St. Joseph, father and guide

December 8 marks the end of the year dedicated to St. Joseph, which commemorated his proclamation as patron of the universal Church in 1870. To conclude, the author of this article presents the main features of the man who is the father and guide of Jesus and of all Christians.

Dominique Le Tourneau-March 19, 2022-Reading time: 12 minutes

Over the past few months, we have increased our knowledge of and have come into intimate contact with the patriarch St. Joseph. And that, thanks to Pope Francis' decision to decree a Year of St. Joseph, which will end on December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

As he expressed in his Apostolic Letter Patris cordeFrancis made this decision on the occasion of the sesquicentennial of the proclamation of St. Joseph as patron of the universal Church by the Supreme Pontiff Pius IX, on December 8, 1870, at the request of the fathers of the First Vatican Council.

With this, the Roman Pontiff offered us some points for reflection and meditation, highlighting the different roles of the one who played the role of father of the Redeemer. He was," he wrote, "father in love, father in tenderness, father in obedience, father in welcome, father in creative courage, father in work and, finally, father in the shadows.

Thanks to a righteous man

The name Joseph is a whole program. It means in Hebrew "he will increase", "he will add" or "he will make grow". And St. Josemaría Escrivá comments: "He will increase".God adds, to the holy life of those who fulfill his will, unsuspected dimensions: what is important, what gives value to everything, the divine. God, to the humble and holy life of Joseph, added - if I may say so - the life of the Virgin Mary and that of Jesus, our Lord. God never lets himself be outdone in generosity. Joseph could make his own the words spoken by Mary, his wife: Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens estHe who is all-powerful has done great things in me".(It is Christ who passes, n. 40). Therefore, our gratitude to St. Joseph should be very great.

He received an annunciation parallel to that of Mary. As we read in St. Matthew, when he realized that his betrothed was expecting a son, "as he was fair and did not want to defame her, he decided to disown her in private." (Mt 1:18-19). But as soon as he had made this decision, An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife, for the child that is in her is of the Holy Spirit.".

What some have regarded as Joseph's doubts has given rise, both in art and literature, to the theme of St. Joseph's jealousy, of Byzantine origin. Already in his Representation of the Birth of Our Lord (around 1467-1481) Gómez Manrique mentioned them. They are still present in the Life, excellencies and death of the glorious Patriarch and Bridegroom of Our Lady St. Joseph (1604) by José de Valdivielso. And it becomes the subject of the work of Cristóbal de Monroy y Silva, Jealousy of St. Joseph (1646). We can think, in reality, that the doubt refers only to the decision he had to make, but he could not question the sanctity of his wife.

According to Jewish traditions, they were considered already married. And Mary's marriage to Joseph has always been presented as a true marriage, even though it respected Mary's initial decision to remain a virgin: she would give birth without the help of a man, but by "obumbration," since the Holy Spirit took her under his shadow. Starting from the matrimonial goods identified by St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas affirms that this marriage is really a marriage, because both spouses have consented to the conjugal union, but "not carnal union, except on one condition: that God willed it.".

St. Jerome presented the reasons why it was convenient for them to be married: "First, that by genealogy Mary's provenance might be established; second, that she might not be stoned by the Jews as an adulteress; third, that she might have a consolation in the flight to Egypt.". The account of the martyrdom of St. Ignatius adds a fourth reason: so that the birth would be hidden from the eyes of the devil, who would think that the child had been fathered by a wife, not a virgin.

St. Matthew the Evangelist conveys the angelic affirmation that St. Joseph was an angel. "righteous man"that is, a saint. This eximious holiness has been aptly described by Richard, in his Historical praise of the Saintspublished in Valencia in 1780: "Ponder as much as you will his prerogatives; say that having been destined by special vocation to the noblest ministry there ever was, he gathered in his person what was distributed among the other Saints; that he had the lights of the Prophets, to know the secret of the Incarnation of a God; the loving care of the Patriarchs, to encrypt and nourish a man God; the chastity of the Virgins, to live with a Virgin Mother of a God; the faith of the Apostles, to discover among the exterior humility of a man, the hidden greatness of a God; the zeal of the Confessors, and the fortitude of the Martyrs, to defend and save at the risk of their lives that of a God. Say all this, Sirs; but I will answer you with a single word: Joseph vir ejus erat justus".

Devotion to St. Joseph

Such exceptional holiness motivates a total trust in the intercessory power of our saint and, therefore, a special devotion. 

St. Teresa explains it well, with some biographical tints: "I took the glorious Saint Joseph as my advocate and lord, and I entrusted myself to him. I saw clearly that from this need as well as from other greater needs of honor and loss of soul, this my father and lord brought me out with more good than I knew how to ask of him. I do not remember until now having begged him for anything that I have failed to do. It is something that frightens me the great mercies that God has given me through this blessed Saint, of the dangers that he has freed me from, both in body and soul; it seems that the Lord gave other saints grace to help in one need, I have experience that this glorious Saint helps in all, and that the Lord wants us to understand that just as he was subject to him on earth - that since he had the name of father, being a godfather, he could command him - so in heaven he does whatever he asks of him. This has been seen by other people, whom I told to commend themselves to him, also by experience; and there are even many who are devoted to him again, experiencing this truth".

Testimony of this devotion are the confraternities of St. Joseph present both in Spain and Latin America, presented by F. Javier Campos y Fernández de Sevilla, OSA, in his work Confraternities of St. Joseph in the Hispanic Worldof 2014. The author explains that "Traditionally it had been the artisans of wood and related trades who had chosen St. Joseph as the patron saint of the new confraternity that they placed under their patronage, but it is also observed that, on other occasions, he was chosen because of his position in the celestial court and because Marian and saintly devotions with a tradition in Hispanic American Christian culture had already erected confraternities to the same invocation, he is chosen because of the place he occupies in the heavenly court and because the Marian and saintly devotions with tradition in the Hispanic-American Christian culture already had confraternities erected for the same devotion -possibly more than one in large cities-, or there were no images or canvases in the church where they wanted to erect the brotherhood"..

For his part, the current successor of Peter, in his meeting with families in Manila, confided how he makes use of his devotion to St. Joseph in his sleep: "I love St. Joseph very much, because he is a strong and silent man and on my desk I have a picture of St. Joseph sleeping and sleeping he takes care of the Church. Yes, he can do it, we know that. And when I have a problem, a difficulty, I write a little piece of paper and I put it under St. Joseph, so that he will dream it. This means for him to pray for that problem. [Joseph listened to the angel of the Lord, and responded to God's call to take care of Jesus and Mary. In this way, he fulfilled his role in God's plan, and became a blessing not only for the holy Family, but for all humanity. With Mary, Joseph served as a model for the child Jesus as he grew in wisdom, age and grace."

This pontifical commentary, full of candor and faith, refers us to Joseph's dreams. Let us recall that, according to the Gospel accounts, St. Joseph benefits on three occasions from an angelic message during sleep. First, when he discovers that his wife is pregnant, as we noted above; then, after the departure of the Magi, when the deadly fury of Herod wants to kill Jesus; and finally, to decide when to return to Palestine. Why does the angel appear to him in his dream, and not in reality, as he did with Zechariah, the shepherds or the Virgin Mary herself, St. John Chrysostom asked. And he answers: "For the faith of this bridegroom was strong and he did not need such an apparition" (In Matth. homil. 4)..

We rightly consider St. Joseph to be an exceptional saint. Nevertheless, we have heard our Lord affirm that "greater than John the Baptist has not been born of a woman; though he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (Mt 11:11). How is this statement to be understood?

The kingdom that Jesus Christ has come to establish is the New Testament. St. John is the greatest of the Old, and stands, so to speak, at the door of the New. For his part, St. Joseph is, together with the Virgin Mary, the first to belong to the Kingdom established by his Son. In fact, the Forerunner did not have the privilege of sharing his life with that of Jesus and Mary. He saw the Lamb of God from afar, whom he presented to his disciples (cf. Jn 1:36), while it was given to Joseph not only to see and hear him, but also to embrace, kiss, clothe and guard him.

The superiority of St. Joseph over the Lord's apostles should also be emphasized. As Bossuet argued, "Among all the vocations, I point out two in the Scriptures that seem directly opposed. The first, that of the apostles; the second, that of Joseph. Jesus reveals himself to the apostles, Jesus reveals himself to Joseph, but in quite opposite conditions. He reveals himself to the apostles to proclaim him throughout the universe; he reveals himself to Joseph, to silence him and to hide him. The apostles are lights to make Jesus Christ visible to the world; Joseph is a veil to cover him and under this mysterious veil he hides from us the virginity of Mary and the greatness of the Savior of souls.".

Joseph's silence and the Eucharist

This leads us to refer briefly to the so-called "silence of saint Joseph".. As Paul Claudel aptly wrote, "is silent as the earth at the time of the dew".. Pope Pius XI declared in this regard that the two great personages John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul "They represent the person and the mission of St. Joseph, who, however, passes in silence, as if disappeared and unknown, in humility and silence, a silence that was not to be illuminated until centuries later. But where the mystery is deepest and the night above it thickest, where the silence is deepest, it is precisely where the mission is highest, where the virtues that are required and the merit that, by a fortunate necessity, must respond to such a mission are richest. That grandiose, unique mission of caring for the Son of God, the King of the universe, the mission of protecting the virginity, the holiness of Mary, the mission of cooperating, as the only vocation, to participate in the great mystery hidden from the centuries, in the divine Incarnation and in the Salvation of the human race"..

This silent presence is perhaps even more striking in the unfolding of the Eucharistic sacrifice. In fact, we can glimpse a presence of the holy patriarch in the Mass. He assists us in that sublime moment in various ways: 

1) Mary is spiritually present at the altar as co-redeemer. Now, Joseph is her husband, and we cannot separate them. Jesus, the Redeemer of humanity, is the fruit of their marriage. 

2) Jesus rightly called St. Joseph "father", and Joseph sent Jesus as a true father, took care of Him, fed Him, and, together with the Virgin Mary, "prepared" the sovereign Priest and divine victim of the Sacrifice of the Passion that was to come. 

3) Mary and Joseph are inseparable in the devotion of the faithful, as, indeed, in the plan of the redemptive Incarnation. 

4) In the Mass, the sacrifice is offered by the whole Church and for the whole Church. Now, St. Mary has been designated as Mother of the Church, and St. Joseph is her father. 

5) The Eucharistic Prayer I proclaims: "Gathered together in communion with the whole Church, we venerate the memory, first of all, of the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ, our God and Lord; that of her spouse, St. Joseph..."

6) Mary intercedes before her Son so that he may be the only Mediator before the eternal Father, and Joseph, head of the Holy Family, presents us before the Intercessor.

Moreover, we can say that St. Joseph participated in advance in the Sacrifice of his Son to the extent that, in the words of St. Alphonsus Liguori, he participated in the Sacrifice of his Son, "With how many tears Mary and Joseph, who knew perfectly well the divine Scriptures, would have spoken, in the presence of Jesus, of his painful passion and death. With what tenderness they would have spoken of their Beloved, whom Isaiah had referred to as the man of sorrows. He, beautiful as he was, would be scourged and battered until he looked like a leper full of sores and wounds. But his beloved son would suffer everything with patience, without even opening his mouth or lamenting so many sorrows and, like a lamb, he would let himself be led to death: and finally he would have ended his life by dint of torments, hanging on an infamous log between two thieves".

The Holy Family

With this, let us say something about the Holy Family, which the authors call the "trinity of the earth". It appears in the Mérode triptych, in which, according to Cynthia Hahn, the presence of Joseph in the right panel is to be explained as a figure of God the Father. St. Josemaría insisted on a spiritual itinerary consisting of moving from the trinity of the earth to the Most Holy Trinity: "Passing through Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the trinity of earth, each will find his own way to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity of heaven."

St. Josemaría also described St. Joseph as "inner life teacher". He addressed him with these words: "St. Joseph, our Father and Lord, most chaste, most clean, who has merited to carry the Infant Jesus in your arms, and to wash him and embrace him: teach us to treat our God, to be clean, worthy to be other Christs. And help us to do and to teach, like Christ, the divine ways - hidden and luminous -, telling men that they can, on earth, have an extraordinary spiritual efficacy" (Forge 553)..

Patron saint of the good death, and of the hidden life.

Patron of the universal Church, as we said at the beginning, St. Joseph is also presented to us as the patron of the good death. Father Patrignani, a great lover of the patriarch, adduced as reasons for this patronage: "1) Joseph is the father of our Judge, of whom the other saints are but friends. 2) His power is formidable before the demons. 3) His death was the most privileged and the sweetest ever.".

St. Alphonsus Liguori explains that "Joseph's death was rewarded with the sweetest presence of the bride and of the Redeemer, who deigned to call Himself his son. How could death be bitter for him, who died in the arms of life? Who can ever explain or understand the sublime sweetness, the consolations, the hopes, the acts of resignation, the flames of charity, which the words of eternal life of Jesus and Mary then aroused in Joseph's heart?".

The same author adds that "The death of our saint was peaceful and serene, without anguish or fear, because his life was always holy. The death of one who for a time has offended God and deserved hell cannot be like that. However, great will then be the rest for those who place themselves under the protection of St. Joseph. He, who in life had commanded God, will certainly know how to command the demons, driving them away and preventing them from tempting his devotees at the moment of death. Blessed is the soul that is assisted by this valid advocate.".

The death of our saint was preceded by years of what is usually called the "hidden life," years of contemplation of God through the sanctification of ordinary work and daily events, years dedicated to giving glory to God by offering him humble daily chores. St. Joseph, at the side of Mary and Jesus, offers us a perfect model of the sanctification of ordinary life.

For Bossuet, "Joseph had this honor of being daily with Jesus Christ, and with Mary he had the greatest part of his graces; and yet Joseph was hidden, his life, his works, his virtues were unknown. Perhaps we will learn from such a beautiful example that one can be great without noise, that one can be blessed without noise, and that one can have true glory without the aid of fame, by the testimony of his conscience alone."

We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that "With submission to his mother, and to his legal father, Jesus fulfills with perfection the fourth commandment. It is the temporal image of his filial obedience to his heavenly Father. Jesus' daily submission to Joseph and Mary announced and anticipated the submission of Holy Thursday: 'My will be done...' (Lk 22:42). Christ's obedience in the daily life of the hidden life already inaugurated the work of restoration of what Adam's disobedience had destroyed (cf. Rom 5:19)".

St. Bernard wondered at such a mystery: "Who, then, was subject to whom? Indeed, the God to whom the Angels are subject, to whom the Principalities and Powers obey, was subject to Mary; and not only to Mary, but also to Joseph for Mary's sake. Admire, therefore, both, and see which is more admirable, whether the most liberal condescension of the Son or the most glorious dignity of the Mother. On both sides there is reason for astonishment; on both sides, prodigy. A God obeying a human creature, here is a humility never seen before; a human creature commanding a God, here is a greatness without equal" (Homily II super Missus est, 7).

But nourished without interruption by prayer. "St. Joseph stands before us as a man of faith and prayer. The liturgy applies to him the word of God in Psalm 88: 'He will cry out to me: Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation' (Ps 89:26). Certainly, how many times in the course of long working days Joseph must have raised his thoughts to God to invoke him, to offer him his labors, to implore him for light, help and consolation. Now, this man who seems to cry out to God with all his life: 'You are my father', obtains this particular grace: the Son of God on earth treats him as Father. Joseph invokes God with all the ardor of his believing soul: 'My Father', and Jesus, who worked at his side with the carpenter's tools, addresses him as 'father'".

We close this article with the prayer that Pope Francis proposed to us at the end of his letter Patris corde:

Hail, guardian of the Redeemer
and husband of the Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his Son,
Mary placed her trust in you,
with you Christ was forged as a man.
O blessed Joseph,
show yourself a father to us too
and guide us on the path of life.
Grant us grace, mercy and courage.
defend us from all evil. Amen.

The authorDominique Le Tourneau

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