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Solemnity of St. Joseph

March 19, 2007

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 her 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.

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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