In honor of today's Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Journey to Wisdom is re-posting an essay by Janet Goodwin.
Abraham, the first of the patriarchs, demonstrated a faith and relationship to God, such that he followed God’s plan without ever truly knowing or seeing the full scope or end result. Abraham must have been gifted with courage and determination to complete the travels so desired by God. Later in their marriage, Abraham and Sarah fulfilled God’s will by having their son Isaac at ages past childbearing, so witnessing how God worked impossibilities into realities. Later, Abraham underwent a great test of fidelity when God asked Isaac to be sacrificed. Abraham’s fortitude shone brightly as he nearly completed the task, but then angelic intervention directed Abraham to kill a ram instead. Abraham’s willingness to kill his beloved son demonstrated his unfailing devotion to God. (Ex 22) Certainly in a similar way Joseph would fit the righteous mold of Abraham, not truly knowing the path of his own life or the final outcome for his foster son during his earthly life, yet fully accepting the will of God at his own “annunciation.” First, Joseph experienced his own excruciating test of fidelity as he contemplated a pregnant, virgin Mary. In the book, The Mystery of Joseph, Fr. Marie Dominique Philippe writes, ”Trusting in the Father, Joseph accepts this situation that is humanly impossible to live…He must therefore accept to be the origin of the mistaken opinions that will be formed about Mary and Jesus. This is perhaps the harshest trial for a just man. In order to live it with love and joy, he must fix his gaze solely on the will of the Father and not become fixed on his own human judgment or the judgment of others. He must live constantly in a radical conformity to the will of the Father, above and beyond all that comes from creatures.” (1, pg 15-16) Like Abraham, Joseph would experience divine intervention by an angel to help direct and guide his life. Joseph readily accepted the daunting challenge presented by God’s angel: to witness God’s greatest feat, the virgin birth of Jesus, raise God’s son, and assume the role of husband, father and protector of the Holy Family.
Saint Joseph, Pray for Us!
Joseph of Nazareth, the earthly father of Jesus, spoke not a word in the New Testament, yet his actions told volumes. Somehow, he became the patron of selling houses, but his example illustrated more of the virtues of married life than how to build a home. His life spoke for all the ages on love and fidelity to God and family, and the divine plan for marriage and family relationships. Since Joseph is silent within the pages of scripture, looking back on a few Biblical personalities and their character traits will provide interesting background for the development of God’s plan through Joseph and the Holy Family.
Another Patriarch, Joseph of Egypt, came to power by correctly interpreting the Egyptian Pharaoh’s dreams. He stayed in power, as the Pharaoh’s right hand man, by intellect and wise planning, saving the world (the Pharaoh’s kingdom) from starvation during a prolonged drought (Ex 41). Joseph of Nazareth shared many characteristics with Joseph of Egypt. Most importantly, both received heavenly guidance through dreams and acted quickly on such knowledge to save their “people” from certain death. Pope Pius IX declared ”As almighty God appointed Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob, over all the land of Egypt to save grain for the people, so when the fullness of time was come and He was about to send to earth His only-begotten Son, the Savior of the world, He chose another Joseph, of who the first had been the type, and He made him the lord and chief of His household and possessions, the guardian of His choicest treasures (Jesus)…..” (2, Pg 4)
King David, the kingdom’s greatest king and founder of the everlasting dynasty, came to power several hundred years later also through his wise leadership, military skill and fortitude, an unlikely leader being the youngest of Jesse’s sons. Interestingly, David founded a great community of believers who worshipped and prayed in the manner of the patriarchs generations before, yet expanded and refined liturgical worship with music, psalm and ceremony, as evidenced throughout the first book of Chronicles (chapters 15, 16, 23-26). Ancestors, like Mary, Joseph and Jesus worshiped in this manner generations later. The Holy Family faithfully upheld ancient Jewish traditions, yet like David, were the first to witness to a new way of relating to God through daily life and worship, living with the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus; a way that would fulfill and surpass the Old Testament, first starting with a Holy Family and lasting to our own day.
God’s salvation, Jesus, was realized through the simple means of marriage and family life in Joseph and Mary, as foreshadowed by patriarchs Abraham, Joseph and David. Other biblical writings such as the Book of Tobit demonstrate the divine will and plan of marriage and the family. In Tobit 6:18, the angel remarks to Tobiah as he contemplates marriage to his kinswoman Sarah, “But do not be afraid, for she was set apart for you before the world existed. You will save her, and she will go with you.” Similarly, Tobit 7:11 echoes God’s plan and esteem of the marital state, when the angel says to Tobiah: “Your marriage to her has been decided in heaven! Take your kinswoman; from now on you are her love, and she is your beloved. She is yours today and ever after. And tonight, son, may the Lord of heaven prosper you both. May he grant you mercy and peace." The marriage plan of Tobiah, repeats itself later in the union of Joseph and Mary, again with the help of the angelic messenger, who announced the mysterious plan which the brave couple both readily accepted. Pope Leo XIII states in Quamquam Pluries, “Marriage is the closest possible union and relationship whereby each spouse mutually participates in the good of the other.” (2, pg 31)
After Joseph receives his “annunciation” to have no fear to complete the marriage to Mary, all Joseph’s human efforts became focused on Jesus and Mary, his own desires and needs totally subjugated to the needs of his family. Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, in the book, The Mystery of Joseph, states, “The Father receives Joseph’s act of abandon, of total submission, and He wants him to cooperate in his own way in the work being accomplished in Mary through the Holy Spirit.” (1, pg 69) What exactly did Joseph give up? Many Catholic theologians believe Joseph to have given up the conjugal relationship of husband and wife, as Mary had consecrated herself to God in childhood. Given the longstanding, Catholic view that Mary remained virginal throughout her life certainly would lead Joseph to change his normal views on marriage, but only with God’s grace. Fr Philippe also suggests Joseph made his own consecration to God which included a virginal marriage to Mary, which effectively protected Mary’s virginity, her consecration to God and allowed Mary to give herself more fully to God. There is no competition for love or even a lack of loving in this relationship. Fr Philippe clarifies this and writes, “The fact that God has drawn Mary into a greater personal intimacy by making her the Mother of His beloved Son does not mean that Joseph must withdraw as if he were excluded. Quite the contrary, the more God draws a creature to Himself the more capable that creature becomes of loving those whom God brings close to him or her…God is not the rival of human love, but when His love is communicated to His creatures it requires their human love to become truer, purer and poorer. (1, pg 39).”
Certainly then through Joseph’s mission as father and head of the family, he provides an ideal model for several aspects of fatherhood and family life. As the family’s head, Joseph governed with humility and respect for the holiness and mission of the most Holy members of his family. He cherished and sacrificed for Jesus and Mary. He protected and defended with constant vigilance, instant response and courageous action, in utter disregard for his own safety and inclinations. (2, pg 68). Fr Philippe writes, “It is a life of prayer, of contemplation, of work…Joseph is called to watch over the Redeemer..guard Mary’s virginity… and Jesus’ divinity… from the notice of the prince of this world.” (1, pg 75-76) Fr Philippe explains the model of Joseph’s sacrifice: “Every time we put everything into God’s hands in this simple and absolute way, God always responds in an infinitely greater way, and His response comes to confirm and renew all that we give Him, by taking it infinitely further.” (1, pg 69 )
Now we can see God’s ideal of the marriage relationship, the total self sacrificing abandonment to the beloved’s needs leading to greater love, affection and attachment through the mediation of God. For Joseph, this sacrifice involved accepting God’s will in a meek and humble manner: a socially unacceptable situation, a choice to love and protect Mary despite difficult circumstances, and the unbelievably humbling act of providing, protecting, and parenting God’s son. For God was recreating something flawed and broken since the beginning of time. The first of all families, Adam and Eve, met failure and separation from God through the sin of disobedience. The path for future generations was bleak, as evil penetrated into the world through the first family after their fall from grace. So God planned redemption through His initial family plan, using humans who perfectly fulfilled His ideals and perfectly followed His plan. The marriage of Joseph and Mary brings to realization the “spousal gift of self” in receiving and expressing such a love. Marriage is purified and renewed, as a sacrament of the New Covenant, so holiness can spread all over the earth. (4, para 8) Fr. Gilsdorf writes, “Keeping vigil over the Child, our Joseph is truly patriarch of a “new Genesis.” Guided by dreams, Joseph stands beside Jesus, the new Adam, and Mary, the new Eve. As He himself will one day reveal, Jesus is “the Living Bread come down from heaven.” (2, pg5)
Through the relative obscurity of living a “normal” life, the Holy family lived, worked and prayed like the other villagers, following ancient traditions as outlined and lived by great Biblical figures. In so doing, the mystery of the Incarnation was hidden until Jesus Himself was ready to reveal it through public ministry. (2, pg 54) Fr. Gilsdorf also mentions that by limiting information, all persons of all places and times can apply the basic facts to their own individual lives. The more details given, the harder it would be to apply specific circumstances to one’s personal situation. (2, pg 101) In this way of silence, families of all times in history can readily imitate the Holy Family’s virtues, especially by following Joseph’s example by accepting Jesus and Mary to be present in their lives. It seems that the Silence of Joseph has a purpose and a meaning, and can be a model for all.
- The Mystery of Joseph, Fr. Marie Dominique Philippe, Zaccheus Press, Bethesda, MD, 2009
- Go To Joseph, Fr, Richard W. Gilsdorf, Star of the Bay Press, Green Bay, WI, 2009
- Bible used for reference: The Catholic Study Bible, New American Bible, Oxford University Press, New York, 1990
- Redemptoris Cutos, John Paul II, On the Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the life of Christ and of the Church, August 15, 1989
Copyright 2011, Janet T Goodwin