By: Fr. Orly Mendoza
ST. JOSEPH, HUSBAND OF MARY (Patron of the Universal Church/Feast day: March 19)
The greatest among all the saints of the Roman Catholic Church aside from the Blessed Virgin Mary, no doubt, is no other than St. Joseph. His greatness lies in the fact of his mission to be the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus. His greatness, on the other hand, has never been discovered until the later centuries. During the first centuries, only the martyrs were considered to be saints as martyrdom was then the only way of imitating Christ, especially in His death on the cross.
Though veneration to St. Joseph was observed in a special way during the early centuries, his feast can only be traced during the fourth century and it was entered on the 20th of July in an old Coptic Calendar of the Eastern Church.
Liturgical veneration of St. Joseph for the Roman Catholic Church could be observed during the 9th and 10th centuries as his name already appeared in some local martyrologies. In Bologna, we could find for the first time a church dedicated in his honor in the year 1129. According to Benedict XIV (De Serv. Dei beatif., I, iv, n. 11; xx, n. 17), “the general opinion of the learned is that the Fathers of Carmel were the first to import from the East into the West the laudable practice of giving the fullest cultus to St. Joseph.”
With the adoption of the feast of St. Joseph by the Franciscans in 1399 and later on by the Dominicans, veneration of St. Joseph had become universal. During the 13th to 15th centuries, the veneration of St. Joseph had been spread out by the following saints: St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Gertrude, St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Bernadine of Siena, and especially St. Theresa of Avila. It was Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84) who rewarded the efforts of these saints by putting the name of St. Joseph in the Roman calendar, dating it on March 19. But it was in the year 1621 that St. Joseph had been accorded greater honor when Pope Gregory XV declared the Feast of St. Joseph as a Feast of obligation.
In 1726, Pope Benedict XIII inserted the name of Saint Joseph in the Litanies of the Saints. And finally, in December 1870, according to the wish of the bishops and the faithful, Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph as the Patron of the Catholic Church. He was also declared to be the patron saint and protector of the universal Catholic Church (along with Saint Peter) by Pope Pius IX in 1870. During this 19th century, the devotion to St. Joseph grew wider and bigger so much so that in 1909, Pope Pius X approved a litany in St. Joseph’s name.
St. Joseph is the greatest saint next to Mary because he is the second most privileged human person next to Mary and not counting Jesus Christ. He is privileged for being chosen by God from eternity to be the foster father of His Son Jesus Christ and for this reason, He is also chosen as the husband of Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ. By telling St. Joseph through an angel in a dream that he should name the Son of Mary Jesus, God would like to give St. Joseph not only a great privilege and honor but also a great obligation and responsibility of exercising a paternal image and role for His only Son.
The mere fact of being chosen by God to be the foster father of Jesus shows another greatness of St. Joseph and this is his attitude and/or sainthood. St. Joseph is described in the gospels as a righteous or just man and this means that he is a saint in an exceptional way. He is a very humble man and his humility is shown in his silence so much so that no personal words of him are recorded in the gospels.
Even in our liturgies, his presence and our devotion to him were so silent that we have given him his due honor only these recent centuries. The second mission that St. Joseph performed was to marry the Virgin Mother and act as her lawful husband. And this, St. Joseph, did excellently as he never abandoned Mary in the hour of her needs and had become a very responsible husband and head of the Holy Family.
Being a great saint, St. Joseph is a model and inspiration for all of us Christians. He is a model of faith for us since he believed what God told him through an angel. Pope John Paul II testifies to this by saying: “And yet, even without words, he shows the depth of his faith, his greatness. . . He is great in faith, not because he speaks his own words, but above all, because he listens to the words of the Living God.
He listens in silence. And his heart ceaselessly perseveres in the readiness to accept the Truth contained in the word of the Living God.” St. Joseph is also a model of obedience since he not only listened and believed the words of the angel, but he also followed the angel’s instructions. During the conception of Jesus by Mary, St. Joseph was told to marry the Blessed Mother and name the Son with the name Jesus. St. Joseph did these.
When the child was under the threat of being killed by Herod, he was told to bring the Holy Family to Egypt and he immediately acted upon it. When Christ’s enemies were dead and there was a census in their place, he was told to go to Nazareth and he returned to Nazareth with Mary and Jesus.
St. Joseph is the patron saint of all fathers. Indeed, he was chosen by God Himself to be the foster father of His only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. St. Joseph performed his mission in an exceptional manner. He did not only provide for the needs of the Holy Family but also educated Jesus Christ in all aspects of human formation.
Christ had learned so much from him beginning from speaking the language, to doing the household chores and working as a carpenter like he himself. He taught Jesus the virtuous that he himself had: humility, patience, chastity, obedience, poverty, perseverance, hard work, justice, charity, and others. We could never have such a great Savior without the help of St. Joseph who performed the role of God of fathering His Son in the human aspect of Christ’s formation.
St. Joseph then portrays to us the dignity of human fatherhood which many of us have not only set aside but even forgotten. Pope John Paul II reminds us: “The family rests on the dignity of human fatherhood — on the responsibility of the man, husband, and father, as also on his work. Joseph of Nazareth bears witness to this for us.
The unity of the family, and its stability, is one of the fundamental blessings of man and of society. At the basis of family unity, there is the indissolubility of marriage — if man, if society seeks the ways that deprive marriage of its indissolubility and the family of its unity and stability, then they cut off, as it were, the very root of its health, and deprive themselves of one of the fundamental goods on which human life is built” ( March 1981).
The pope also reminds the fathers to become responsible with these words: “Dear Brothers! May that voice that Joseph of Nazareth heard during that decisive night of his life always reach you, in particular when the danger of the destruction of the family looms up. ‘Do not fear to persevere’! ‘Do not give up’! Behave as that just man did.
Fatherhood is responsibility for life: for the life first conceived in the woman’s womb and then born, in order that a new man, who is the blood of your blood and flesh of your flesh, may be revealed. God who says: ‘do not abandon the woman, your wife’, says at the same time: ‘receive the life conceived in her’!”
St. Joseph is the patron saint of the workers. St. Joseph is known as a carpenter as the Bible tells us. He certainly provided for the needs of the Holy Family through his works as a carpenter, particularly as a craftsman. Our present beloved Pope Benedict XVI catechizes us about work in his homily during the feast of St. Joseph and he says: “Work is of primary importance for man’s fulfillment and the development of society and this is why it is necessary that it always be organized and developed in full respect of human dignity and at the service of the common good. At the same time, it is indispensable that man not allow himself to be subjected to work, that he does not idolize it, intending to find in it the ultimate and definitive meaning of life.
In this connection, the invitation contained in the first reading is timely: ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God (Exodus 20:8-9). The Sabbath is a holy day, namely, consecrated to God, in which man understands better the meaning of his existence and also of his work activity. Therefore, it can be affirmed that the biblical teaching on work finds its coronation in the commandment to rest” (Vatican City, March 19, 2006).
St. Joseph is the patron saint of the dying. With the declaration of Pope Leo XIII of St. Joseph as the patron saint of a happy death, the dying person must be comforted by the fact that St. Joseph is always there to care for them, giving them a peaceful death and leading them to a loving encounter with Jesus Christ, Mary, and the whole Trinity. St. Joseph is the patron saint of the dying because he was the privileged one to die with the physical presence of Mary and Jesus by his side.
The Bible never mentioned St. Joseph when Jesus began his public ministry and so it is assumed logically that St. Joseph died before Jesus began His mission, giving way to the truth that he died with Jesus and Mary on his side. St. Joseph is also the patron saint of all husbands. God commanded St. Joseph to marry the Virgin Mother Mary, forming the Holy Family with the Son of God as his foster child. St. Joseph, as a husband, never abandoned Mary in the hour of her needs. He protected her, cared for her, and cooperated with her in doing the will of God.
It was the will of God for Mary to become celibate and a virgin through the rest of her life and St. Joseph respected it and supported it by becoming celibate himself. Finally, St. Joseph is the patron saint of the Universal Church. He protected the Holy Family and provided for its needs. The Roman Catholic Church also needs such protection of St. Joseph so that our Church may become like the Holy Family, the presence of God here on earth. Besides, the members can ask for the intercession of St. Joseph so that we may get closer to Jesus our Lord, and Mary our Mother for He is one with them as a Holy Family. United with the Holy Family, we become true children of God who is our Heavenly Father.
There are two feasts of St. Joseph, one is the feast of royalty which we celebrate this March 19 – St. Joseph as Husband of Mary, and the other is the feast of humility which we celebrate on May 1 – St. Joseph the Worker. As we give honor to St. Joseph the husband of Mary, let us develop a deep devotion to him who had been the foster father of Jesus.
May through our devotion to him he care for us just as he cared for Jesus and Mary. Let us always pray this Prayer to St. Joseph: Gracious St. Joseph, protect me and my family from all evil as you did the Holy Family. Kindly keep us ever united in the love of Christ, ever fervent in the imitation of the virtue of our Blessed Lady, your sinless spouse, and always faithful in devotion to you. Amen.