As we celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19), I thought this great saint would be a suitable subject for this month’s spiritual reminder. Who was Joseph? The first time we hear of him is in the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 1. We are told that an angel appeared to a virgin who was betrothed to a man named Joseph and the virgin’s name was Mary. In those days, marriages were chiefly arranged by the families – as was the case with the tribe with which I worked in Africa. Joseph had obviously agreed to Mary’s remaining a virgin. We are told that Joseph was descended from David.
David was a king who lived about 1,000 years before Christ. Being descended from King David was the reason that Joseph had to go to Bethlehem, the city of David, for the census which the Romans were taking at the time. The journey to Bethlehem was about four long and tiring days, probably with Mary on a donkey and Joseph on foot. When they arrived in Bethlehem, which at that time would have been a small town, the Gospel tells us that “there was no room in the inn” because of the crowds which had gathered for the census. Mary was about to give birth and Joseph had to search for a place to stay. Tradition tells us that he found a cave in the rocks where sheep and cattle were kept. A spiritual writer, referring to the Redeemer, says, “He was born in a borrowed cave and buried in a borrowed grave.”
Apart from Mary, Joseph was the only human being present at the birth of God the Son. They laid him in the manger and were visited by the shepherds and – probably after they had moved to a small house – by the “Magi.”
An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to take the child and his mother and go as quickly as possible to Egypt, as Herod was determined to kill the new King, who, he feared, might be a rival for the throne.
Joseph was the head of the family and it was his duty to make all the arrangements. Humanly speaking, the life of Jesus – God become man – depended on Joseph the carpenter. We are not told anything about their life in Egypt or how long they were there. But, as Herod died in the year 4 A.D., it was probably about four years.
St. Matthew tells us an angel again appeared to Joseph and told him to take the family back to the land of Israel, but not to go to Judea as Herod’s son, who was as cruel as his father, was ruling there. So Joseph took Jesus and Mary to Nazareth, where they settled and Joseph continued his trade as a carpenter. Jesus was later known as “The Nazarene.”
We must remember that Jesus, while being truly God, was also a real human child. Mary and Joseph would have to raise him. This meant teaching him how to talk, how to walk and, as he grew older, Joseph would have taught him how to cut wood, hammer nails and make furniture.
St. Mark, Chapter 6, tells us that years later, when Jesus returned to Nazareth and spoke in the synagogue, the people were amazed at his learning and said, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” So, Jesus must have worked as assistant to Joseph and as a carpenter after Joseph’s death.
When people become famous in this world, there is usually someone who can boast, “He was my pupil.” Joseph is the only human being who ever lived who could say truthfully – but never would – “God was my pupil.”
We are not told in the Gospels when Joseph died, but spiritual writers believe he must have died while Jesus was still in Nazareth and before his public life. If he were alive, he would surely have been at the wedding feast of Cana where Jesus worked his first miracle and he would certainly have been beside Mary at the foot of the Cross. So, he must have died in the arms of Jesus and Mary as, spiritually speaking, we all hope to die.
After the Gospels, Joseph seems to have been forgotten for centuries. It was only in the 15th century that devotion to him began, especially in Europe. He was popularized mainly by St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis de Sales and St. Dominic.
Devotion to him increased immensely and in 1870, Pope Pius IX declared him patron of the universal church. Pope St. Leo declared him “model of fathers of families” and placed him next to Our Lady among the saints. Pope Benedict XV made him protector of workmen. Pope Pius XI declared St. Joseph patron of social justic and in 1955, Pope Pius XII established the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker on March 19. And let us not forget that Joseph is the patron of Canada.
And so, my dear pro-life friends, I strongly suggest that we put our unborn Canadian babies in the loving care of the two greatest saints in heaven, who so lovingly cared for the life of the greatest baby ever born into the world – our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ