The readings: [2 Sam. 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16; Rom. 4:13, 16-18, 22; Mt. 1:16, 18-21, 24a; (or Luke. 2:41-51a)]
Today we celebrate the solemnity of the feast of St Joseph, husband of Mary. According to the Gospel accounts he was a village carpenter, more like a house builder and would have belonged to a middle class income group. Scriptures also tell us that he was the descendent of the house of David and hence was from the Royal family. Generally he is presented by artist as an old man. But in reality he may have been young when he married Mary, since the Rabbinic law compelled them to marry before 19 years for sure and Joseph being a just man would have obeyed the law. His obedience to God is seen in his accepting God’s voice in his dream and taking Mary as his wife, even though she was pregnant. He takes care of the Holy Family, with care, affection and responsibility. Joseph is generally known as the silence man since we do not have any single word of his being recorded in the scriptures. Yet he was obedient, generous and hard working and the church has declared him as the patron of the universal church and the world accepts him as the Patron of all workers.
Despite his humble work and means, Joseph came from a royal lineage, descended from David, the greatest king of Israel. Luke and Matthew disagree to some extent about the details of Joseph’s genealogy but they both mark his descent from David. Indeed the angel who first tells Joseph about Jesus greets him as “Joseph, son of David,” a royal title used also for Jesus. We know he was a compassionate, caring person. Joseph the just man was simply, joyfully, wholeheartedly obedient to God, in marrying Mary, in naming Jesus, in shepherding the precious pair to Egypt, in bringing them to Nazareth, in the undetermined number of years of quiet faith and courage. He was chosen by the eternal Father as the trustworthy guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, namely, his divine Son and Mary, Joseph’s wife. He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying: ‘Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord”. About St. Joseph’s death the Bible is totally silent. There are indications, however, that he died before Jesus began his Public Ministry. His was the most beautiful death that one could have, in the arms of Jesus and Mary. The Church has made St Joseph the patron of the dying because, assuming he died before Jesus’ public life, he died with Jesus and Mary close to him, the way we all would like to leave this earth. Humbly and unknown, he passed his years at Nazareth, silent and almost forgotten he remained in the background through centuries of Church history.
The earliest mention of the Feast of St. Joseph can be traced to the 4th century in the Eastern Church. In 1621, Pope Gregory XV declared the Feast of St. Joseph as a Feast of obligation. In 1726, Pope Benedict XIII inserted the name of Saint Joseph in the Litanies of the Saints. And finally, in December, 1870, according to the wish of the bishops and the faithful, Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph as the Patron of the Catholic Church. In the Gospels and in the traditions of the church very little is spoken to us about St. Joseph. Through the Gospels we learn that he was a carpenter, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the foster father of Jesus. When Joseph was engaged to be married to the Virgin Mary, he learned that she was pregnant. Not wanting to cause a public scandal, he was considering to send her away her quietly and break the engagement. We know of the dream and response. Consequently, as we know, Joseph took the Virgin Mary as his wife as he is convinced in the divine intervention and he too is aware of the new role he has to play in the salvific mystery.
We are touched by the call of Joseph. Like any other call in the Old and New Testament, the call of Joseph is special and unique. God chooses those simple and humble to do his work. He gave the call when he decides to observe what the law says. He silently accepts when he is told of his mission and he is willing to cooperate with God in the new mystery. The Scriptures tell us about the way he followed God’s will. In Bethlehem, when they went to register, they had no room in the inn and it was Joseph who looks for the secluded place for the child to be born. He is now the protector, saviour and the care taker. He is the silent listener when he takes Mary to Jerusalem to present Jesus to the Lord; he hears what Simeon had to say about the Child. Joseph and Mary were amazed at what was being said about Him. Then we hear of the trial of Joseph when an angel appeared to him in a dream. Joseph was told to take the Child and His mother and to flee to Egypt and remain there until he was told to leave. He knew that God could have chosen other ways to rescue the child. But he does not question about it at all. He obeying the angel takes Mary and Jesus to Egypt the same night. The last mention of St. Joseph in the Holy Bible is when Jesus was twelve years old and the family made their annual pilgrimage to the Holy City. This is when Jesus stayed behind in the Temple without the knowledge of His parents. For three days, Joseph went through great anxieties. Besides searching he had to support Mary and when they find him he does not ask any question. He takes him back perhaps more vigilant than ever before. The gospels also tell us of the title of Jesus as Son of Joseph and the genealogy also mentions the same.
The readings of today are specially chosen permitting our hearts perceive other wonders about Saint Joseph. The First Reading speaks of Yahweh being a Divine Father to us as His people. God now wants to build a hose for his people and establish his kingdom forever. It tells us that God waits to accept us as his children. From the First Reading and other Biblical passages, we also learn that Saint Joseph was of royal blood. He was a descendant of King David. Saint Joseph was born at a time when the Jewish nation no longer had a ruling king. The Second Reading speaks of our spiritual father Abraham and we exist in God. Faith is the main source of our living in closeness to God. The faith in Jesus makes us come closer to the throne of God. Faith makes us to receive the word in life.
The Gospel speaks of the end of the lineage of our spiritual fathers, Saint Joseph. Joseph has the special place in the narrative of Matthew when Jesus is born into the world. He is the care taker and the person who takes the responsibility over his family. By marrying the Blessed Virgin Mary and through the adoption of our Lord Jesus as his foster child, Saint Joseph surrendered his kingship to Jesus. Through Saint Joseph, Jesus legally became the rightful King of this world, over and above being the King of the Kingdom of God. Kingdom of God means here the spiritual kingdom. It indicates the rule of God in the heart of the individual. It is God who takes control of the person. This kingship is there from the foundation of the world and will be fully realized at the end of time. Joseph has his role to play in the regaining of the kingdom. Under the protection of Saint Joseph, Jesus accomplished His mission on earth to rightfully regain His Kingdom in Heaven through death on the cross. True, we know very little about St. Joseph and he is presented to us as an old man who protected the Virgin Mary. But we see him as one who is fully involved in his mission, vision, love and faith.
St Joseph is essentially remembered as the head of the Holy Family. Our Christian families draw the example from the Holy Family of Nazareth. We have the three prominent figures here: Joseph, Mary and Jesus. The recollection of Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ on this day makes us aware of our Christian mission of solidarity and love. The observance of the custom of blessing the children as provided in the ritual and where opportune, for the renewal of marriage vows taken by the spouses on their wedding day are strength to our Christian families. Outside of the feast, the faithful have frequent recourse to the Holy Family of Nazareth in many of life’s circumstances: taking the Holy Family so as to model their own families; frequent prayers to entrust themselves to the patronage of the Holy Family and to obtain assistance at the hour of death.
To develop a deep appreciation of the Husband of Mary, we must set aside some perceptions that stubbornly cling to him that he was elderly, quiet person who always remained in the background. Indeed he was a dynamic, responsible and loving person, the head of a family. We see him as a model, patron and guide. Pope Pius XII said that Joseph showed Jesus, “all the natural love and all the affectionate solicitude that a father’s heart can know.” No father loved a son as Joseph loved Jesus; no son loved a father as Jesus loved Joseph. When Our Lord took His first steps, Joseph held His hand. Together in the carpenter shop, they talked, worked, laughed, and prayed. The Virgin Mother was never far away. She never is! Visitors to the holy homelike the Shepherds, the Magi, literally breathed in the love that remained through the air. Saint Joseph is our model. He invites us to lead our family’s life of faith by following his example. In these days when families are going through strains and difficulties we ought to seek his heavenly help. As Pope Benedict tells us, Joseph’s silence speaks volumes. His very presence fills the hose with Joy, for with the Holy Family there is always joy. This joy would always remain with the universal church.
Fr Eugene Lobo SJ, Rome