In honour of his upcoming feastday (March 19th), this instalment of the Heroic Virtue Series is on the St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin, Guardian of Christ, Father and Patron of the Universal Church! This blog will shed light on a few of the facts we know about St. Joseph’s life, but is primarily concerned with the immediate relevance of devotion to St. Joseph in our current age. Why are the intercession and example of St. Joseph of the greatest importance to the Church today? Read on and find out.
The life of St. Joseph is in large part untold, except for a few events we know about scripturally. Nonetheless, these events are very telling of his character and holiness, and throughout the Church’s history, many (including myself) have considered him to be the greatest of the saints, aside from his spouse, Mary. What makes him so special? Well, to put it as plainly as I can, Joseph was called by God to the highest vocation any man could be – to be the father of His Son, Jesus – and he accepted and lived out this mission with perfect humility and diligence.
Pope Leo XIII puts it this way:
“In truth, the dignity of the Mother of God is so lofty that naught created can rank above it. But as Joseph has been united to the Blessed Virgin by the ties of marriage, it may not be doubted that he approached nearer than any to the eminent dignity by which the Mother of God surpasses so nobly all created natures. For 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. And Joseph shines among all mankind by the most august dignity, since by divine will, he was the guardian of the Son of God and reputed as His father among men.”
Patron of the Universal Church
Pope Leo turned to Joseph in a time of need for the Church, faced with the growing concern of modernism within Christendom, watering down the faith and deceiving countless numbers of people, just as it continues to do today. Times were, and still are, quite dire. Leo described them as “scarcely less deplorable for the Christian religion than the worst days, which in time past were most full of misery to the Church.”
It is only appropriate that the Catholic Church should have as its patron the man who was during his life the patron and protector of Christ Himself. Again, from Pope Leo:
“The reasons why St. Joseph must be considered the special patron of the Church, and the Church in turn draws exceeding hope from his care and patronage, chiefly arise from his having been the husband of Mary and the presumed father of Jesus…, Joseph was in his day the lawful and natural guardian, head and defender of the Holy Family…. It is thus fitting and most worthy of Joseph’s dignity that, in the same way that he once kept unceasing holy watch over the family of Nazareth, so now does he protect and defend with his heavenly patronage the Church of Christ.”
Guardian of the Redeemer
Joseph was the head of the Holy Family, husband of Mary, and Father of Jesus. The earliest Church fathers recognized that, although Jesus was not conceived by Joseph physically, Joseph was truly His father. Augustine writes, “Scripture recognizes that Jesus is not born of Joseph’s seed, since in his concern about the origin of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph is told that it is of the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless, he is not deprived of his fatherly authority from the moment that he is told to name the child. Finally, even the Virgin Mary, well aware that she has not conceived Christ as a result of conjugal relations with Joseph, still calls him Christ’s father.”
Here Augustine refers to Luke 2:48:
And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.”
This is a beautiful example of one of the most overlooked aspects of Joseph’s life: his role as the companion of Mary. Throughout Jesus’ childhood he was the sole companion of the holiest of women, and his holiness imitated, supported and protected hers. As Catholics we are very fond of remembering the Seven Sorrows, but I at least, rarely remember that the first three of these, those that happened within his lifetime, were also sorrows which Joseph carried. The prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, and the loss of Christ for three days in Jerusalem – Joseph faithfully and courageously led the Holy Family through these trials.
One final note about Joseph’s role in the holy family: Joseph and Mary become, in their marriage, the ultimate model for vocations, not just to marriage, but also to celibacy for the kingdom! In their unique way, as no one else could, Joseph and Mary modelled both these vocations, being faithful spouses, as well as virgins given entirely to the will of God.
A Just Man (Matthew 1:19)
I’ve reflected above on why the intercession of Joseph is so powerful, and important for the Church today. Now let’s look at how the holy example of St. Joseph can be useful for us in our time. The most important thing to consider, I think, is the virtues displayed by the life of St. Joseph.
The greatest of the virtues, charity, is ever present in his life, lived for the sake of the holy family. He obeyed the angel without hesitation, giving himself in marriage to Mary, though she was with child. He moved to Egypt to save his family, he worked his whole life to provide for his poor family. He died having given everything he had to Jesus and Mary.
His humility and diligence in his work are also a great inspiration to all of us. In St. Joseph, we have the greatest image of the quiet nobility of honest work. Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke of this, quoting his own encyclical, Laborem Exercens: ‘In the human growth of Jesus “in wisdom, age and grace,” the virtue of industriousness played a notable role, since “work is a human good” which “transforms nature” and makes man “in a sense, more human.”‘
Finally, Joseph’s perfect Chastity is, with Mary’s the model for all Christians. As mentioned above, Joseph and Mary lived Chastity to perfection, in the mysterious state of their virgin marriage. We can call upon Joseph’s intercession for any of the above virtues, and against their opposing vices, but especially for Chastity.
Ultimately, St. Joseph can be for us, like all the saints, a help on our journey to imitate Christ, and to grow in love. Do not be afraid to call confidently upon the Holy Church’s great patron for help.
The Bible – srsly read it
Quamquam Pluries – Encyclical letter of Pope Leo XIII
Redemptoris Custos – Encyclical letter of Blessed John Paul II
Catholic Encyclopedia – St. Joseph