Last week we celebrated St. Patrick. This week we observe the Solemnity of St. Joseph. After the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph is the greatest saint, although he doesn’t utter a single word in the Gospels. His life, though, speaks volumes. Joseph was God’s choice for a father, the right man to be “abba” on earth. God knew that Joseph was a suitable partner for the holiest woman in the world—truly a match made in heaven! It was Joseph who taught Jesus what it was to be a man. He passed on the Jewish faith to Jesus and taught him his trade of carpentry or construction work.
The Gospels reveal that Joseph was a man of heroic virtue. He was obedient and exercised supreme faith. When Mary, Joseph’s betrothed, became scandalously pregnant, he was dumbfounded and heartsick. He struggled to do what was right and then listened to the Lord. He planned to follow the Jewish law and divorce Mary quietly to preserve her dignity. But when an angel instructed to marry her, he did so.
Mary decided to leave town to care for Elizabeth. Not every man would allow his espoused to leave town for three months to care for a relative. Joseph respected Mary’s wishes and supported her in her ministry. He must have missed her.
When the government ordered a census, Joseph made the long journey to Bethlehem with his wife, who was then nine months pregnant. He must have been terribly worried about her. To top it off, when they arrived, there were no rooms available and Mary gave birth in a rude shelter. How frustrating for Joseph, who knew that he was responsible for the Savior of the world!
Like Mary, Joseph led anything but a charmed life. Imagine learning that Herod wanted to kill Jesus and having to flee to a strange land. Joseph heeded a dream and went to Egypt. As a refugee in a foreign land, he had to find work when he did not even speak the language. Another dream revealed when it was safe to return. Over and over Joseph’s obedience let God’s plan unfold.
Again Joseph followed the law and took Jesus to the temple to consecrate him to the Lord. At that time Simeon prophesied that Jesus would be a sign of contradiction and that Mary would suffer. How these dire predictions must have disturbed and pained Joseph!
Then, when Jesus was missing in Jerusalem for three days (and two nights!), Joseph must have been filled with anxiety and dread coupled with guilt for not being more responsible.
That is the last we hear of Joseph, so we assume he died before Jesus left home. If so, Mary and Jesus were probably at his deathbed, which is why we pray to Joseph for the grace of a happy death.
Now Joseph is the patron of the Universal Church, the Mystical Body of Jesus. As a carpenter or construction worker, Joseph is also the patron of workers. He has other responsibilities…
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.
Five tidbits about Joseph:
The recently canonized Holy Cross brother Andre Bassette had a great devotion to St. Joseph. He was the force behind the construction of the basilica in honor of St. Joseph, which is in Montreal.
On the Feast of St. Joseph some people follow the custom of setting up a St. Joseph Table of bread and other goodies that are then shared with the poor.
I imagine Joseph smiles at portrayals of him as as old man, how artists underlined Mary’s virginity.
People who want to sell their house pray to St. Joseph and bury a statue of him in the lawn. After the house sells, they put the statue in a place of honor in their new home.
• I pray for St. Joseph’s protection when I drive. Do you pray to him?