FAUSTO GOMEZ OP
The month of March of every year is the month of St. Joseph, “father” of Jesus, husband of Mary and Patron of the Universal Church. Among the saints, St. Joseph is highly significant for believers in Jesus.
SAINT JOSEPH’S LIFE
Traditionally, St. Joseph is pictured as a venerable old person. Although nothing is said of his age in the gospels, it appears, as probable, that he was around 25 when he married Mary, who was much younger. He died, presumably, before the public ministry of Jesus.
The gospels tell us some significant facts about Saint Joseph who is described as a just or upright man.
In the Old Testament, “a just man”, from Abraham on, is the symbol of a holy person while in the New Testament the symbol is “a believer” (Benedict XVI, The Infancy Narratives). A just man meant then a holy man, a blessed man, a happy man, a man of faith who is utterly faithful to the mission God entrusted to him. St. Joseph is a just man, that is, one wholly obedient to God, to the mission God assigned to him: to be the husband of Mary, the legal and foster father of Jesus, the head and breadwinner of the Holy Family.
Joseph is betrothed to Mary his spouse to be, but not yet married to her. (Betrothal meant that they were like husband and wife, usually for a year, but not yet exercising the rights of husband and wife). He realized that Mary is pregnant. What to do? He decides not to expose her publicly – as he legally could – but to leave her secretly. Joseph chose the private way, because he was “a just man.” However, he could not carry out his decision: God had other plans that were spelled out to him in four dreams (cf. Pope Francis, Apostolic Letter Patris Corde).
In the first dream, an angel tells him that the child in Mary’s womb is by the Holy Spirit and that he will name him Jesus, which means the one who saves (Mt 1:20-21, 24). In the second dream, Joseph is asked to flee to Egypt to safeguard Jesus from the murderous hands of Herod (Mt 2:13-15). In the third dream, Joseph is asked by God’s angel to return with Jesus and Mary to the land of Israel (Mt 2:19-21). In the fourth and final dream, the spouse of Mary is asked to go to Galilee, to Nazareth (Mt 2:22-23).
Another important event in the life of Joseph is the loss and finding of Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem. Benedict XVI comments: “After looking for him, for three painful days, Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the Temple conversing with doctors of the law. Mary expressed her anguish when she asked her son: ‘Your father and I have been looking for you anxiously’ (cf. Lk 2:41-51). “Jesus corrects her: I am with my Father. My father is not Joseph, but another – God himself. It is to him that I belong and here am I with him. Could Jesus’ divine sonship be presented any more clearly” (Infancy Narratives).
Through these mysterious events, Joseph, “the father in the shadows,” said nothing, not a spoken word. However, he uttered the most convincing word: his coherent life, his good deeds, his total obedience to God and utmost fidelity to his mission. While Mary is the disciple of disciples, Joseph is also a unique disciple after Mary. This is why Joseph is the patron of the universal Church.
SIGNIFICANCE OF SAINT JOSEPH
Through the year 2021, the Church celebrated the Year of St. Joseph: to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. Pope Francis declared the Year of St. Joseph in his Apostolic Letter Patris Corde – with a Father’s Heart. The Year of Saint Joseph started on December 8, 2020, and ended on December 8, 2021. In this lovely letter, the pope invites all Christians to be aware doctrinally and practically of the significance of St. Joseph in the mystery of the incarnation and redemption, and invited us all to be deeply devoted to the head of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Pope Francis focused his letter – still very meaningful and inspiring – on the special fatherhood of Joseph, and developed seven characteristics of his unique fatherhood: Joseph is (1) A beloved father, (2) A tender and loving father, (3) An obedient father, (4) An accepting father, (5) A creatively courageous father, (6) A working father, and (7) A father in the shadows.
Saint Joseph has been declared Patron of the Catholic Church (Pope Pius IX), Patron of Workers (Pope Pius XII), Guardian of the Redeemer (Pope John Paul II), and Patron of a Happy Death (CCC 1014). Pope Francis presents St. Joseph, moreover, as Patron of dignified work, Guardian of the Church, and Protector of the unfortunate, the needy, exiles, the afflicted, the poor and the dying. In our time, when migrants are often “discarded” and not respected, it is urgent to underline the new title Pope Francis gave to St. Joseph: Patron of Migrants. The Pope describes St. Joseph as “holy special patron for all those that have to leave their country by reason of war, hatred, persecution and misery.”
Saints have a notable devotion to St. Joseph. An example: St. Teresa of Ávila. When she was a young nun, Teresa was very sick: she almost died. She says that she went to many doctors and healers but to no avail. Finally, and after the failure of the earthly doctors and healers, Teresa went to the heavenly doctor St. Joseph, who healed her. Teresa says that the glorious Saint Joseph gave to her “up to now” everything she asked from him. The Carmelite nun adds: It seems that the Lord gave to other saints the grace to heal one need, but to St. Joseph, the graces – “as I have experienced”- to succor all needs (cf. Book of Life, chapter 6).
We are asked by St. Joseph, the universal Patron of the Church and therefore our patron and guide, to believe in God, to trust him always, to do his will, even when suffering and trials visit us: to be “just,” holy women and men.
The feast of St. Joseph falls within the penitential Season of Lent. Pope Francis encourages us: “We need only ask St. Joseph for the grace of graces: our conversion.”