St. Joseph, patron of the Church


Without ever speaking a word, the man chosen by God to lead the Queen of Heaven and the Son of Man admirably followed the will of his Lord. The life of Saint Joseph is one of the more cryptic and elusive parts of Scripture, but his role in the Incarnation of our Lord is indispensable. 

Saint Joseph in all the Gospels is never recorded as speaking a single word – his obedience to God’s will is immediate. He requires no further details and dares not question his mission, but simply performs what is asked of him. When no direction is given and his faith is tested separate from divine guidance, his actions are given some of the highest lauds in Scripture.

The most detailed account of Joseph and his works lies in the Gospel of Matthew, where we first see Joseph wrestling with the impossible question of how to react to the news of the pregnancy of his betrothed wife, Mary. Since she is already bound to him under the law, any relations she has with another is considered adultery, and the punishment for an adulteress is public stoning. 

Here Joseph is called a “righteous man,” hearkening back to Abraham whose faith is credited to him as “an act of righteousness,” placing Joseph as the epitome of a long line of Jewish patriarchs, whose blood he shares and by which Jesus claims His ancestry. Joseph’s decision, rather than expose his beloved to a public execution, is to separate himself from her quietly. 

Joseph is well aware that his wife, Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is far too virtuous to have voluntarily cheated on him. The two realities, her apparent infidelity, and her obvious virtue, are irreconcilable. He has no clear explanation and is left confused, and yet he chooses to hope and believe in her goodness and in God’s rather than give in to cynicism.

Joseph is immediately favored with a dream of the Lord’s angel, calling him to his mission of protection and care for the Mother of God as the foster father of Christ. His response as soon as he awakes is to do what was commanded. 

The next major episode revealing his masculine virtue is the fiasco of Bethlehem. At the worst possible time, when Mary’s child is expected at any moment, the census is called, and any preparations he had made for that event were dashed. He is obliged to return to his native city across the country, and take his family with him. His ability and willingness to provide and protect those under his care are brought to bear in a cross-country trek with limited resources with a heavily pregnant wife to care for. Everything is surrounded by a hazy mist of worry, frustration, anger and indignation. But he rises to the occasion and presses on through difficulty. 

Upon arrival, he is kept from securing a safe place for his wife to give birth, and finds the best place he can, where the Christmas picture of a cozy stable with the Christ child lying peacefully in a manger arises. Though quaint, such a portrait is far from the truth that Joseph was faced with. A filthy, cold, outdoor dwelling meant for animals became the birthplace of the son he is charged with protecting. Such frustration of one’s duty is enough to fluster any man, but Joseph remains firm in fulfilling his task as a father, making do with the best he can.

The trials Joseph is tasked with overcoming increase exponentially from there. A jealous Herod, suspicious of the claims that a new king will be born, orders the death of all newborn males, turning the sword against his own people in a manner reminiscent of the Pharoah’s own tyranny against Israel in Egypt. Joseph receives warning of the coming catastrophe from another angelic dream, and follows the absurd command to flee to Egypt with the child for safety. His ability to take his family on such a journey is a testament to his readiness and capacity to obey God whatever His commands. Here also is evidence against Joseph’s being an elderly or infirm man; old men do not walk to Egypt. Only the competent and energetic efforts of a righteous and youthful Joseph would be sufficient for such an undertaking. But God’s choice for the caretaker of His Son was not in vain, for Joseph was capable of protecting his family. 

Joseph’s life serves as a holy and wholly righteous example of the masculine virtue needed for the father of a family to fulfill his role. The favor God shows on him in the midst of his difficulties shows the intense relationship with the Lord that was the foundation of Joseph’s strength in times of trouble. His obedience to the authority of God allows him to satisfy his responsibility to the family. Let us use his steadfast love and protection as a model for virtue in our lives.


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