Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary March 19, 2013

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 and we honour him, the man totally obedient to God’s will. 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. We look at Joseph as a person who is always faithful to God’s command and ever obedient to him. We admire Joseph as a man of silence and deeds speak better than his words. In a world where so many people say ‘my will be done’ and glorify themselves, we have Saint Joseph as an example of submission and saying to God ‘your will be done’. Like Mary, Joseph too was totally open to the divine plan. St. Joseph is certainly one of those quiet and silent persons in the Bible about whom we have little information. The Holy Scriptures call him as a just person. All the scanty information we have about him comes from the second chapter of Luke and the first two chapters of Matthew. In those brief chapters, Joseph is spoken to a couple of times; but he never utters a word in response. We are left with a shadowy figure that generally hovers in the background in paintings of the Holy Family, where he stands, anonymous and silent, faithful to his God-given job of protecting Jesus and Mary. Even when Jesus is lost in the Temple Joseph does not utter a word. It is Mary who speaks. We honour this wonderful person today.

According to the Gospel accounts from what little we can gather he was a village carpenter and also that he was the descendent of the house of David and hence was from the Royal family. He is presented to us as an obedient person. The darkest hours of his life may well have been those when he first learned of Mary’s pregnancy; but precisely in this time of trial Joseph showed himself great. His suffering, which likewise formed a part of the work of the redemption, was not without great providential import: Joseph was to be, for all times, the trustworthy witness of the Messiah’s virgin birth. His obedience to God is seen in his accepting God’s direction in his dream and taking Mary as his wife, even though she was pregnant. Consequently, as we know, Joseph took 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. Later he takes them to Egypt so as to protect the family and finally settles at Nazareth. He takes care of the Holy Family, with dedication, affection and responsibility. Throughout all of history, Joseph is the man who gives God the greatest display of trust, even in the face of such astonishing news. Joseph is generally known as the silent, obedient, generous and hardworking person. After he completes the work given by God, he modestly retires into the background of Holy Scripture.

The church has declared him as the patron of the universal church and the world accepts him as the Patron of all workers. However, because the information about Joseph was so sparse and sketchy, it took a while for his popular cult to catch up as devotion. There is evidence that in isolated parts of the Christian East, there may have been a feast day by the early 4th century and one ancient source claims that in a basilica erected in Bethlehem at that period by St. Helena, there was a lovely oratory dedicated to Joseph. His cult in the Western Church, on the other hand, did not emerge in any serious way until nearly 500 years later. Liturgical veneration of St. Joseph began in the fifteenth century, fostered by St. Brigit of Sweden and St Bernadine of Siena. St. Teresa, too, did much to further his cult. At present there are two major feasts in his honour. 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. Today’s feast day was established by Pius IX in 1847 and in 1870 he was declared Joseph patron of the universal Church. In 1955, Pope Pius XII established the feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1, apparently in response to Communist “May Day” celebrations.

Pope John Paul II in his homily says: “The extreme discretion with which Joseph carried out the role entrusted to him by God highlights his faith even more, which consisted in always listening to the Lord, seeking to understand his will and obeying it with his whole heart and strength. This is why the Gospel describes him as a ‘just’ man. In fact, the just person is the person who prays, lives by faith, and seeks to do well in every concrete circumstance of life… Faith nourished by prayer…is the most precious treasure that Saint Joseph transmits to us.”Of St. Joseph’s death the Bible tells us nothing. There are indications, however, that he died before the beginning of Christ’s public life. His was perhaps the most beautiful death that one could have, in the arms of Jesus and Mary. Humbly and unknown, he passed his years at Nazareth, silent and almost forgotten he remained in the background through centuries of Church history. Only in more recent times has he been accorded greater honour. On March 19 our veneration is directed to him personally and to his part in the work of redemption, while on May 1 we honour him as the patron of workmen throughout the world and as our guide in the difficult matter of establishing equitable norms regarding obligations and rights in the social order. St. Joseph is invoked as patron for many causes. He is the patron of the Universal Church. He is the patron of the dying because Jesus and Mary were at his death-bed. He is also the patron of fathers, of carpenters, and of social justice. Many religious orders and communities are placed under his patronage.

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. In the First Reading Prophet Nathan tells King David that God will establish a kingdom and his rule will last forever. God now wants to build a house for his people and establish his kingdom forever. This house will be established in God’s name and he will be the divine Father to all the people and will make everyone his own children. God assures his presence in this kingdom which will be everlasting. The reading tells us that God waits to accept all as his children as he accepted Joseph who was a descendent of David. 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. Paul tells the Romans that Abraham believed in the presence of the God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hence hoping against hope, Abraham believed that he would become the father of many nations and he believed in the promise made by God that his descendants will be numerous.

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, Joseph surrendered himself to the divine plan. Through Joseph, Jesus legally became the rightful King of this world, over and above being the King of the divine Kingdom. Kingdom of God indicates the rule of God in the heart of every 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 Joseph, Jesus accomplished His mission on earth to rightfully regain His Kingdom in Heaven. Truly 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 in the Holy Family: Joseph, Mary and Jesus. The recollection of this earthly trinity 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. Our frequent prayers to entrust ourselves to the patronage of the Holy Family and to obtain assistance at the hour of death is of prime importance.

To develop a deep appreciation of Joseph, 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 and never will be. Visitors to the holy homelike the Shepherds, the Magi, literally breathed in the love that remained through the air. Saint Joseph is our model and example. In these days when families are going through strains and difficulties we ought to seek his heavenly help. As Pope Benedict XVI 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.

Joseph teaches us today the meaning of gratitude as much as St Ignatius teaches us in the Spiritual Exercises. All the created things of this world, including our loved ones, are given to us as gifts by God to be used or related to insofar as they help us to give God glory. Joseph loves God with all his heart, and he loves Mary selflessly, and then he chooses her. So he can’t have a family, he can’t have it the way he wanted to. He can’t just live in his little house in Nazareth. He has to literally share this woman Mary with God as she was chosen by him. We have a great model in Joseph to show what it means to put God in first place, always and everywhere. He took care of Jesus in the world and expressed his gratitude to him for giving him such responsibility and a special role in the redemption of humankind.

Whatever may be God’s invitation to us, we notice that Joseph’s true heroism was that he was a man of ordinary, everyday life. He learnt how to listen to God’s word. When Mary was known to be pregnant he thought of divorcing her quietly. However, when he had the dream he said ‘yes’ to God wholeheartedly and protected Mary and the child. We have to remember that Joseph risked his own reputation so that he could name the child. He later had to flee to Egypt to save his young family from Herod’s murder and he moved to Nazareth, establishing again his family. Joseph’s life was one of challenge. He looked for God’s will. He was unafraid in what it asked of him and as we, as simple ordinary people, can be uncertain about what God is saying, he is a wonderful example for us. He is one of our greatest models of obedience, faithfulness and surrender to God’s plan. May we all be like him, as we learn to trust in the Lord and lean not on our understanding, but on our faithfulness to the will of God. This, indeed, is our salvation.

The Gospels tell us that Joseph came from a royal lineage, descended from David, the greatest king of Israel. When the angel who first tells Joseph about Jesus, he greets him “Joseph, son of David,” which is a royal title that is later used also for Jesus. 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.

Teacher Debbie Moon’s first graders were discussing a picture of a family. One little boy in the picture had a different hair colour than the other members. One of her students suggested that he was adopted. A little girl said, ‘I know all about adoption, I was adopted.’ ‘What does it mean to be adopted?’ asked another child. ‘It means’, said the girl, ‘that you grew in your mommy’s heart instead of her tummy!’

Fr Eugene Lobo S.J. Mangalore, India

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