19 March 2011

Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

19 MARCH 2011. While the commemoration of saints during the season of lent is more limited than at other times of the liturgical year, today we celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Those attending mass today will notice that the Lenten staple of violet (purple) vestments of the priest and deacon have been replaced by white.

Historically this date has long been reserved for Saint Joseph. By the tenth century several Western calendars noted the date of March 19 as dedicated to the commemoration of the patron of families. By A.D. 1479 the commemoration of Saint Joseph's day was observed in Rome, and Pope Saint Pius V extended the feast to the entire Roman Rite on 14 July 1570.

Mention of Saint Joseph first appears in the Gospels of Saint Matthew and Saint Luke, who trace Saint Joseph's Davidic lineage. However, the historical Joseph is a difficult figurer to pin down. Some traditions hold that he was an old widower who took Mary in as his wife to look after the young girl with child. Other traditions tell that Saint Joseph was probably about 18 or 19 years old when he was betrothed to Mary (She being about 15 or 16 years old). History, too, disputes Joseph's trade. While he is usually referred to today as a carpenter, the Gospel of Saint Matthew refers to Jesus as the son of a tekton--a general word that could be used to describe any maker of things. Some modern scholars thus cast Saint Joseph in the historical context of an itinerant worker-a more marginalized class of society--and other scholars believe that Saint Joseph may have been a skilled artisan and learned man. What does appear clear, however, is that Saint Joseph did not witness Jesus' public ministry. The last mention of the presence of Saint Joseph in the Gospels is Saint Luke's account of Joseph and Mary finding Jesus in the temple when he was about 12 years old. (Lk 2:41-51)

So, it appears that Saint Joseph died before the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. This is also historically supported by the fact that Joseph of Arimathea took charge of Jesus' body after His death on the cross--under Jewish custom this would have been Saint Joseph's charge--and the fact that Jesus, from the cross, entrusted Mary's care to Saint John, which would not have occurred if Saint Joseph had been alive. And, indeed, Catholic tradition tells that Saint Joseph died in the arms of Mary and Jesus.

However, what is most clear, regardless of Saint Joseph's age or trade, was that he was an essential element in the history of salvation--the necessary protector of Our Lady and the child Jesus at the moment of the Incarnation of the Word and afterwards. And, according to the writings of the great Pope Blessed John Paul II, it was Joseph's dedication to Christ, in the silent shroud of history, that truly shows the measure of the man:
The same aura of silence that envelops everything else about Joseph also shrouds his work as a carpenter in the house of Nazareth. It is, however, a silence that reveals in a special way the inner portrait of the man. The Gospels speak exclusively of what Joseph "did." Still, they allow us to discover in his "actions" - shrouded in silence as they are - an aura of deep contemplation. Joseph was in daily contact with the mystery "hidden from ages past," and which "dwelt" under his roof. This explains, for example, why St. Teresa of Jesus, the great reformer of the Carmelites, promoted the renewal of veneration to St. Joseph in Western Christianity.
The total sacrifice, whereby Joseph surrendered his whole existence to the demands of the Messiah's coming into his home, becomes understandable only in the light of his profound interior life. It was from this interior life that "very singular commands and consolations came, bringing him also the logic and strength that belong to simple and clear souls, and giving him the power of making great decisions-such as the decision to put his liberty immediately at the disposition of the divine designs, to make over to them also his legitimate human calling, his conjugal happiness, to accept the conditions, the responsibility and the burden of a family, but, through an incomparable virginal love, to renounce that natural conjugal love that is the foundation and nourishment of the family.
This submission to God, this readiness of will to dedicate oneself to all that serves him, is really nothing less than that exercise of devotion which constitutes one expression of the virtue of religion.
The communion of life between Joseph and Jesus leads us to consider once again the mystery of the Incarnation, precisely in reference to the humanity of Jesus as the efficacious instrument of his divinity for the purpose of sanctifying man: "By virtue of his divinity, Christ's human actions were salvific for us, causing grace within us, either by merit or by a certain efficacy."
Among those actions, the gospel writers highlight those which have to do with the Paschal Mystery, but they also underscore the importance of physical contact with Jesus for healing (cf. for example, Mk 1:41), and the influence Jesus exercised upon John the Baptist when they were both in their mothers' wombs (cf. Lk 1:41-44).
As we have seen, the apostolic witness did not neglect the story of Jesus' birth, his circumcision, his presentation in the Temple, his flight into Egypt and his hidden life in Nazareth. It recognized the "mystery" of grace present in each of these saving "acts," inasmuch as they all share the same source of love: the divinity of Christ. If through Christ's humanity this love shone on all mankind, the first beneficiaries were undoubtedly those whom the divine will had most intimately associated with itself: Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and Joseph, his presumed father.
Why should the "fatherly" love of Joseph not have had an influence upon the "filial" love of Jesus? And vice versa why should the "filial" love of Jesus not have had an influence upon the "fatherly" love of Joseph, thus leading to a further deepening of their unique relationship? Those souls most sensitive to the impulses of divine love have rightly seen in Joseph a brilliant example of the interior life.
(Pope Blessed John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos, delivered 15 August 1989).


Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that by Saint Joseph’s intercession
your Church may constantly watch over
the unfolding of the mysteries of human salvation,
whose beginnings you entrusted to his faithful care.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

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