, the Mystical Body of Jesus. And naturally St. Joseph is the patron of workers and has a feast by that name on May 1.

Aptly, in Italy St. Joseph’s feast on March 19 is also Father’s Day.

St. Joseph Traditions

• On St. Joseph’s feast, March 19, some people set up a St. Joseph Table. This is covered with bread and other food that is distributed to the poor.

• People trying to sell their house may pray to St. Joseph and bury a statue of him in the lawn. (Some say upside down.) When they have success, they give the statue a place of honor in their new home.

• When a favor is wanted, some people turn St. Joseph’s statue to face the wall until it’s granted.

• Prayers to St. Joseph are the Litany of St. Joseph, novenas to him, a seven Sundays devotion, a consecration, a thirty-day prayer, and a St. Joseph Rosary.

• It’s possible to make a pilgrimage to St. Joseph Oratory in Montreal. This structure, the largest church in Canada, was begun by St. André Bassett, who had a great devotion to St. Joseph. He struggled in school and at jobs, but he had the gift of healing! St. André is one of my favorite saints. A relative of one of our Sisters was cured by him. He began raising funds for a building in honor of St. Joseph by cutting students’ hair for a nickel! You can find out more about him and the Oratory on Wikipedia.

• The following prayer is to be prayed nine days. Allegedly it dates from the year 50 and has never been known to fail:

O St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interest and desires. O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers. O St. Joseph, I never weary of contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him close in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for me. Amen.

• Something our pope does . . .

I remember a bishop telling the story of his mother setting out the Nativity scene each Christmas. Every year there wouldn’t be enough room for all the figures. So she would put the St. Joseph statue back in the box and say, “Joseph will understand.” That says a lot about this unassuming saint.

Thank goodness St. Joseph is now mentioned in the canon of the Mass. It only took two thousand years! Pope John XXIII inserted the name of St. Joseph into the first Eucharistic Prayer in 1962. Then in 2013, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments had it inserted into Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV.

Here is a gem of a song called “The Carol of Joseph.” It captures Joseph’s feelings and his wife’s in a moving, striking way.

• What role does St. Joseph play in your spiritual life?

• Have you ever been to St. Joseph’s Oratory?

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