Saint Joseph, the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Guardian of the Redeemer.
We know Saint Joseph not only as the foster father of Jesus, but also as the epitome of a perfect husband, and as our “model worker”. He is known to be a “tekton” (τέκτων). The word has been traditionally translated into English as “carpenter”, but is a rather general word (from the same root that gives us “technical” and “technology”) that could cover makers of objects in various materials, even builders.1
We have never read anything in the Bible about Saint Joseph ever uttering even a single word. His silence tells a lot about his humility and total surrender to the will of God. We know him only through the Gospel accounts, particularly in Saint Matthew and Saint Luke.
Saint Joseph was instructed in his dreams, before and after the birth and early years of Jesus. We have heard of the story when he was told to take the Virgin Mary as his wife (Mt. 1:20-21); when he had to take his family and flee to Egypt during the massacre of the Holy Innocents (Mt 2:13); and when it was already safe to bring his family back to Israel (Mt 2:19). After the finding of Jesus at the temple, the Bible became silent about him. Tradition holds that during the years of Jesus’ ministry, Mary was already a widow. We are all too familiar with pictures and statues of Saint Joseph holding the Baby Jesus in his arms.
But have you ever wondered why Saint Joseph is holding a lily as well? The Lilium candidum, known also as the Madonna lily, is one of the symbols of our Lady. Song of Songs 2:1 says “I am the Rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys.”
St. Joseph holding a lily reminds us that his spouse was the spotless Virgin Mary. There is also an interesting story about how Saint Joseph was chosen as the spouse of the Mother of Christ. When the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was serving in the Temple of the Lord, reached twelve years old, a council of the priests was held. The priests asked among themselves, “What then shall we do with her, lest perchance she defile the sanctuary of the Lord?” And they said to the high priest: “You stand by the altar of the Lord; go in, and pray concerning her; and whatever the Lord shall manifest unto you, that also will we do.” And the high priest went in, taking the robe with the twelve bells into the holy of holies; and he prayed concerning her. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by him, saying unto him: “Zacharias, Zacharias, go out and assemble the widowers of the people, and let them bring each his rod; and to whomsoever the Lord show a sign, his wife shall shall she be.”
The heralds went out through all the circuit of Judea, and the trumpet of the Lord sounded, and all ran. And Joseph, throwing away his axe, went out to meet them; and when they had assembled, they went away to the high priest, taking with them their rods. And he, taking the rods of all of them, entered into the temple, and prayed; and having ended his prayer, he took the rods and came out, and gave them to them: but there was no sign in them. Joseph took his rod last; and, behold, a dove came out of the rod, and flew upon Joseph’s head. The priest said to Joseph, “You have been chosen by lot to take into your keeping the virgin of the Lord.” And so “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took his wife” (Mt 1:24).2
In the Apostolic Exhortation “Redemptoris Custos” (Guardian of the Redeemer), Blessed John Paul II said that “The Son of Mary is also Joseph’s Son by virtue of the marriage bond that unites them. Joseph and Mary arc the summit from which holiness spreads all over the earth. The Savior began the work of salvation by this virginal and holy union, wherein is manifested his all-powerful will to purify and sanctify the family – that sanctuary of love and cradle of life.” 3
Blessed John Paul II “positions Saint Joseph as breaking the old vice of paternal familial domination, and suggests him as the model of a loving father. He stressed that the Church has implored the protection of St. Joseph on the basis of ‘that sacred bond of charity which united him to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God,’ and that the Church has commended to Joseph all of her cares, including those dangers which threaten the human family.” 3
Saint Joseph, with his example of simplicity, shows us the “mature way of serving and of taking part in the plan of salvation.” His life teaches us that in our own lives, the obedience of faith is necessary when we commit ourselves to the will of God. He could have really just sent the Virgin Mary away quietly. He could have said no to God, but he didn’t. Instead, he dedicated his life for the protection of his wife and “his son” and ensured that they were well taken care of. His love and faithfulness to Mary and Jesus, and his generosity and dedication for the welfare of his family is an example all husbands and fathers must desire to imitate. Although we know little about Saint Joseph, he has demonstrated how to live a life of patience, persistence, and hard work~ admirable qualities which all Christians should adopt.
In catechism, we learned that the family is the domestic church (Ecclesia domestica). Jesus, Mother Mary and Saint Joseph teaches us that we have to make a total gift of self, life and work for the good of the entire family ; and to humbly serve each other in pure agape love. The love and unity of Mary and Joseph in their married life must be a reflection of God’s love for humanity, and the Love of Jesus for His bride the Church: a love that desires only the good of the other; a love willing to lay down one’s life for the beloved.. The family ~ our families, must mirror Holy Trinitarian Love ~ The Father and the Son united as One with the Spirit Who is also Love. “The role of the family is specified by Love. It is the family’s mission to guard, reveal and communicate love.” 3
Saint Joseph was declared to be the patron saint and protector of the Catholic Church by Pope Pius IX in 1870. Pope John XXIII added the name of Joseph to the Canon of the Mass. On May 1, 2013, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments under the authority of Pope Francis added Saint Joseph’s name added to the main Eucharistic Prayers of the Mass. 4 He is the patron saint of a number of cities, regions and countries, among them the Americas, Canada, China, Mexico, Korea, Austria, Belgium, Peru, Vietnam and the Philippines; as well as of families, fathers, expectant mothers (pregnant women), travelers, immigrants, house sellers and buyers, craftsmen, engineers, and working people in general. Having died in the “arms of Jesus and Mary” according to Catholic tradition, he is considered the model of the pious believer who receives grace at the moment of death.
The 19 March Feast is a Solemnity (first class if using the Tridentine calendar), and is transferred to another date if impeded. It would be impeded on 19 March if that day is a Sunday or in Holy Week. The Feast of Saint Joseph as patron and model of workers is celebrated on 1 May.
For further reading, you can check out the following:
1 Saint Joseph: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Joseph
2 The Birth of Mary Mother of Jesus: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0847.htm)
3 REDEMPTORIS CUSTOS by Blessed John Paul II on the Person and Mission of Saint Joseph: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_15081989_redemptoris-custos_en.html
4 Decree Regarding the Mention of Saint Joseph’s name in the Eucharistic Prayers:
Memorare of Saint Joseph:
Remember, most pure spouse of Mary, ever Virgin, my loving protector, Saint Joseph, that no one ever had recourse to your protection or asked for your aid without obtaining relief. Confiding, therefore, in your goodness, I come before you and humbly implore you. Despise not my petitions, foster-father of the Redeemer, but graciously receive them. Amen.
For the Novena prayers to Saint Joseph: