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Solemnity of St. Joseph

March 20, 2006

Blessed Solemnity of St. Joseph!

We get to feast in the midst of our Lenten fast! Solemnities have the same rank as Sundays, so if you’re celebrating a “little Easter” every Sunday by enjoying some of the things you’ve given up, you get yet another day of enjoyment thanks to St. Joseph.

2 Samuel 7:4-5, 12-14, 16 (David’s throne will endure forever)
Psalm 89:2-5, 27, 29 “Save me, O Lord, in your steadfast love”
Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22 (Abraham is the father of all who have his faith)
+Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24 (an angel tells Joseph to take Mary as his wife)
or +Luke 2:41-51 (the finding of Jesus in the temple)

Today Holy Mother Church presents for our admiration a very special model of holy masculinity.

The fullness of time has come for the veneration of St. Joseph, and the need is grave. Little mention was made of Joseph during the first twelve hundred years of the Church’s history. Joseph’s role was downplayed, lest emphasis on his role should undermine the developing doctrine surrounding Mary’s virginity. However, a combination of unprecedented famine, war, the Black Death, the Babylonian Captivity of the papacy (in France) and the Great Schism (when up to three rivals claimed to be pope) left families in serious need of divine healing. Jean Gerson (d. 1429), a French theologian, along with his Franciscan contemporary, St. Bernardine of Siena, held up Joseph as the ideal model and protector of the family, and devotion to him has been a fundamental element of Catholic spirituality ever since.

There are two common perceptions of Joseph that deserve a second look. The first perception is that he was an old man when he married Mary and the second is that he suspected Mary of infidelity. Interestingly enough, the earliest depictions of Joseph in Christian art portray him as a young man, in keeping with Jewish custom, in which men married at the age of about sixteen. It was around the fourth century, at a time when belief in Mary’s virginity was under attack, that artists began portraying Joseph as an elderly man (who might be thought more likely to have preserved Mary’s virginity). Recent reflection on the part of scholars suggests that the earlier representations of Joseph make more sense. If Joseph was elderly, how would he have provided for the Holy Family, especially as a manual laborer? How would he have held up in the sudden flight across the desert to Egypt and the long journey back to Bethlehem? And would the Jews really have thought Jesus was Joseph’s son (see John 6:42) if Joseph was old enough to be His grandfather? While the question cannot be definitively settled with current knowledge, the evidence certainly supports the possibility that Joseph was young.

Did Joseph suspect Mary of infidelity? A surface reading of Matthew 1:19 might suggest that he did, since he had decided to divorce her. However, Michael D. Griffin, O.C.D., and a number of other Scripture scholars maintain that Joseph simply could not have believed such a thing of his beloved. Mary was utterly sinless from the moment of her conception, and while Joseph was probably unaware of the extreme depth of her purity, surely he knew she was innocent. In addition, as a just man, he would not have been inclined to rash judgement. Scholars suggest that Joseph either suspected the divine nature of Mary’s pregnancy and felt unworthy of her (perhaps that’s why the angel told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife? -see Matthew 1:20) or he was simply confused. Either way, he did his best to follow the Law, to not claim as his own that which he knew did not belong to him. Ah, but then the angel came and explained to him that God wanted him to receive Mary and the Child as his own! What joy must have flooded his heart as these treasures, this most beautiful and holy of all women and her divine Child, seemingly so inaccessible just a few short hours ago, were entrusted to his care!

Scripture says little about Joseph, and records no word of his, yet we can glean a great deal from the few references we have. We know that royal blood flowed through his veins, as he was of the house and lineage of David (Matthew 1:6-16). It was through Joseph’s fatherhood that God’s promise to David was fulfilled: “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before Me; your throne shall be established forever” (II Samuel 7:16), for it was through Joseph’s fatherhood that Jesus became the ultimate Son of David, whose reign will never end. (Just for the record, Mary is believed to have been of the house of David as well, since an heiress–which Mary is thought to have been–was expected to marry within her tribe in order to keep the family inheritance within the tribe, see Numbers 36:8).

Just what sort of fatherhood are we talking about? Scripture and Church teaching emphasize that Joseph did not physically beget Jesus (Luke 1:30-35, Matthew 1:18-25). Nevertheless, our Holy Father says: “In this family, Joseph is the father: his fatherhood is not one that derives from begetting offspring; but neither is it an “apparent” or merely “substitute” fatherhood. Rather, it is one that fully shares in authentic human fatherhood and the mission of a father in the family” (Guardian of the Redeemer). A number of writers, including Father Francis Filas, S.J., who has extensively studied St. Joseph, express this by referring to Joseph as Jesus’ Virginal Father, second only to Mary, His Virgin Mother. Joseph’s lived-out, virginal “yes” to the angel’s command to take Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:24) was his masculine counterpart to the Virgin Mary’s feminine “be it done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). His “yes” was his contribution to the Incarnation. Through her “yes”, Mary became a virgin mother. Through his “yes” to God, to Mary and to marriage, Joseph became a virginal father.

Moreover, as a virgin father and virgin husband, Joseph models for us the self-sacrificing love that is so necessary for healthy families. Joseph didn’t marry Mary for what he could get out of her. He didn’t marry her in order to indulge his lust (both remained virgins) or to throw his weight around. He married her in order to give himself to her freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully, because that was God’s calling on his life. This same motivation is crucial for us as well. Marriage is as much a divine call now as it was for Joseph, and the foundation of marriage is sacrificial love. St. Paul brings this out in Ephesians 5 when he tells us that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. Christ loved the Church by laying down His life for Her so that She could live. This is the kind of love that Joseph lived day in and day out for his bride, Mary. This is the kind of love that is so necessary in our homes as well.

In addition, the role God asked Joseph to accept was one of leadership; one of guiding, guarding and providing for the Holy Family. Again, Joseph didn’t take on the role of leadership for what he could get out of it. The authority God entrusted to Joseph was the type of authority Jesus expected of His disciples: “whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; even as the Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28). In other words, Joseph’s leadership wasn’t for his benefit, but rather for the benefit of Jesus and Mary. Joseph was answerable to God for the way he raised God’s Son and for the way he treated the Mother of God! Indeed, Joseph’s leadership was carried out in complete submission to God’s command. When the angel told Joseph to take Mary as his wife, he did so as soon as he woke up (Matthew 1:20-24). Later, Joseph fulfilled the angel’s command to name Jesus (Mathew 1:21, 25). When Joseph was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt, away from Herod’s murderous scheming, he led the Holy Family in an immediate departure (Matthew 2:13-15). When he was informed in yet more dreams that he should return to Nazareth, that’s where he led his family (Matthew 2:19-23). He demonstrates for us holy leadership as a delegation of God’s authority. Those who lead must be obedient to God themselves, for they will answer to Him for their stewardship of His authority, and for the welfare and the woe of those entrusted to them.

It was because of Joseph’s role of leadership in the Holy Family that Pope Pius XI declared him patron of the Universal Church. Pope Leo XIII explains it this way:
“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 Devotion To St. Joseph).

St. Teresa of Avila noted that Jesus, who obeyed Joseph perfectly on earth, still does all St. Joseph asks of Him in Heaven. Lest this sound scandalous, remember that Joseph, the just man (Matthew 1:19) who obeyed God during his earthly lifetime and is perfected in Heaven, only asks God for those things which are in keeping with His holy will. St. Teresa writes: “I have never known any one who was really devoted to him, and who honored him by particular services, who did not grow visibly more and more in virtue; for he helps in a special way those souls who commend themselves to him. It is now some years since I have always on his feast asked him for something, and I always have it. If the petition is in any way amiss, he redirects it aright for my greater good” (_The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila_).

Joseph is thought to have died in the arms of Jesus and Mary before Jesus began His public ministry. This is believed both because no mention is made of him during Jesus’ public life and because Jesus entrusted Mary to St. John (which would not have been necessary if Joseph had been alive to provide for her). Once Jesus was ready to begin His public life, Joseph’s mission was complete, and God called him to his reward. By his death, Joseph echoed St. John the Baptist’s declaration, “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). Joseph’s death also paved the way for Jesus to point us to His heavenly Father without getting people confused over just which father He meant.

(main source:, and links from that page)

Dear St. Joseph, most holy husband and father, please pray for us. Pray for men that they may grow in holy masculinity and for women that they may rejoice in their femininity. Pray for our families, especially our fathers, that they may grow in imitation of your holy family and your holy fatherhood. Pray for the Church. Protect Her and provide for Her, that Her children may join you, Jesus and Mary in Heaven forever. Amen.

May St. Joseph inspire us to holy obedience, holy family life, and deeper devotion to Jesus and Mary.

Litany of St. Joseph

Lord, have mercy.
R/ Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.
R/ Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.
R/ Lord, have mercy.

Jesus, hear us.
R/ Jesus, graciously hear us.

God, the Father of Heaven,
R/ have mercy on us.

God, the Son, Redeemer of the world,
R/ have mercy on us.

God, the Holy Spirit,
R/ have mercy on us.

Holy Trinity, One God,
R/ have mercy on us.

(Response for each of the following invocations: pray for us)

Holy Mary,
St. Joseph,
Renowned offspring of David,
Light of Patriarchs,
Spouse of the Mother of God,
Chaste guardian of the Virgin,
Foster father of the Son of God,
Diligent protector of Christ,
Head of the Holy Family,
Joseph most just,
Joseph most chaste,
Joseph most prudent,
Joseph most strong,
Joseph most obedient,
Joseph most faithful,
Mirror of patience,
Lover of poverty,
Model of artisans,
Glory of home life,
Guardian of virgins,
Pillar of families,
Solace of the wretched,
Hope of the sick,
Patron of the dying,
Terror of demons,
Protector of Holy Church,

Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world,
R/ spare us, O Lord.

Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world,
R/ graciously hear us, O Lord.

Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world.
R/ have mercy on us.

He made him the lord of his household.
R/ And prince over all his possessions.

Let us pray. O God, in your ineffable providence you were pleased to choose Blessed Joseph to be the spouse of your most holy Mother; grant, we beg you, that we may be worthy to have him for our intercessor in Heaven whom on earth we venerate as our Protector: You who live and reign forever and ever. R/ Amen.

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