[REFLECTION] Joseph, son of Jacob, patron of the Universal Church
Image of St. Joseph and the Child Jesus. VATICAN MEDIA
By Msgr. Euly B. Belizar, Jr., SThD
March 1, 2023
“And Jacob fathered Joseph, the husband of Mary; of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ” (Mt 1:16)
“In Joseph … heads of the household are blessed with the unsurpassed model of fatherly watchfulness and care” (Pope Leo XIII)
1. Let me begin with a personal note. The more I think of St. Joseph, the less I am able to detach myself from memories of my late father. They do not share the same name. But both were married to someone named Maria (or Mary in English. In fact, I used to say that my mother on earth and my Mother in heaven have the same name—Maria). Like my father, St. Joseph died ahead of his spouse. Also, like my father, St. Joseph must have struggled with poverty as he supported himself and his family by working as a carpenter in the same way that my father supported his by working as a mechanic. In the film “The Passion of the Christ” St. Joseph is not shown in the flashbacks to the earlier parts of Jesus’ life. But he is certainly alluded to, and indirectly honored, when Jesus appears as a carpenter who works on a table as his mother Mary comes to announce that lunch is ready. Like St. Joseph, Jesus is presented in the gospels as never embarrassed to be associated with his assumed or putative father who was himself never embarrassed to earn a living with his hands. Incidentally that is a trait my late father also shared with St. Joseph.
2. But what to me is most uncanny about St. Joseph that seems also reminiscent of my late father is his gentleness that beautifully blends with his figure as (foster) father to Jesus and as a paragon of faith. I say that St. Joseph must have been a gentle person because, as the Gospel of Matthew tells us, he never raises Cain when he senses that Mary is pregnant with a child not his. Imagine how a normal prospective groom might react in a similar situation. And, considering that St. Joseph is Jewish, he must have known about Deuteronomy 22:23-24 which states that if a maiden betrothed to a man has had prior sexual relations with another man—the only plausible natural way to explain Mary’s pregnancy—she and her lover are to be stoned to death. But it is clear that St. Joseph does not even entertain the latter thought. Instead he simply wants to divorce Mary quietly. He does not want Mary exposed to mob justice. He could have thought Mary might have been raped, seduced or was possibly in love with somebody else, and, while also aiming to be free from a moral-legal quandary, he also might have wanted to free her to marry her (posssible) lover. What a gentle person. St. Joseph is certainly is a perfect model of men who not only do no violence against women but also defend them against any.
3. But Joseph is more than all the details of his noble character. It is through him that Jesus the Messiah is linked to David whose descendant the Messiah becomes and, as such, is set to fulfill the prophecy of an heir sprung from David’s “loins” and whose “kingdom shall endure forever” (2 Sam 7:16). St. Joseph, in a word, is no accident in the life of the Messiah. From all eternity he is already planned and intended. To further illustrate God’s words through Isaiah that “my thoughts are not your thoughts; my ways are not your ways” (Is 55:8), the Lord chooses in St. Joseph neither a wealthy nor a powerful earthly father figure to care for the Messiah just as he earlier chose the Christ’s royal ancestor David from among the unknown and the poor. David himself was a shepherd, a person considered among Israel’s outcasts. Yet that also announces what God desires the leaders of his people to be—shepherds of his flock. Knowing how it is to be in want and in perpetual danger, the Lord’s shepherds are expected to be accordingly responsive and responsible.
4. It is in St. Joseph that we are reminded that faith, like gold, is tested by fire. His ancestor Abraham’s faith was tested by the near loss of his son Isaac in a sacrifice that God ordered but, also by God’s order, was never carried out (Gen 22:2, 11-12). Abraham’s complete trust in and obedience to God not only illustrated his faith and how it is abundantly rewarded but also defined his character, the end-result of his fire-tried faith which “was credited to him as righteousness (Rom 4:22). St. Joseph’s faith was likewise tested by the pregnancy of Mary which he intended to deal with through a secret divorce (Mt 1:19). But when told by the Lord’s angel that the child in her was of the Holy Spirit, Joseph also believes, trusts and obeys the word from above that he take Mary as his wife (Mt 1:20-24). Like his ancestor Abraham, St. Joseph shows us a faith that remains strong even when the trial he faces defies logic and common sense.
5. I recall the times in my childhood when my father would be permitted by his employers to use a truck to take my mother and some of us their children through the rough and bumpy, crater-laden Samar roads to visit relatives and friends. The care and the skill with which our father drove the truck gave us a lot of reassurance that our journeys would be safe and enjoyable. St. Joseph in the Gospels similarly ably takes care of the Holy Family through the harsh realities of their time. There is an account, for instance, regarding a census decree by Caesar Augustus that forces the family to travel to Bethlehem, David’s town, so they could register themselves (Lk 2:1-5). Joseph is of the house of David, who was born in Bethlehem, which explains the trip. Yet something unremarkable like this becomes an integral part of the trapesty of God’s plan to have the Messiah, a descendant of David the ideal king, be also delivered in David’s hometown. Joseph likewise steers the Holy Family through the mystery-but-suffering-laden events of the birth of Jesus, the visit by shepherds at the instance of angels, the prophecy of Simon (Lk 2:1-35), the appearance of the wise men, the mortal danger from Herod’s jealous and murderous wrath and the flight into Egypt (Mt 2:1-23). In all this St. Joseph protected and provided for the Holy Family. It is not surprising therefore that Pope Pius IX through the Sacred Congregation of Rites saw the same pattern of divine action in choosing two Josephs in Israel to serve his saving plan. First, there is Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob, who became an instrument in Israel’s deliverance from a severe famine as Egypt’s grain governor in the Old Testament. Second, there is another Joseph, son of another Jacob from the house of David. This Joseph “of whom the first had been the type” was made the “lord and chief of His household and possessions, the guardian of His choicest treasures (a reference to Jesus and his Mother, Mary)….” The logic of the decree is simple. Having ably taken care of the Holy Family while he was on earth, St. Joseph is even more able in heaven to take care of God’s Family, the Church, the Body of Jesus Christ, St. Joseph’s foster Son.
Sensing the ever present dangers that the Church and the world faces since time immemorial the decree declares: “Because of this sublime dignity which God conferred on his most faithful servant, the Church has always most highly honored and praised blessed Joseph next to his spouse, the Virgin Mother of God, and has besought his intercession in times of trouble. And now therefore, when in these most troublesome times the Church is beset by enemies on every side, and is weighed down by calamities so heavy that ungodly men assert that the gates of hell have at length prevailed against her, the venerable prelates of the whole Catholic world have presented to the Sovereign Pontiff their own petitions and those of the faithful committed to their charge, praying that he would deign to constitute St. Joseph Patron of the Church” (Pius IX, Quemadmodum Deus, December 8, 1878).
Lately in my former parish assignment a lady who is very active in the Church fell gravely ill and had to be taken to a hospital. Knowing her I felt sad and concerned. But I also recalled how Pope Francis has encouraged devotion to St. Joseph and then spontaneously I entrusted her to his intercession. She texted me that same evening, thanking me for my prayers. The doctors discovered her illness was serious but informed the family that it could still be remedied by medication. I thanked God through his Son. I also thanked Mary and especially St. Joseph, Patron of us all, for their intercessions.
St. Thomas Aquinas makes the pertinent pitch: “Some saints are privileged to extend to us their patronage with particular efficacy in certain needs, but not in others; but our holy patron St. Joseph has the power to assist us in all cases, in every necessity, in every undertaking.”
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