March 19, 2017

Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Saint Joseph with Jesus

One of the Church’s most beloved saints is also one about whom we know relatively little. St. Joseph, whose feast day we celebrate on March 19, is mentioned only in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and even there his story goes no further than a pilgrimage to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12. However, that story is a remarkable one, full of great faith and love for both God and the Holy Family who were commended to his care.

We do know a few important things about him. For instance, although he was a humble carpenter, he was nonetheless a descendant of the kingly “house and lineage” of David. We know, too, that he was a “righteous (or just) man,” a designation in Scripture which indicates his total openness to God and God’s will. And though certainly obedient to the law — we see this in his decision to divorce Mary because she was carrying a child he knew was not his — he was also a man of great compassion, because he also decided to do so quietly. To understand the true significance of this, it’s important to realize that had the divorce been made public, Mary would have been subject to the full penalty of the law regarding adultery, which was stoning.

Joseph must also have been a man of great prayer and holiness, for he was able to recognize the angel’s voice in a dream not once, but three times — the first when he was assured that he should take Mary as his wife, the second when he was warned to flee with his family into Egypt, and the third when he was told that it was safe to return home to Nazareth. We can also infer from Scripture that this man very much loved Mary’s child as his own. When Jesus was 12 and became separated from them for three days after the Passover in Jerusalem, it was both parents who searched frantically for Him, even retracing their steps back to the holy city. When they finally located Him in the Temple, Mary chided Jesus on behalf of both herself and Joseph: “Son, why have you done this to us?” she asked. “Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” His assertion that He had to be “in my Father’s house” perplexed them both.

It is at this point in Scripture that the figure of Joseph himself ceases to appear. We hear of him only once more, and that is when Jesus, having begun His public ministry, returned home to preach in the synagogue at Nazareth. His welcome was not warm, and his former neighbors indignantly asked, “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son?” Apparently, neither carpenters nor their sons were considered fit vehicles for bringing about the Kingdom of God. No matter how much or little we know about the facts of his life, we can be certain about the most important thing regarding him — he was a just man, who served God with faithfulness and joy.

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