A Reflection on the Feast of St. Joseph
Patron of the Universal Church and Patron of Canada
The present challenges to fatherhood and masculinity cannot be understood in isolation from the culture in which we live. A recent study has found that over four in 10 babies are born to unwed mothers – a sad new record for our day. How many of these children will grow up without a loving father in their life? If there was ever a time when we needed a strong, saintly, fatherly role model, it is now.
Joseph was a compassionate, caring man. Learning that Mary, to whom he was betrothed, was pregnant, and knowing that the child was not his, he planned to divorce her according to the law. As yet he was unaware that she was carrying the Son of God. Joseph, a man of deep kindness, and concerned for her suffering and safety, wanted to keep the divorce as quiet as possible. He was also a man of faith, obedient to whatever God asked of him regardless of the outcome. When the angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him the truth about the Child that Mary was carrying, Joseph instantly and without question—and without concern for gossip--took her as his wife. Later, when the angel came again to tell him that his family was in danger, he immediately left everything—family, friends, possessions-- and fled to a strange country with his wife and the Child. He waited in Egypt until the angel told him it was safe to go back.
According to the Scriptures Joseph was a carpenter, a humble worker. He wasn't rich: when he took Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised and Mary to be purified he offered the sacrifice of two turtle doves, an offering allowed only for those who could not afford a lamb. Yet we know that he came from a royal lineage, as both Luke and Matthew mark his descent from David, the great king of Israel (Matthew 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38).
Joseph loved Jesus. His one concern was for the safety of this Child entrusted to him. Not only did he leave his home to protect Jesus, but upon his return settled in the obscure town of Nazareth. When Jesus stayed in the Temple we are told that Joseph, along with Mary, searched for Him with great anxiety for three days (Luke 2:48). Scripture has left us with the most important knowledge about Joseph: he was "a righteous man" (Matthew 1:18).
Joseph protected and provided for Jesus and Mary. He gave Jesus His name, taught him how to pray, how to work, how to be a man. While no words or texts are attributed to him, we can be sure that Joseph pronounced two of the most important words that could ever be spoken when he named his son "Jesus" (God the Savior) and called him "Emmanuel" (God is with us).
Joseph’s life reminds us that a home or community is not built on power and possessions but on goodness; not on riches and wealth, but on faith, fidelity, purity, and mutual love. Joseph and Mary more than anyone else were the first to behold the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
Joseph reveals to us the task given to fathers to proclaim God's kingdom by word and deed. His unique role as "foster father to Jesus" draws attention to the truth about fatherhood, which is more than a mere fact of biological generation. A man is a father most when he invests himself in the spiritual and moral formation of his children. Joseph was keenly aware, as every father should be, that he served as the representative of God the Father.
Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation of 1989, Redemptoris Custos
(Guardian of the Redeemer),
teaches us that Joseph's "fatherhood is expressed concretely in 'his having made his life a service…a total gift of self." God entrusted a very precious gift to Joseph when He called him to be the guardian of Jesus.
Let us ask God to give us the same "obedience of faith" that Joseph showed throughout his lifetime.
May St. Joseph strengthen us and help us to imitate the humble worker from Nazareth who listened to the Lord, safeguarded the gift that had been entrusted to him, and made a place for the Word of God to grow and live among us.