On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church, the Holy Father Francis proclaimed that the year that began on December 8, 2020 until December 8, 2021, be a year dedicated to celebrating the life of St. Joseph.
After meditating on the Apostolic Letter Patris Corde (1) and some expositions written by María Verónica Talamé (2), I felt that the Lord was asking me to write about what moved me internally, together with the emotion of the discoveries I was making about the life of St. Joseph as a man, as a husband and as a father.
On this basis, I would like to share a reflection on St. Joseph by St. Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444), which I have taken from a publication in Cristo Vive magazine (3):
“When the grace of God chooses someone for a special mission, He grants him all the gifts necessary to carry out his ministry. Undoubtedly this rule was realized in an eminent way in St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.
Joseph was chosen by the eternal Father as the caretaker and guardian of his most precious treasures: his Son Jesus and Mary the Queen and Mistress of all creation, a mission he fulfilled with absolute fidelity”.
Looking at the relationship that Joseph has with the Church, we can ask ourselves: is this not the chosen man, through whom Christ was introduced into the world in a regular and honest way? Joseph accepted him as his own son, that is to say, he adopted him. Therefore, if the whole Church is indebted to the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, since through her we received Jesus; in the same way the Church “owes” St. Joseph, after her, a special gratitude and reverence.
St. Joseph closes the Old Testament, in him the patriarchal and prophetic dignity reaches the promised fruit: he is the only one who had under his care physically, what the divine condescension had promised to the patriarchs and prophets.
On the other hand, we believe without a doubt that the same familiarity, respect and highest dignity that Jesus had with Joseph while he lived here on earth, was brought to the fullness of glory in Heaven.
Because of St. Joseph’s privileged place among the saints in heaven, we are certain that we can ask him to remember us and intercede with his Son, as well as to pray for us so that the Blessed Virgin Mary, his spouse, may be attentive to our needs. Amen.”
Based on what María Verónica Talamé expressed in her writings: “St. Joseph, a man of God”:
Joseph went from being a rejected pilgrim to be a contemplative witness. Chapter 2 of Luke tells the story of Joseph’s journey with Mary, from Nazareth to Bethlehem, to comply with the imperial edict, which ordered the census of the entire known world in their hometowns, hence they participated in a general mobilization, Joseph pilgrimage in his own land, a journey that ends in rejection because there was no place for them there.
Providence never abandoned the Holy Family, and although there was no place for them in Bethlehem, a cave with much poverty, but with much love, made up for the lack of lodging.
The expected birth took place in the vicinity of Bethlehem, the city of King David. The shepherds were evangelized by an angel from heaven and immediately became evangelizers in their own district.
About the great event: the birth of Jesus, in the first verses, Luke gives the protagonism to Joseph. With the expression “at that time“, he indicates that something important happened in universal history, so significant that it divided history into two great parts; “THE SAVIOR IS ABOUT TO BE BORN“.
The edict of Emperor Caesar Augustus (adopted son of Julius Caesar), becomes an instrument of God’s plans, the census becomes the historical and political circumstance that leads Jesus to be born in Bethlehem, the city of King David, just as the prophecies said that the Messiah would be born in the city of David.
Joseph, silent witness of the mystery
The recipients of this message go through a process of understanding what they have heard and seen, we could imagine that this mystery suggests to each one different reactions: astonishment, interiorization, praise, joy.
Luke leaves no record of St. Joseph’s reaction.We could think that Joseph, like Mary, was also thinking about what had happened, deliberating and understanding its meaning, stored and sparkling in his heart. Joseph was there in the manger, but nothing is said about him. We can think of his going unnoticed, or that he remained in the shadows.
Let us say that we can imagine Joseph’s silence as an otherwise eloquent and contemplative silence, with a heart overflowing with the joy and peace announced for men who love the Lord. There is no doubt that Joseph was one of God’s beloved and favorite.
I wondered what my attitude was like at the birth of my five children, and I was filled with inner emotion and overflowing joy. I invite parents to look inside themselves for what they felt when their children were born (or adopted).
Joseph was immersed in a contemplative silence, in the face of all that had happened, and before such a mystery there is only room for silent adoration. We can say that adoration is love overcome by the beauty, strength and immense greatness of the beloved.
Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906) said: “To fall into deep silence; that silence of which David speaks: Silence is your praise, Yes it is the most beautiful praise“.
Heroic acts are forged in silence, as well as those of greater depth and meaning. In relation to the strong presence of God that Joseph experienced, we could say that in silence he found the most precious words. God prefers to speak in silence; God speaks in silence and deserves to be heard. Joseph always did, that is why God spoke to him in the night through silence, and he always listened to him.
Silence is the expression of those who need an intimate relationship with God; if God lives within us, he invites us to be silent. Many times when I go to Eucharistic Adoration I can be silent and fall in love with the Father, to be able to listen to Him.
- We can ask ourselves why silence causes us fear, could it be because the encounter with God and with oneself takes place there? God manifests himself in the depths of our being.
- What value do I give to silence in my life? Do I seek moments alone to be with God, to contemplate Him and listen to Him?
In the Apostolic Letter “PATRIS CORDE“, the Holy Father Francis says:
Of Joseph we can say that with a father’s heart he loved Jesus, called in the four Gospels “The son of Joseph“, while Matthew and Luke, refer little, but enough to understand what kind of father he was and the mission that Providence entrusted to him.
Joseph had the courage to assume the legal paternity of Jesus and gave him the name revealed to him by the angel: “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21).
Forty days after the birth, Joseph, together with Mary, presented the Lord in the Temple and listened in amazement to the prophecy about Jesus and Mary (Luke 2: 22-35).
He remained in Egypt, as a foreigner, to protect Jesus from Herod (Matthew 2:13-18). Back in his homeland, he lived in a concealed way in Nazareth far from Bethlehem, Galilee, of which it was said “No prophet is to rise” and “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 7, 52; 1,46), they looked for him in anguish, when Jesus was 12 years old and they found him in the Temple while he was debating with the doctors of the law (Luke 2, 41-50).
After Mary, the Mother of God, no saint occupies as much space in the papal Magisterium as Joseph, her husband, despite the little information transmitted by the Gospels in which the various Popes of the Church deepened, Joseph had a central role in the history of salvation.
Pope Francis defined St. Joseph as: A beloved Father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father, a creatively courageous father, a working father, a father in the shadows.
A beloved father
The greatness of Saint Joseph is that he was the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus. In this way, he placed himself, in the words of Saint John Chrysostom, “at the service of the entire plan of salvation”.
Saint Paul VI pointed out that Joseph concretely expressed his fatherhood “by making his life a sacrificial service to the mystery of the incarnation and its redemptive purpose. He employed his legal authority over the Holy Family to devote himself completely to them in his life and work. He turned his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of himself, his heart and all his abilities, a love placed at the service of the Messiah who was growing to maturity in his home”.
Thanks to his role in salvation history, Saint Joseph has always been venerated as a father by the Christian people. This is shown by the countless churches dedicated to him worldwide, the numerous religious Institutes, Confraternities and ecclesial groups inspired by his spirituality and bearing his name, and the many traditional expressions of piety in his honour. Teresa of Avila chose him as her advocate and intercessor, had frequent recourse to him and received whatever graces she asked of him. Encouraged by her own experience, Teresa persuaded others to cultivate devotion to Joseph.
- We can ask ourselves: How do I develop my vocation as husband (or wife) and father (or mother)? Am I considerate and attentive to their needs?
A tender and loving father
Joseph saw Jesus grow daily “in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favour” (Lk. 2:52). As the Lord had done with Israel, so Joseph did with Jesus: he taught him to walk, taking him by the hand; he was for him like a father who raises an infant to his cheeks, bending down to him and feeding him (cf. Hos. 11:3-4).
In Joseph, Jesus saw the tender love of God: “As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him” (Ps. 103:13). In the synagogue, during the praying of the Psalms, Joseph would surely have heard again and again that the God of Israel is a God of tender love, who is good to all, whose “compassion is over all that he has made” (Ps. 145:9).
All too often, we think that God works only through our better parts, yet most of his plans are realized in and despite our frailty. The Lord invites us to accept our weaknesses with tender mercy.
The evil one makes us see and condemn our frailty, whereas the Spirit brings it to light with tender love. Tenderness is the best way to touch the frailty within us.
Pointing fingers and judging others are frequently signs of an inability to accept our own weaknesses, our own frailty. Only tender love will save us from the snares of the evil one. That is why it is so important to encounter God’s mercy, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The evil one can also speak the truth to us, yet he does so only to condemn us. We know that God’s truth does not condemn, but instead welcomes, embraces, sustains and forgives us.
Even through Joseph’s fears, God’s will, his history and his plan were at work. Let us ask Joseph that we may have his faith in God, let us also ask to believe that God can act in our frailties, that we may not be afraid to let the Lord steer our course, that we may not be afraid to stop controlling everything, because he gives us confidence, and let us admit that God always sees the bigger picture.
- We can ask ourselves; What gestures of tenderness do we have with our young children, or even when they have grown up?
An obedient father
God, through Saint Gabriel, revealed his plan of salvation to Mary, he also revealed it to Joseph through dreams. In the Bible, as in ancient peoples, they were considered one of the means by which God manifested his will. Let us ask the Lord to give us the grace to reveal his projects to us through dreams.
We can imagine that he was very distressed by the incomprehensible pregnancy of Mary, he did not want to denounce her publicly, so he decided to break his commitment, the angel of the Lord helped him to solve what was a dilemma for him, that of accepting Mary as a wife because the son that she was begetting was the fruit of the Holy Spirit, telling him also that he would have to name the son Jesus.
When Herod ordered the search for the child to kill him, the angel of the Lord in a dream warns him that he must flee to Egypt, so he takes the child and Mary, and obeys, assuming the risk of the journey, and does not question the difficulties he must face, remaining in Egypt until Herod’s death.
In a new dream the Lord tells him that he can now return to the land of Israel because those who wanted to kill the child were dead. Fearing Archelaus, son of Herod, who reigned in Judea, and being warned in a dream he decided to settle in Nazareth (Galilee) that is why Jesus is called the Nazarene. We can also say that Joseph taught Jesus to be obedient to his parents according to God’s commandment (Exodus 20; 12).
Jesus in the hidden life in Nazareth, under the tutelage of St. Joseph, learned to do the will of the Father, it was his daily food, even in Gethsemane where he accepted to do the will of the Father and not his own will.
It seems to me that Joseph, had a great patience before the changes that Jesus made in his life, he accompanied Jesus, although he did not understand everything on many occasions.
- We can ask ourselves, are we willing to do the Father’s will in everyday life? Let’s also ask ourselves how we correct our children, out of tenderness or anger, when they do mischief that upsets us?
- How do we accompany our children even if we do not agree with their decisions? Are we present? Many times we want them to make decisions based on our own experience, do we recognize their potential or do we restrict it?
Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus through the exercise of fatherhood, thus collaborating in the mystery of redemption.
Joseph, father in patience, teach us to be patient with our children.
An accepting father
Joseph accepted Mary unconditionally. He trusted in the angel’s words.
His loving heart chose love. He presents himself as a respectful, delicate man who, even without having all the information, decides for the good name, dignity and life of Mary. In his doubt about how to do his best, God helped him choose by illuminating his judgment. Let’s think about the situation of women today in the face of the psychological, physical and verbal violence that we see continuously reflected in the media.
Often in our life, things happen whose meaning we do not understand. Our first reaction is frequently one of disappointment and rebellion. Let us ask St. Joseph that we may set aside our ideas in order to accept the course of events and embrace them like he did, and take responsibility for them and to reconcile ourselves with our own history.
The spiritual path that Joseph traces for us is not one that explains, but accepts. Nor is he a man who passively resigns himself, he is a brave and strong protagonist. In our life this is manifested through the gift of fortitude that the Holy Spirit gives us. Let us ask the Lord to give us the strength to receive life as it comes, to make room for the unexpected, the contradictory and disappointing parts of existence.
Jesus’ appearance in our midst is a gift from the Father, which makes it possible for each of us to be reconciled to the flesh of our own history, even when we fail to understand it completely.
Just as God told Joseph: “do not be afraid!” (Mt 1:20), so he seems to tell us: “Do not be afraid!” He invites us to let go of our anger, our disappointment, and to embrace the way things are, even when they do not turn out as we wish. Not with mere resignation but with hope and courage.
Accepting life in this way leads us to a deeper meaning. Our lives can be miraculously reborn if we find the courage to live them in accordance with the Gospel. It does not matter if everything seems to have gone wrong or some things can no longer be fixed. God can make flowers spring up from stony ground. Even if our heart condemns us, “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 Jn 3:20).
Let us not think that believing means finding easy, magical solutions. The faith that Christ teaches us is the faith shown to us by St. Joseph, who did not look for shortcuts, but faced “with open eyes” what was happening, assuming his responsibility.
Today, Joseph’s attitude encourages us to accept and welcome others as they are, without exception, and to show special concern for the weak, for God chooses what is weak (cf. 1 Cor 1:27). We can think that it was from Saint Joseph that Jesus drew inspiration for the parable of the prodigal son and the merciful father (cf. Lk. 15:11-32).
- We can ask ourselves: Do we help our children see in us an example of trust in God in the face of life’s difficulties? Do we encourage them to have their hope set on the Lord and not on passing things?
A creatively courageous father
True inner healing is to receive our own history, to make space within ourselves even for what we have not chosen in our life, for this we need an important characteristic: creative courage. This arises especially when we encounter difficulties.
Difficulties can make us give up and go away. Many times in the face of these unforeseen events, resources appear that amaze us, because we did not think we could have them, God does not act directly, He uses events and people.
Joseph is the man through whom God took care of the beginning of the history of salvation. Joseph is the true miracle with which God saved the Child and Mary, because he trusted in the creative courage of this man. They could not find lodging when they arrived in Bethlehem for Mary to give birth… This man found a stable, which he arranged and made it a welcoming place to receive the Son of God.
If the Gospel is read superficially, it seems that the powerful are always the ones who triumph. God always finds a way to carry out his plan of salvation, he always manages to save what is important, he needs our creative courage, just like the carpenter from Nazareth, who knew how to transform a problem into an opportunity, and permanently trusted in Providence.
We don’t know what life was like in Egypt, we can imagine that like every family they had difficulties, they never stopped trusting that God would not abandon them.
Jesus came into the world assuming a condition of weakness, God trusts in this man, Joseph, in the same way that Mary does, he not only saves the life of the Child, but he will watch over the mother and Jesus. We can think of him as the custodian of the Church, which is the extension of the Body of Christ in history, and of the motherhood of the Church that is manifested in Mary.
- We can ask ourselves if, in the face of difficulties, we have not thought that God had abandoned us in the past? Why did we think so? What can we do to increase our capacity for adaptation and resilience in the face of difficulties?
A working father
Saint Joseph was a carpenter who earned an honest living to provide for his family. From him, Jesus learned the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labour. In Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, Joseph’s relationship with work is highlighted.
Today, Pope Francis says, work seems to have once again represented an urgent social issue and unemployment has very high rates, even in developed countries that have experienced a certain degree of well-being. Let us ask Saint Joseph to intercede to have light and understand the meaning of work that gives dignity and of which our saint is an exemplary patron.
Work participates in the very work of salvation, it is an opportunity to make the Kingdom present here on earth, where we can develop our potential at the service of society and communion. The lack of work causes a crisis in the family, which is more exposed to difficulties, tensions, estrangement and even to the desperate temptation of break-up.
To speak of dignity it is necessary that we commit ourselves, so that we all have the possibility of a dignified livelihood. Let us ask the saint to intercede so that the Father enlightens us on how to carry out this commitment.
- We can ask ourselves, faced with the lack of job offers: what is my attitude? Am I aware that there is always something useful to do and for which I can work on while I am alive? And if I am in a position to give work to others, do I do it? Am I a good employer?
A father in the shadows
The Polish writer Jan Dobraczyński, in his book The Shadow of the Father (4), tells the story of Saint Joseph’s life in the form of a novel. In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.
Fathers are not born, but made. A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child. As parents it is necessary to assume responsibility for the life of the other, and in a way parenthood is exercised for life.
Children today often seem orphans, lacking fathers. The Church too needs fathers. Being a father means introducing the child to the experience of life, to reality. Children are not a possession, we cannot retain them, at some point in their growth, we have to let them go so that they may develop the project that God has for them, not to imprison them, but to give them tools so that they may choose freely, with the freedom that comes from God.
We can think that for this reason tradition has put Saint Joseph, together with the name of father, that of most chaste. It is not something only affective. Rather, it is an attitude that expresses the opposite of possessing.
God loved each one of us, with a chaste love, he gave us the freedom to be able to make mistakes. The logic of love is freedom. Joseph loved in an extraordinarily free way, he never placed himself at the center, he knew how to de-center himself, and put Mary and Jesus at the center of his life.
Saint Joseph’s happiness is not in self-sacrifice, but in self-giving, in him gestures of trust are manifested, not frustration, his silence does not keep complaints, he always trusts.
The world needs fathers who love and reject the possession of the other to fill their own voids. If we are responsible fathers, we must refuse to want to live our children’s lives, which is always open to new spaces. Each child is a unique being before God, like each one of us, and the Lord invites us to respect the freedom of our children.
We are aware that we can fully live our fatherhood when our children become autonomous and walk the paths of life alone. When we put ourselves in Joseph’s situation, who always knew that the Child was not his own, but that the Lord entrusted him to his care, we are aware that our children belong to God. And that He entrusted their care to us. The fatherhood that we exercise is not an exercise of possession, but evokes a superior fatherhood.
- Chastity invites us to be free of possessions in all areas of life, chaste love expresses true love. Possessive love is dangerous because it imprisons, it makes unhappy. What kind of love have we passed on to our children from the moment they were born?
Pope Francis invites us to love this great Saint so that he may intercede for us before God, and help us to be full in the Christian life and in the perfection of love. May Joseph intercede for us and for our path of Holiness.
Let us address our prayer to Joseph and implore for our conversion:
Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy, and courage,
and defend us from every evil. Amen.
(1) Apostolic Letter PATRIS CORDE by Pope Francis.
(2) Writings about St. Joseph by Dr. María Verónica Talamé.
(3) Published in Cristo Vive Magazine No. 228, by The Movement of the Word of God.
(4) Jan Dobraczyński, The Shadow of the Father (1977)