Catholic Q&A: The Glorious Saint Joseph

Catholic Q&A: The Glorious Saint Joseph

By Fr. Rick Poblocki

Who is St. Joseph?

St. Joseph is the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the foster-father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. As foster-father of Christ, St. Joseph was Lord Jesus’ legal father. In Hebrew the name Joseph means “May He

[the Lord] add.”

How did St. Joseph cooperate with God in the sending of His Divine Son, Jesus Christ?

By willing that St. Joseph should be the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the foster-father of the Lord Jesus, God entrusted to St. Joseph the task of protecting and providing for the Lord Jesus and Our Lady.  The Collect of the Mass for the Solemnity adds that God willed that “the unfolding mysteries of human salvation…were entrusted to [Joseph’s] faithful care.”

Does St. Joseph have any connection to what’s happening today?

St. Joseph is more important that ever, because he continues his work even today from heaven by watching over and protecting all members of the Mystical Body of Christ – the Church!  Because of this, he is honored by Catholics as the Patron of the Universal Church.  Just as St. Joseph watched over and protected the Lord Jesus while he was on earth, so now from heaven, St. Joseph watches over, provides for, and protects all members of Christ’s “Mystical Body,” the Church.  Recently, the Church paid further honor to St. Joseph by inserting his name in each of the four great Eucharistic prayers.

When is the Feast of St. Joseph celebrated?

The Roman Catholic Church observes two Feast Days in honor of St. Joseph.  St. Joseph is honored with a Solemnity on March 19th as the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The Solemnity (a feast of the highest rank) is known by the title St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The Catholic Church also honors St. Joseph on May 1st with an Optional Memorial known as the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.  The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker is a very modern innovation in the Catholic Church.  It was created as a response to the celebration of May 1st or “May Day” in atheistic/communistic communities.  On May 1st communism exults in the “worker” and the working class; it celebrates the denial of God’s existence and that of the supernatural.  “Work” has no meaning apart from the good of “the State”; it is meaningless activity without reference to God.  The Popes of the 20th century promulgated the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1st to teach the world that without God, life, human experience, and especially “work” is meaningless.  The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker presents St. Joseph as the embodiment of Faith, showing “work” as a means given to us by God to become holy – and that no human effort apart from God ever makes sense!  It is a powerful counteraction not only to communism and atheism, but also to any extreme form of capitalism that places profit over the good of those trying to make an honest living.

Why do Catholics pay such honor to St. Joseph, when so little is known of him?

While the Gospels do not record St. Joseph’s words, they give us something more important: the Gospels narrate to us the inner thoughts, inner workings, attitudes, and actions of the man who cared as a father for Jesus as the Lord grew into manhood!  St. Joseph is important to us, loved and esteemed because he served God and became a Saint in the way most people live life: through marriage, being chaste, caring for one’s family, making a living, and being a parent.

Isn’t devotion to St. Joseph an outdated form of Catholic piety with no meaning for today?

Not quite!  Whenever the Christian Family, marriage, and the basic identity of a man and a woman is attacked, it seems devotion to St. Joseph and the holy Family grows stronger among Catholics.  It’s easy to understand why devotion to St. Joseph has been on the upsurge for about the last 20 years: he’s a model for Catholic men, who are rediscovering the lure and fascination St. Joseph has had for previous generations of Catholics.  Joseph is the epitome and model of masculine virtue and attractiveness; Joseph reminds of the primary and irreplaceable status that  true manhood and fatherhood has and will always have in the family and society.  Joseph is powerfully silent, cool, and decisive – these are awesome manly traits.  He’s no “ordinary Joe.”

So, what can the Gospels tell us about St. Joseph’s inner workings, thoughts, and actions?

In the Gospels we meet a Joseph who is the strong, silent type – but not in the sense of some lame guy who’s “locked up” inside himself, uncommunicative and ineffective.  Joseph was strong, powerful, and decisive – everything one would expect from someone with the blood of King David pouring through his veins!  The Gospels use the word Dikaios (pronounced “Dee-kye-yos”) to characterize St. Joseph.  The word means “righteous one” (Matthew 1:19), which comes from the Hebrew word Saddiq (pronounced “Sah-deek”).  The word Saddiq meant someone who is devoutly concerned with putting God first in his life, and who is wishing with all his heart to fulfill God’s Holy Will at any cost.  Even though St. Joseph was a silent figure – never speaking in the Gospels – he is shown as someone who always thinks clearly and acts in line with God’s Will.  He is shown pondering the mysterious pregnancy of Mary (Matthew 1:19-24); he acts immediately when God reveals to him that he should not fear to take her as his wife (Matthew 1:20); he is filled with wonder and astonishment at the words of the blessed Simeon when the Lord Jesus is presented in the Temple (Luke 2:33); and again, he is found in the Temple, marveling at Jesus’ response to Mary, after their three-day search for Him (Luke 2:48).  Joseph is shown calculating where it would be the safest to raise Jesus and protect Mary after they return to Judea after living for years as refugees in Egypt in order to escape the murderous intentions of Herod (Matthew 2:22-23).  So, the Scriptures provide a rich description of the interior thoughts, feelings, and reactions of so holy and noble a man!

What biographical information can we learn from the Gospels about St. Joseph?

The Gospels provide some valuable biographical information about Joseph’s origins, person, and character.  The Gospels relate that Joseph was “the Son of Jacob” (Matthew 1:16), or Heli (Luke 3:23).  He was born in Bethlehem, and was of the “lineage and house of David” (Luke 2:4).  Joseph lived in Nazareth and made a living as a teckton (“Tektonos”), or “carpenter” (Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3).  St. Joseph was engaged to Mary (Matthew 1:18) and it was during their “engagement” that Mary conceived the Lord Jesus by the power of God the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-24).  As a righteous man – a dikaios, or Saddiq – Joseph decided to break off the engagement, but not to expose Mary to public shame and possibly the death penalty for conceiving a baby out of wedlock (Matthew 1:19).  As he considered doing this, the Angel of the Lord reassured him that Mary had conceived the child by the Holy Spirit, and that Joseph should marry her and take Jesus as his foster-son (Matthew 1:20).  Even after marrying the Blessed Virgin, they had no sexual relations before or after the birth of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 1:25; see special note below on this matter).  Jesus was born in Bethlehem during the time of the great census (Luke 2:6-7), in a manger because there was no room at any inn (Luke 2:7).  As devout Jews, Mary and Joseph had Jesus circumcised and named “at the end of eight days” in accord with Jewish practice (Luke 2:21).  Forty days after Jesus’ birth, he was presented at the Temple, where the words of the blessed Simeon caused Mary and Joseph to “marvel” at what was being said about the Child (Luke 2:33).  After the Magi returned to their country, Joseph was warned in a dream to flee Judea.  They began living a number of years as refugees in Egypt (Matthew 2:13), remaining there until the death of Herod (Matthew 2:19).  Joseph was present at the Finding in the Temple, and marveled at Simeon’s words (Luke 2:33; CCC 532).  Joseph disappears from the Gospel narrative after the Finding in the Temple, only to be mentioned in Matthew 13:55.  It is supposed that somewhere between the Finding in the Temple and the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry, Joseph died (Luke 3:23).

How did Joseph react to Mary’s pregnancy and the conception of Jesus through the Holy Spirit?

His reaction was pretty much like any other guy’s reaction would be!  Before St. Joseph is a Saint, he is also a man – with the same feelings and reactions any guy would have if the woman he was engaged to was discovered to be with child.  What set him apart from other men was Joseph’s remarkable reaction to the news of Our Lady’s pregnancy: even though Our Blessed Lady conceived the Lord Jesus by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18), St. Joseph’s understandable suspicion was that Mary had been unfaithful to him.  As a Saddiq or “righteous man of God”, Joseph’s holy and righteous disposition would not allow him to accept such a situation, but he also took every pain to shield Mary from public humiliation – or even death – which was the usual penalty for a woman who conceived a child out of wedlock (Matthew 1:19).  It wasn’t until the dramatic revelation of the Angel of God that Mary had conceived her child of the Holy Spirit that St. Joseph immediately accepted her and the Lord Jesus as his own (Matthew 1:20).  Everything was set aside for God alone!

Why did God will that St. Joseph adopt Jesus as his own?

The adoption of Jesus – conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary – was important because the first group of early Christians were Jews who expected the Messiah or Christ of God to be of King David’s line.  God had promised King David in the prophecy of 2 Samuel 7 that a King of David’s line would always reign.  When the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem occurred in 586 B.C. and the reigning king at that time was deposed, it seemed as if God’s promise and prophecy was either wrong or unfulfilled.   Since Joseph was a member of the tribe of Judah and stood in the royal line of King David (Matthew 1:2-16), Joseph’s adoption of Jesus put Jesus in royal line of Davidic Kings.  Since Jesus, as God, always is, was and will be (as well as His enthronement in the Ascension where he reigns forever), the prophecy of 2 Samuel 7 was fulfilled in Christ!  The Gospel according to St. Matthew, which is written for a predominantly Jewish audience, gives quite a bit of attention to this matter.  Because the Gospel According to Luke is written for an audience of Jews living outside Palestine – and also for many non-Jewish pagans – it instead focuses more on Jesus as Savior (in Greek ho Soter – the Savior) which was a more common religious theme among the pagan peoples of the Mediterranean basin.

Did St. Joseph and Our Lady enjoy the intimacies of marriage?

No. St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin were indeed married, but by their own deliberate choice they did not exercise their right to marital intimacy.  Mary remained a Virgin (Semper Virgo – “ever-Virgin”), and St. Joseph also deliberately chose not to have relations with her.  Some portrayals of Joseph suggest that he was an old man, completely beyond the years of being able to engage in relations with Our Lady, but a look at the customs of the times makes it more probable that Joseph was just a few years older than Mary, who was probably between12-15 years old when she conceived the Lord Jesus.  A reasonable estimate of Joseph’s age would be between 15-19 years of age when he married Our Lady.

No sex?! Doesn’t that make St. Joseph “less” than a “real” man – wouldn’t their marriage be a sham?

Shows like Jerry Springer and Maury prove that being a man involves a lot more than being a dope who is able to “have sex” and get a woman pregnant.  So, considering that St. Joseph deliberately gave up the physical pleasure of sex for the sake of God’s desire to forsake the human race is hardly “lame”, cold, or sad.  The greatest human acts of heroism in our history are great because they often involve sacrifice and forgetting one’s self or one’s own selfish needs for a greater good or for the needs of others (who often do not appreciate the magnitude of their sacrifice).  The Gospel narratives present us with a man who was a real flesh and blood man – someone who could sacrifice for a bigger and greater cause!  Joseph silently and without complaint gave everything he had and was for God, and for the good of humanity.  The Gospels record NO complaints, whining, jealousy, or any shadow of selfishness in this humble yet great man!  Does he sound less than the men you know?  Joseph projects a silent and thoughtful sort of masculinity that is both powerful and attractive to men of every age!  Imitate these characteristics and you will find true masculinity – especially in this age of confusion about what it takes to be a guy! Joseph and Mary sacrificed everything for our good!

But Matthew 1:25 seems to indicate otherwise – how does this fit in with the Catholic Church’s teaching that Our Lady remained a Virgin before, during, and after the birth of Our Lord?

The text in question reads: “but he knew her not until (in Greek: heos) she had borne a son, and he called his Name Jesus” (Matthew 1:25).  The Greek word heos does not imply that Joseph and Mary had marital relations following Jesus’ birth.  The conjunction heos – which is often translated in English as to, till, or until – is used in the Greek language to indicate a select period of time, without implying a change in the future.  Examples of this use of the word heos appears in the Greek translation of 2 Samuel 6:23, John 9:18, and 1 Timothy 4:13.  Here, Matthew is only emphasizing that St. Joseph played no role in the conception of the Lord Jesus – Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit without a human father.  Our Lady’s perpetual Virginity is firmly established in the Church’s tradition. The perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was formulated at the Lateran Synod of 649 A.D., and was reaffirmed by Pope Paul VI in his Credo of the People of God, 14.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church also clearly teaches the perpetual Virginity of Our Lady (CCC, 499-501).

Then, who are the people that the Gospels call “the brothers of the Lord”?

The so-called “brothers of the Lord” are relatives of the Lord Jesus, not biological siblings.  They are mentioned in the following New Testament passages: Matthew 12:46 & 13:55, Mark 3:31 & 6:3, Luke 8:19, John 2:12, 7:3, & 20:17, Acts 1:14, 1 Corinthians 9:5, and Galatians 1:19.  Four “brothers of the Lord” are clearly named: James, Jose (Joseph, or even “Joey”), Simon, and Judas (Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3).  The arguments against the “brothers of the Lord” as biological siblings make sense: the word “brothers” here is used in an extended sense, as it is used throughout the entire Bible for everything from siblings to cousins, kinsmen, anreven fellow countrymen.  The New Testament makes it clear that the four “brothers” mentioned are not sons of the Virgin Mary.  No New Testament author ever calls the “brothers of the Lord” by the title “sons” of Mary.  Some traditions sometimes speak of the “brothers of the Lord” as sons of St. Joseph by a previous marriage, but given the fact that the Gospels use the term Saddiq in reference to Joseph, it is more likely that he was around 15-19 years of age when he married Our Lady – therefore, he wouldn’t have had the time to enter into a previous marriage and beget an older brood of siblings.  St. Jerome most correctly argued that the “brothers of the Lord” are most likely cousins.  A comparison of the different Gospels that mention the “brothers of the Lord” forms a good basis for Jerome’s conclusion.  James and Joses are clearly sons of another Mary, a brave woman who stood with the Blessed Virgin at the foot of Jesus’ Cross (Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40).  Finally, when He is dying on the Cross, Jesus commends Mary into the care of the disciple John (John 19:16) – and not any of his so-called brothers!  If Jesus had other siblings, why would He entrust Mary to the care of the Apostle John?  Making provision for the care of Mary after His Death would not have been necessary if Jesus had other siblings, who would have been bound by the law to care for Mary after Jesus’ Death!

Are there any important themes in the Solemnity of St. Joseph?

The richness and depth of the Church’s love and devotion for St. Joseph is found in the prayers and readings of the Mass for the Solemnity.

  • The Collect.  Joseph’s intercessory powers are highly praised, because the beginnings of the Church were “entrusted to his faithful care.”
  • Prayer over the Gifts.  The Prayer over the Gifts notes that Joseph “served with loving care Your Only Begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary,” then asks God to make all attending the Eucharist “worthy to minister with a pure heart at Your Altar.”
  • Preface.  Listing the reasons why it is “right and just” that the Church offers thanks to God on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the Preface notes these truths:
    • Joseph is the “Just Man” given by God as “spouse to the Virgin Mother of God.”
    • Joseph was set as “a wise and faithful servant in charge” of God’s household (the Holy Family, and ultimately the Church).
    • Joseph was given the task “to watch like a father over” God’s “Only Begotten Son, Who was conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.”
  • Prayer after Communion.  The Mass ends with a final appeal asking that the graces of the Eucharist be applied to those who participated in it.  God is asked “to defend with unfailing protection” the family God “has nourished with Food from this Altar, as they rejoice at the Solemnity of St. Joseph.”  A further petition asks God to “graciously keep safe” the gifts God has bestowed upon His Faithful.

What readings are used on the Solemnity of St. Joseph?

The Readings used on the Solemnity of St. Joseph are:

  • 2 Samuel 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16.  This passage highlights St. Joseph as a “son of David,” that is, one of David’s lineage.
  • Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29.  This Psalm is a “Messianic Psalm” meaning it is used by Israel to exult the Kings of David’s line.  In the Church it was used to praise Christ’s status as Christ (Messiah) and Lord.  The whole idea – made through the verses used during the Liturgy – is that God has indeed stayed faithful to the promises He made to David.
  • Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22.  This is an example of applying a further meaning to the Scriptures.  St. Paul’s moving words about Abraham establish him as “the father of all believers,” and at the same time, the reading is applied to Joseph as a living embodiment of what it means to be a “faith-filled man” like Abraham was.  Like Abraham, Joseph believed with all his heart in God’s promises – and is our “father” in the sense that he cares for us and watches over us as members of Christ’s Mystical Body.
  • Matthew 1:18 – 21, 24a (or Luke 2:41-51a).  Two options are given here.  Matthew relates Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s pregnancy and his absolute surrender to God’s Will.  Luke records the “wonder” and “astonishment” of Mary and Joseph, who are witnesses to Jesus, Who “had to be in His Father’s house.”  Bot Gospel readings highlight Joseph’s complete surrender to God’s Will, his loving care of Mary and Jesus, and his “being in” on the mystery of the Word made Flesh (John 1:14), Who lived as the Son of Joseph!

Fr. Rick Poblocki is the Pastor of St. Josaphat’s Parish in Cheektowaga, NY.  This article also appears in St. Josaphat’s Weekly Bulletin, available for view in its entirety at www.st-josaphat.com.  Don’t miss Fr. Rick on the Tuesday and Thursday Open Forum Editions of Calling All Catholics, weekdays at 5pm on The Station of the Cross Catholic Radio Network and the iCatholicRadio App. Used with permission.

 

2017-01-02T01:42:30+00:00

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