REMEMBER ST. JOSEPH
Husband of Mary and Guardian of Jesus
Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.
How much do we know about and appreciate the man who was the
husband of the Mother of Jesus and the guardian of our Redeemer?
How do we honor him? St. Joseph is often overlooked. Scripture says
little of him. We seem to give him scant attention.
Yet devotion to St. Joseph has deep roots in the Christian
tradition. In some countries his feast is celebrated as a holyday
Joseph is often the overlooked member of the Holy Family. Do
you remember as children when we wrote “J.M.J.” at the top of our
papers in Catholic school? We did that to remind ourselves to have
the intention that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had in life as we did our
own work. We pictured the members of the Holy Family side by side.
Remember that Mary and Joseph are a couple. And Jesus is their
child. They belong together. When separated, their significance in
God’s plan of salvation is clouded, because their importance lies in
their relationship to each other. While honoring the perpetual
virginity of Mary, we cannot disregard Joseph’s privilege and
happiness of being Mary’s husband. In past centuries many works of
art depicted Joseph as an old man. Most likely this was done to
disallow any threat to Mary’s virginity. This tended to undervalue
the loving relationship of Mary and Joseph as husband and wife.
Despite the tendencies of her times, St. Teresa of Avila always
insisted that Joseph was a young man when he married Mary. The
Divine Liturgy reinforces this positive approach regarding Joseph:
“With a husband’s love he cherished Mary, the Virgin Mother of God.”
Since Joseph is the husband of Mary, he is also father to
Jesus. We know that he was not the physical father of Jesus. But
in the gospel account about Jesus being lost in the temple, Luke
has Mary saying to Jesus: “Son, your father and I have been
searching for you in sorrow.” And the Divine Liturgy testifies:
“With fatherly care he watched over Jesus Christ your son, conceived
by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
If one might think that Joseph’s fatherhood was not quite real
or effective because he did not physically procreate Jesus, let that
person speak with adoptive parents, especially those who have
conceived a child of their own and adopted others. They will let
you know how real Joseph’s fatherhood is.
Joseph played a very important role as Jesus “grew in wisdom,
age, and grace before God and men.” In the Jewish tradition
children were, until the age of five or so, in the special care and
tutelage of their mothers. But beyond that age children came under
the special guidance of their fathers. Joseph by duty and privilege
was the rabbi of the Holy Family to teach Jesus the Jewish faith and
practices. Joseph led his family in the worship of God in their
home at Nazareth.
At meal times both Mary and Jesus looked to Joseph at the head
of the table to offer the prayer of blessing. Each year when the
great evening of the Passover was celebrated, the youngster Jesus
played his role and addressed the ritual question to Joseph: Father,
why is this night different from every other night? Then he
listened with his Mother to Joseph’s narration of the glorious
events of the Exodus and the explanation of the meaning of the
paschal lamb. Later Jesus would hear John the Baptizer proclaim
him, the Son of Joseph and Mary, the Lamb of God who would take away
the sins of the world.
When Jesus was of age, Joseph introduced him to synagogue
worship. Jesus was faithful to the synagogue rituals throughout his
life. Joseph also taught Jesus the skills of a carpenter. Through
the practice of this trade Jesus supported himself and his Mother
after Joseph’s death.
Jesus’ human experience of fatherhood was drawn from his
relationship with Joseph, his own earthly father. When Jesus said,
“What father would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf, or
a poisonous snake when he asks for a fish,” surely he had in mind
how kind and gentle Joseph was to him as he was growing.
When Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son, Joseph must
have been the model of that loving father. As Jesus described how
the father hugged and kissed the son who had been lost, perhaps he
was recalling how Joseph hugged and kissed him after he had been
lost in the temple for three days.
When Jesus taught us how to pray, he began with the same loving
title with which he had addressed Joseph all his life, abba.
His deep affection for Joseph is evident in the circumstances of the
gospel. Joseph made a profound impression on Jesus.
Has Joseph made an impression on us? How do we think of St.
Joseph, honor him, and pray to him? Do we appreciate the special
place he has in Christian spirituality and in our own Marianist
heritage? Let us revere wholeheartedly the husband of Mary, the
foster father of Jesus, the patron of the universal Church. After
all, he is the man who is closest to Christ.
Do we think of St. Joseph on Father’s Day? Certainly he
deserves special honor on that day.