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The Feast of St. Joseph

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Mar. 19, 2012

We know very few specifics about St. Joseph’s life.  We don’t know how old he was when the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus.  We don’t know when he died.  We don’t know that he said anything (the Bible does not record a single spoken word of his), nor do we know what exactly he built (all we know was he was a carpenter).  We lack the details.  How tall was he?  What color was his hair?  How much money did he make?  We just don’t know.  But, luckily, details do not make the man.  “The history of his life…has not been written by men, but his principal actions, through the inspired evangelists, are recorded by the Holy Ghost Himself” (Butler, i, 631).

The Litany of St. Joseph concludes with one of the most profound lines: “He made him the Lord of His household.  And the prince over all His possessions.”  The pronouns are a little tricky, but when read, it is clear there are two masculine figures being discussed: God and St. Joseph.  God, it seems, entrusted His home, His possessions to St. Joseph—making him a prince, a lord.   One might think, then, that we might know a little more about such a royal figure, such a lording presence.  We know nothing more than that he did his duty—he loved his wife unto his death, worked and raised his family.  That’s it!  Nothing more.  He was too busy to make a personal splash because he was too busy doing God’s Will, too busy making a spiritual tsunami.  He was not an egotistical man; not a vainglory,  wealth-seeking man.  Instead, “St. Joseph’s merit is summed up in the phrase, ‘he was a just man,’ that is to say a godly man” (Id).   Indeed, “when we find the Holy Ghost bearing testimony to St. Joseph…we must be convinced of his sanctity” (Catholic Life, Neumann Press,  109). 

There are numerous stories recorded in uninspired documents, all of which are as diverse as they are unreliable.  Yet,  again, this saint is not known through details, but by his principal actions.   He was just.  He was virtuous.  He knew how to distribute the goods of God’s Creation, procured through his labors to those who needed them—his family.  He labored that they may live.  He knew when to be obedient and when to flee, he knew when to listen to God’s voice despite having already made up his own mind to do otherwise.  He knew how to trust in God even when things sounded silly (a virgin birth?!  Ha!  Laughable,  right?!) or were totally unsettling (the flight into Egypt—an international relocation with no home, no work, no family—totally vulnerable).  You’ll notice that St. Joseph’s principal actions recorded in Sacred Scripture are actions that God relayed to him.  God speaks,  St. Joseph does.  This was the recipe for his sanctity; indeed, the recipe for his awe-inspiring masculinity.  St. Joseph’s justice derives from his responsibility to those God entrusted to him—and as Saint-Exupery reminds us, “to be a man is precisely to be responsible.”

He,  too, was the husband of the Blessed Virgin.  This single statement may not sound of much import (maybe just another ho-hum fact), but this was St. Joseph’s primary vocation.  This is what God called him to do—to take Mary into his home.  Pope Leo XIII reminds us:

“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” (Quamquam Pluries). 

The sublime dignity that St. Joseph partook in by surrendering to God’s Will was that which the Blessed Mother experienced at the Annunciation.  Bl. Pope John Paul II tells us:

“One can say that what Joseph did united him in an altogether special way to the faith of Mary…’The obedience of faith’ must be given to God as he reveals himself. By this obedience of faith man freely commits himself entirely to God, making ‘the full submission of his intellect and will to God who reveals,’ and willingly assenting to the revelation given by him.  This statement, which touches the very essence of faith, is perfectly applicable to Joseph of Nazareth” (Redemptoris Custos, 4). 

Too, St. Joseph’s justice, virtue and sanctity have led Church Fathers to venerate him as the Patron of the Church.  God trusted him, and so should we.  God trusted him with those dearest to Him—His Son, Jesus Christ, and His Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Mother.  He guarded these apples of God’s eye; we, too, should expect St. Joseph will do the same for us.   Indeed, as the Church in the past century has come under ever-increasing attack, Pope Leo XIII and Pope John XXIII have sought special intercession and patronage from St. Joseph—Leo XIII by writing an encyclical in his honor, and John the XXIII by inserting his name unilaterally into the Roman Canon.  They have asked us to call on this man whose life we know very few details about—a life often described as “hidden.”  However, ‘hidden’ does not mean ‘forgotten’ nor ‘minimal’.   Today let us recall this man who was favored by God—let us pray to him for the Church and for a resurrection of manhood, fatherhood, and husbands in this world.  St. Joseph, pray for us!