Joseph: Man of Silence and Virtue
"The origin of the Christ was in this wise.
When Mary his mother had been betrothed to Joseph,
she was found, before they came together, to be with child by the Holy Spirit" (Mt 1,18).
Who is Saint Joseph? Who is this singular man chosen as the spouse of the Most Holy Virgin, as head of the Holy Family? This is the question to which we propose to give an initial response by reflecting upon the trial of Joseph which Divine Providence imposed upon him at the dawn of the New Covenant.
Why did God even impose such a trial? Fr. Daniel-Joseph Lallement explains: "The tasks given by God are not fittingly received except in the total renunciation of oneself, of one’s own thoughts, in complete humility, in a pure obedience out of love. These dispositions need to be all the deeper, in the measure that the tasks to be assigned are exalted. After the dispositions of the Son of God who upon ‘entering into this world’, immediately declared with the whole of his humanity, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God!’ (Heb 10,5-7); after the dispositions of the Blessed Virgin Mary responding to the Messenger of the Annunciation, ‘Behold, the Handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word!’ (Lk 1,38), no dispositions should have been more saintly than those which God wished to find in Joseph in order to entrust unto him the care for the mystery of the Incarnation" (Vie et Sainteté du Juste Joseph, Téqui, Paris. p. 65).
The Trial of Saint Joseph
The Gospels identify Joseph as a descendent of David, as the spouse of the Virgin Mary. Only after Mary had virginally conceived by the Holy Spirit, did Joseph come to know that she was with child. Saint Matthew describes his trial, saying: "Joseph Her husband, being a just man, and not willing to expose Her to the Law, thought to put Her away privately" (1,19).
Accordingly, Joseph’s trial began when he perceived that Mary, his spouse, was with child. This fact can be easily misinterpreted when viewed outside the context of Joseph’s extraordinary virtue. The Evangelist not only declares Joseph to be a just man in general, but affirms that this quality of perfect justice marked his decision: "being a just man, [he resolved] to divorce her quietly". "By ‘a just man’", declares Chrysostom, Matthew "means him who is virtuous in all things" (Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, in Matthew 1,19).
Failing to appreciate this sufficiently, some authors, ancient and modern, have held that Joseph thought Mary was no longer a virgin. Aside from the fact that it would have been unjust to dismiss her on the basis of a mere suspicion of infidelity, Lallement shows this thesis to be contradictory to the biblical text: for if he thought she had been unfaithful, as a just man he would have been obliged to turn her over to the Law (cf. Dt 22,23-24), or, contrarily, if he thought her an innocent victim of violence, there would have been no just cause to dismiss her (cf. Dt 22,26, ibid., p. 72).
The evidence provided by Luke concerning the relationship between Joseph and Mary, strongly indicates that Joseph’s deliberations actually ran on a much higher plane. Luke gives us to understand that Joseph knew and consented to Mary’s resolution to remain a virgin. In order to contract a valid marriage, Mary was certainly obliged to inform her spouse concerning her intent to remain consecrated to God as a virgin. That she did so is manifest in her response to the Angel Gabriel’s annunciation that she was to conceive a son: "How can this be, since I do not know man" (Lk 1,34). By speaking in the present tense – "I know not man" – she gives an absolute sense to her statement. It is not simply that she was unacquainted with a potential spouse, being already married to Joseph. Rather the statement proclaims that her permanent intention was to remain a virgin.
The fact that St. Joseph consented to enter into this virginal marriage, moreover, tells us a great deal about his own spiritual depth. Were he himself not most chaste, he would not have been able to rise above the Jewish culture, which perceived the divine blessing to consist in many children and which considered infecundity a curse from God. Through an incomparable virginal love he was able to renounce that natural conjugal love that is the foundation and nourishment of the family (cf. Redemptoris Custos = CR, 26).
Hence, it is not that Joseph doubted the integrity of the Blessed Virgin, rather it was the mystery that was unfolding before his eyes that occasioned his great trial. Jerome notes: "This may be considered a testimony to Mary, that Joseph, confident in her purity, and wondering at what had happened, covered in silence that mystery which he could not explain" (Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, in Matthäus 1,19).
What mystery is at question? Remigius explains: "He beheld her to be with child, whom he knew to be chaste; and because he had read, ‘There shall come a rod out of the stem of Jesse,’ of which he knew that Mary was come, and had also read, ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive,’ he did not doubt that this prophecy should be fulfilled in her" (ibid.). Moreover, since Joseph was the first man ever to be espoused to a consecrated Virgin, it is reasonable that the thought of the prophesied Virgin birth come to his mind under the convergence of circumstances.
And why should this cause him such consternation that he should seek to divorce her? Origen responds: "But if he had no suspicion of her, how could he be a just man, and yet seek to put her away, being immaculate? He sought to put her away, because he saw in her a great sacrament, which to approach he thought himself unworthy" (ibid.). Thus, as the Gloss says, "He was just because of his faith, in that he believed that Christ should be born of a virgin; wherefore he wished to humble himself before so great a favor" (ibid.).
St. Thomas follows this exegesis, saying that Joseph, having read the prophesies of Isaias (cf. 7,14 and 11,1), and aware that Mary was from the stock of David (Jesse), was "more inclined to believe that these would be fulfilled in her, than to believe that she would commit adultery. Thus, considering himself unworthy to dwell together with such holiness, he wanted to secretly dismiss her, somewhat like Peter, who said: ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man’ (Lk 5,8)" (Super Matt. I. nr. 117).
Lallement synthesizes: "It was with these interior dispositions and frame of mind as the spouse promised to Mary that Joseph pondered supernaturally the problem that presented itself to him: he no longer sees any mission for himself alongside Mary, now that such a mystery, which utterly surpassed him, was being accomplished in her, nor does he believe that he has the right to divulge this mystery. Therefore, he decides to grant Mary her freedom in a discrete way: ‘her husband, being just, and not wishing to expose her, resolved to release her discreetly’" (loc. cit. p. 64-65).
The Mystery of the Emmanuel
Thus, Joseph’s decision was motivated by humility and by a concern to guard the integrity of the divine mystery. Concerning his personal participation in the mystery of the Emmanuel child, Joseph, the just man, opted for the humble solution – "When you are invited to a wedding feast, do not take the first place, [but], take the least place" (Lk 14,8a.10a) – for he had no positive indication from God that he should be integrated in the divine plan. The prophecies spoke only of the Virgin Mother of the Emmanuel.
What a suffering this must have been for Joseph to have to surrender his intimate association with Mary, whom he cherished above all else in this world! Still, he could not presume a mission for himself alongside the Virgin Mother of the Emmanuel Child. "In his readiness to renounce himself, because the newness of the situation seemed to prohibit the continuance of their marriage bond, Joseph did not doubt Mary, rather he manifested that he could in no way attribute to himself any such dignity by which he might henceforth believe her his own. He manifested a total renunciation of himself, he who had been so deeply united to the messianic desire of his spouse. And now he finds himself simultaneously in the immense joy of beholding the divine promise being accomplished in her whom he loves, and in the great sorrow of the sacrifice which he offers of his own free will to separate himself from her, whom he had come to cherish even more! It was at this juncture that the Angel confirmed him in his union with Mary; and it was in a pure obedience of love that he took her immediately unto himself" (Lallement, ibid., p. 67).
Can this position be demonstrated? Yes, a careful reading of St. Matthew effectively eliminates all other options. The key is given by the Angel. After Joseph had decided to divorce Mary discretely, an angel sent by God instructs him: "Fear not, Joseph, son of David, to take Mary, your wife, to yourself, for that which is begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins" (Mt 1,20-21). The Angel’s words specify fear as the motivating factor behind Joseph’s decision. If, in the depths of his heart, Joseph had been thinking either of infidelity or of a violation, one would not properly attribute Joseph’s decision to fear. Perhaps to anger, maybe to sadness, but not to fear.
What then was the object of his fear? The Angel tells him not to fear to take his wife into his home. Hence, his fear principally regarded his relationship to Mary and the Child. Thus, Chrysostom suggests: "The Angel says, ‘Fear not to take unto thee’, that is, to keep her at home; for in thought she was already dismissed." And Remigius: "‘Fear not to take her,’ that is, in marriage union and continual converse" (Catena Aurea, in Matthäus 1,21).
The Angel does not so much reveal as assure Joseph about that which had long since been prophesied:"All this has taken place, so that the words of the Lord spoken by the prophet might be fulfilled: a virgin shall conceive and bring to the light a son and shall call him Emmanuel" (Is 7,14; Mt 1,23). He does this in order to instruct him about his own mission.
"The appellation, ‘son of David’ directs Joseph’s thoughts towards the realization of the messianic plan, but it is not immediately his function with respect to the Messiah about which he is enlightened; God lets him know, first of all, that his relationship with Mary should remain stable: she should be his wife. The fact that she has conceived by the Holy Spirit does not destroy this union, but confirms it. It is in this way that the Angel of God indicates to Joseph, what his function should be with respect to the Infant to be born: ‘You shall give Him the name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins’ (Mt 1,21). To give the Child its name is the sign – particularly at that time – of paternal authority" (Lallement, loc. cit., p. 67-68; cf. Lk 1,62-64).
Thus, "Joseph should not suppose that he was no longer needed in this wedlock, seeing the conception had taken place without his intervention. Therefore, the Angel declares to him that, though there had been no need of him in the conception, yet there was need of his guardianship; for the Virgin should bear a Son, and then he would be necessary both to the Mother and her Son; to the Mother to screen her from disgrace, to the Son to bring Him up and to circumcise Him. The circumcision is meant when he says, ‘And thou shalt call His name Jesus’; for it was usual to give the name in circumcision" (Catena Aurea, in Gloss to Mt 1,19).
To resume, Joseph’s decision to divorce Mary was based on his conclusion that she was the Virgin Mother of the Messiah, and he feared that his presence might impede the Divine plan. At this juncture the Angel intervened, declaring his mission as the spouse of Mary and head of the Holy Family. This is substantially the solution that Pope John Paul II proposes affirming that Joseph had "decided to draw back so as not to interfere in the plan of God which was coming to pass in Mary. [Still he] obeyed the explicit command of the angel and took Mary into his home, while respecting the fact that she belonged exclusively to God" (RC, 20).
Even though Joseph’s thoughts had led him to the mystery of the Virgin with Child, he could not rest peacefully in this reflection, without clarification concerning his own future relationship to the Blessed Virgin. This was the object of his trial, which he could only resolve by humbly withdrawing from Mary. It was for the sake of this humility that God allowed his painful trial before confirming him in his holy mission.
Joseph’s Humility and Holiness
The confirmation of Joseph’s mission only served to increase his humility. Bl. Elisabeth Canori well observed: nothing causes greater humility than to be greatly graced by God without any claim to merit. So greatly are these souls annihilated in their own eyes that they gladly subject themselves in holy obedience to their superiors and spiritual directors, even as St. Joseph immediately subjected himself to the command of the angel to accept Mary into his home, even though he had just before decided to do the contrary.
Once manifested through the Angel, Joseph readily surrendered in silence to the will of God, to which nothing needs to be added except loving compliance. How great must have been his interior joy and exaltation of heart over the condescension and goodness of God in choosing him to be so intimately associated with this work of salvation: My soul magnifies the Lord ,... who has looked on the lowliness of His servant!
There is another aspect to Joseph’s fear and humility, in which he compares favorably to other great figures in the history of salvation. Souls singled out by the grace of God often suffer great trepidation and doubt in the face of the divine plan which somehow defies natural comprehension. This caused Moses, for example, no little suffering. He did not support this tension in his trial in the desert, when God sent him to draw water from the rock. On that occasion, he vacillated under the weight of a certain incredulity and struck the rock twice, thus depriving God of glory by his lack of confidence (cf. Num 20,9-12). In such moments the danger is near that the soul will fix its gaze upon itself and the paradox at hand, instead of surrendering itself trustingly to God, in whose light and strength alone all things become manifest and are accomplished.
Similarly, the priest Zacharias was unable to support the angelic prophecy that he was called to be the father of John the Baptist, who was to go before the Lord to prepare His way. He too, considering his own weakness and misery, his advanced age and the sterility of his wife and, so, failing to look to God, for whom "nothing is impossible" (Lk 1,37), failed to give credence to the words of St. Gabriel.
St. Joseph too suffered great tribulation in the obscurity of his trial, only with this essential distinction: Joseph suffered precisely because he did believe in the supernatural mystery of the Virgin Birth, but could not discern his own mission without the clarifying light from God. For this reason his initial response had to be first one of holy and discreet humility. In the darkness of trial, prudence suggested that he withdraw from Mary; nevertheless his humble docility disposed him to immediately embrace in faith the injunction of the Angel: "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to receive Mary as your spouse, for that which was conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit!" (Mt 1,20). And so, as St. Matthew notes: "Arising from sleep, Joseph did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and he took his spouse into his home" (1,24). How great must his joy have been, to have been found worthy by God to be so intimately united with Christ and His mother in love and service.
Thus we behold in St. Joseph the man, chosen by God, who responded most generously to the great mystery of Divine Love that was revealed and entrusted to him in the persons of Mary and Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God. He dedicated his entire life to the untiring service of the plan of salvation. Pope John Paul II underscores the moral greatness of St. Joseph in these words: "The total sacrifice, whereby Joseph surrendered his whole existence to the demands of the Messiah's coming into his home, becomes understandable only in the light of his profound interior life. It was from this interior life that ‘very singular commands and consolations came, bringing him also the logic and strength that belong to simple and clear souls, and giving him the power of making great decisions – such as the decision to put his liberty immediately at the disposition of the divine designs, to make over to them also his legitimate human calling, his conjugal happiness, to accept the conditions, the responsibility and the burden of a family, but, through an incomparable virginal love, to renounce that natural conjugal love that is the foundation and nourishment of the family’"(RC, 26, citing: P. Paul VI, Insegnamenti, VII , p. 1267).
"Joseph was in daily contact with the mystery ‘hidden from ages past,’ and which ‘dwelt’ under his roof" (RC, 25). Such proximity to the Blessed Mother and the Incarnate Word necessarily had a sanctifying effect upon St. Joseph. The Holy Father explains: "The communion of life between Joseph and Jesus leads us to consider once again the mystery of the Incarnation, precisely in reference to the humanity of Jesus as the efficacious instrument of his divinity for the purpose of sanctifying man: ‘By virtue of his divinity, Christ's human actions were salvific for us, causing grace within us, either by merit or by a certain efficacy’(cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theol. III, q. 8, a. 1, ad 1). Among those actions, the gospel writers highlight those which have to do with the Paschal Mystery, but they also underscore the importance of physical contact with Jesus... The apostolic witness did not neglect the story of Jesus' birth, his circumcision, his presentation in the Temple, his flight into Egypt and his hidden life in Nazareth. It recognized the ‘mystery’ of grace present in each of these saving ‘acts,’ inasmuch as they all share the same source of love: the divinity of Christ. If through Christ's humanity this love shone on all mankind, the first beneficiaries were undoubtedly those whom the divine will had most intimately associated with itself: Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and Joseph, his presumed father" (RC, 27).
For 30 years together with Mary, Joseph was the only one to know and enjoy the company and wisdom of Jesus Christ as God and man. As such, both as the Spouse of Mary and as head of the Holy Family he is a worthy and powerful protector of the Church, indeed, of all the baptized in these hard times. "The Church also calls upon Joseph as her protector," Pope Paul VI adds, "because of a profound and ever present desire to reinvigorate her ancient life with true evangelical virtues, such as shine forth in St. Joseph" (Discourse [March 19, 1969]: Insegnamenti, VII  p. 1269, in RC, 30).
Pope John Paul II draws a fitting conclusion: "Recalling that God wished to entrust the beginnings of our redemption to the faithful care of St. Joseph, [the Church] asks God to grant that she may faithfully cooperate in the work of salvation; that she may receive the same faithfulness and purity of heart that inspired Joseph in serving the Incarnate World; and that she may walk before God in the ways of holiness and justice, following Joseph's example and through his intercession" (RC,31).
Fr. William Wagner,
St. Joseph, the Spouse of Mary
"Joseph [was] the husband of Mary
,and of her was born Jesus,who is called Christ!" (Mt 1:16)
It was into the custody of St. Joseph that God entrusted the mysteries of the salvation of mankind, that is, His Incarnate Son and the Blessed Virgin Mother of God (cf. Collect to Mass of St. Joseph). The entire plan of Redemption is founded on the mystery of the Incarnation. In this mystery, "Joseph of Nazareth ‘shared’ like no other human being except Mary, the Mother of the Incarnate Word. He shared in it with her; he was involved in the same salvific event; he was the guardian of the same love, through the power of which the eternal Father ‘predestined us to be His adopted sons through Jesus Christ’ (Eph 1:5)"(Redemptoris Custos = RC, 1).
In the Previous article (Above) we pondered the virtue and moral excellence of St. Joseph in the light of his eloquent response to God in the midst of his great trial. Divine grace disposed him to respond perfectly to the holy Angel’s words, which enlightened him concerning God’s hidden plan. Whereas in truth St. Joseph, the "Light of the Patriarchs", towers among the great figures in the history of salvation, the grandeur of his dignity and mission often escape notice due to his profound humility and silence which were so interior and supernatural.
In this article, following the doctrine of recent Roman Pontiffs, in particular that found in Pope John Paul II’s Redemptoris Custos on the Person and Mission of St. Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church, we want to contemplate Joseph’s dignity as the spouse of Mary according to the plan of God. To know St. Joseph better will help us to better love and venerate him, and so to recognize and realize our own identity and vocation in the plan of redemption (cf. RC, 1).
The Gospel Portrait of Joseph’s Marriage
"Even before the ‘mystery hidden since the ages past in God’ (Eph 3:9) began to be fulfilled, the Gospels set before us the image of the husband and the wife. According to Jewish custom, marriage took place in two stages: first, the legal, or true marriage was celebrated, and then, only after a certain period of time, the husband brought the wife into his own house. Thus, before he lived with Mary, Joseph was already her ‘husband’. Mary, however, preserved her deep desire to make a total gift of herself exclusively to God" (RC, 18; emphasis added).
These facts are recounted by both St. Matthew (1:18) and St. Luke (1:26-27); in each an Angel bears the message. These Gospels concur in affirming three essential points: 1) that Mary was (already) espoused to Joseph; 2) that Mary was a virgin; and 3) that she conceived virginally by the Holy Spirit.
Luke presents the mission of the Angel Gabriel, who announces to Mary that she is to conceive the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit (1:31-35). St. Matthew mentions this fact in the context of Joseph’s trial – "Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit" (Mt 1:18) – which evinces emphatically that Joseph is not the physical father of Christ.
The singular, virginal nature of the marriage of Mary and Joseph is accentuated, on the other hand, by Luke, who reports the Blessed Virgin’s response to Gabriel’s annunciation that she was to bear a son. Mary said: "I know not man." Given the fact that she was already married, she can only be expressing her resolution to remain a virgin. This was her firm intention before and after the marriage she had contracted with St. Joseph and before the visit of Gabriel.
In each Gospel, the intervening Angel charges first Mary, the mother, and then Joseph, the ‘father’, to name the Son to be born: ‘Jesus’ (Lk 1:31; Mt 1:21). In this way the messenger of God acknowledges and confirms the dignity and the responsibility of both Mary and Joseph in relation to the Son to be born. As the Holy Father expresses it, the Angel "turns to Joseph, entrusting to him the responsibilities of an earthly father with regard to Mary’s Son" (RC, 3).
The parallel between the two Gospels also includes the moral qualities of Mary and Joseph. Just as Mary responded immediately with humble obedience to the words of Gabriel: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to Thy word" (Lk 1:38); so, too, did Joseph respond in prompt obedience and docile faith to the words the Angel had spoken to him in a dream: immediately upon awakening "he received his wife into his house" (Mt 1:24). Acting "in this way he showed a readiness of will, like Mary’s, with regard to what God asked of him through the Angel" (RC, 3). The Evangelists thus show St. Joseph to be worthily associated to Mary in this mystery of salvation.
The Guardian of the Mystery of God
By accepting Mary into his house, Joseph accepted not only his spouse, but also the mystery of her divine maternity in its totality and her divine Son (cf. RC, 3). He thus placed himself completely at the service of the plan of the Father and the mission of His Incarnate Son. Pope John Paul II further underscores the effect of Joseph’s consent: Joseph "responded positively to the Word of God, when this was communicated to him at that decisive moment....That which Joseph did united him, in an altogether special way to the faith of Mary. He accepted as truth coming from God the very thing she had already accepted at the Annunciation" (RC, 4).
By his perfect obedience in faith, "he became a unique guardian of the mystery ‘hidden from ages past in God’ (cf. Eph 3:9)" (RC, 5). Moreover, "together with Mary, Joseph is the first guardian of this divine mystery. Together with Mary, and in relation to Mary, he shares in this final phase of God’s self-revelation in Christ, and he does so from the very beginning" (RC, 5). Joseph not only shares in the faith of Mary, but also supports her in this faith which is the foundation for the salvation of the world, the foundation for the Church.
Joseph, Spouse and Father
To express St. Joseph’s mission towards Jesus, modern languages have had recourse to a certain terminology, which expresses some aspect of his task, but which fail to do full justice to his dignity. In English, for example, we call St. Joseph the "foster father" of Jesus. In German they call him the "Nährvater" ("the nurturing father") of Jesus, while in Portuguese they call him "pai putativo" ("the supposed father"). The denotation of these terms is surely correct; their connotation, though, tends to weaken the understanding of his paternal mission and relegates St. Joseph to a "secondary class" of the Gospel figures.
Superficially, these terms might seem to be justified by Pope John Paul II’s statement: "As can be deduced from the Gospel texts, Joseph’s marriage to Mary is the juridical basis of his fatherhood. It was to assure fatherly protection for Jesus that God chose Joseph to be Mary’s spouse" (RC, 7). However, he continues forcefully to draw the conclusion: "It follows that the fatherhood of Joseph – a relationship that places him as close as possible to Christ, to whom every election and predestination is ordered (cf. Rom 8:28-29) – comes to pass through the marriage to Mary, that is, through the family" (RC, 7).
Dignity and Nature of Joseph’s Fatherhood
To this divine election, St. Joseph responded with unconditional generosity. Pope Paul VI describes his response in the following way: "[Joseph’s] fatherhood is expressed concretely ‘in his having made his life a service, a sacrifice to the mystery of the Incarnation and to the redemptive mission connected with it; in having used the legal authority which was his over the Holy Family in order to make a total gift of self, of his life and work; in having turned his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of self, an oblation of his heart and all his abilities into love placed at the service of the Messiah growing up in his house’" (Paul VI, Discourse, March 19, 1966; in RC, 8). "Through the exercise of his fatherhood" for nearly 30 years St. Joseph "‘cooperated...in the great mystery of salvation,’ and is truly ‘a minister of salvation’" (St. John Chrysostom; in RC, 8).
Joseph fulfilled his duty as father of the family, sharing in the very love which the heavenly Father has for Jesus (cf. RC, 8). He "showed Jesus, ‘by a special gift from heaven, all the natural love, all the affectionate solicitude that a father’s heart can know’" (Pius XII, radio message, 1958; in RC, 8). Jesus, too, fulfilled his vocation and duty as Son in the Holy Family in relation to Mary and Joseph: "The Word of God was subjected to Joseph, He obeyed him and rendered to him that honor and reverence that children owe to their father" (Leo XIII, Quamquam pluries; in RC, 8).
The Holy Fathers speak here of a genuine duty of honor which Jesus owed to Joseph! The faithful can more easily understand such an affirmation with regards to Mary, but the question rises as to whether the spousal relationship which unites Joseph and Mary is a sufficient explanation for such a duty towards Joseph. Let us see!
Joseph: Husband of Mary
The solution to this question lies in the nature of marriage as a covenant or sacred contract. Pope John Paul II insists that the marriage of Mary and Joseph was a true marriage: "And while it is important for the Church to profess the virginal conception of Jesus, it is no less important to uphold Mary’s marriage to Joseph, because juridically Joseph’s fatherhood depends on it" (RC, 7; emphasis added). "In the Liturgy, Mary is celebrated as ‘united to Joseph, the just man, by a bond of marital and virginal love’" (Preface to Mass of Mary of Nazareth; in RC, 20).
There is a tendency today to consider "juridical things" as something extrinsic and insubstantial. To apply such an idea to marriage would betray a grave miscomprehension of this most intimate of human bonds, which by its very nature is constituted by a covenant, a sacred contract. Citing St. Augustine, the Holy Father enumerates the three essential qualities of the marriage bond: an "‘indivisible union of souls’, a ‘union of hearts’ with ‘consent’ These elements are found in an exemplary manner in the marriage of Mary and Joseph" (St. Augustine, Contra Faustum, 23; in RC, 7).
Thus, their marriage is the divinely willed foundation for the eternal covenant in Christ. The singular dignity of St. Joseph, his fatherhood and his rights over Jesus all derive from this virginal marriage with Mary. Pope Leo XIII articulated this truth most sublimely: "It is certain that the dignity of the Mother of God is so exalted that nothing could be more sublime; yet because Mary was united to Joseph by the bond of marriage, there can be no doubt but that Joseph approached as no other person ever could that eminent dignity whereby the Mother of God towers above all creatures. Since marriage is the highest degree of association and friendship, involving by its very nature a communion of goods, it follows that God, by giving Joseph to the Virgin, did not give him to her only as a companion for life, a witness of her virginity and protector of her honor: He also gave Joseph to Mary in order that he might share, through the conjugal pact, in her own sublime greatness" (Leo XIII, Quamquam pluries; in RC, 20).
Mary was a gift of God to Joseph, a divine gift for his own sanctification. Through the communion of goods proper to marriage, Joseph was granted the most sublime graces of holiness, for his pure heart was perfectly disposed to benefit and share fully in the graces of the Virgin Mary. In their marriage, Joseph and Mary were, as was said of the first Christian community and with greater reason, "one heart and one soul" (Acts 4:32). Hence, Joseph’s heart, too, through this spiritual union was made worthy to be the ‘father’ of Jesus. Their communion in grace referred to all the graces of Mary, for these were given her precisely in view of the divine motherhood, which God granted her in the very context of her marriage to Joseph.
"The Son of Mary is also Joseph’s Son by virtue of the marriage bond that unites them: ‘By reason of their faithful marriage both of them deserve to be called Christ’s parents, not only his mother, but also his father, who was a parent in the same way that he was the mother’s spouse: in mind, not in the flesh’" (St. Augustine, De nuptiis PL 44, 421; in RC, 7).
Pope John Paul II explains: "Inserted directly in the mystery of the Incarnation, the Family of Nazareth has its own special mystery. And in this mystery, as in the Incarnation, one finds a true fatherhood: the human form of the family of the Son of God, a true human family, formed by the divine mystery. In this family, Joseph is the father: his fatherhood is not one that derives from begetting offspring; but neither is it an ‘apparent’ or merely ‘substitute’ fatherhood. Rather, it is one that fully shares in authentic human fatherhood and the mission of a father in the family. This is a consequence of the hypostatic union: humanity taken up into the unity of the Divine Person of the Word-Son, Jesus Christ. Together with human nature, all that is human, and especially the family – as the first dimension of man’s existence in the world – is also taken up in Christ. Within this context, Joseph’s human fatherhood was also ‘taken-up’ in the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation" (RC, 21; emphasis added).
This is why Mary’s words to Jesus, upon finding Him in the temple, were completely justified: "My Son,...behold your father and I have been searching for you" (Lk 2:48).
Words cannot adequately capture the depths of intimacy and union which prevailed in the Holy Family. What was not the tenderness in the voice and in the glance of Jesus saying, "Mother" to Mary, and "Father" to St. Joseph! What was the beauty of soul and of face of this man in whom the Son contemplated the human image of his eternal Father! What beatitude were not Joseph’s and Mary’s when looking upon Jesus they said "Son" to the very SON of GOD!
The Influence of Joseph upon Jesus
In his fatherhood, Joseph exercised great influence over the growth and psychological maturation of Jesus. Is it not written: "Jesus grew in stature, in wisdom and grace before God and men" (Lk 2:52)? The communion of hearts within the Holy Family profoundly marked Jesus in His human character development. It belongs to the mystery of the Incarnation that it be set off in time, geography, culture, language and an individual family. The One, who was known as the "Son of the Carpenter", was profoundly influenced by Joseph. In this, Jesus not only is the image of His eternal Father, but also became, in a certain sense, the image of His father, St. Joseph, whose trade and human qualities He took on. Along these lines the Holy Father reflects: "Why should the ‘fatherly’ love of Joseph not have had an influence upon the ‘filial’ love of Jesus? And vice versa, why should the ‘filial’ love of Jesus not have had an influence upon the ‘fatherly’ love of Joseph, thus leading to a further deepening of their unique relationship" (RC, 27), a relationship which certainly reflected Jesus’ relationship to His heavenly Father in the divine order.
The Influence of Joseph upon Mary
Given the reciprocal influence between Joseph and Jesus in their loving relationship, it follows that the same must be true of Joseph and Mary. It is not only Joseph, therefore, who benefited and was enriched through his marriage to the Virgin Mother of God, but she too benefited. It could not be otherwise since their marriage included in an eminent manner the "indivisible union of souls" and a "union of hearts" with "consent" which constitute marriage (Summa Theol. III.29,2; in RC, 7). They were "one heart and one soul" in the sacred alliance of marriage; they enjoyed a most perfect "communion of goods" enriching one another supernaturally and humanly. Accordingly, not only did Joseph receive from Mary, but also the Blessed Virgin was profoundly enriched and influenced by the gifts she received from St. Joseph, her spouse. Her love, her virtues, her Immaculate Heart were enhanced and further beautified by the holy manhood and charity of St. Joseph, her spouse.
These gifts of Joseph were divinely foreseen and contributed to the human and spiritual perfection of the Blessed Virgin Mother of God. The Incarnation of God, namely, could not rightly take place except within the context of marriage, within the context of a family, in as much as this is an integral part of human life. "The Savior began the work of salvation by this virginal and holy union, wherein is manifested His all-powerful will to purify and sanctify the family – that sanctuary of love and cradle of life" (P. Paul VI, Discourse 1970; in RC, 7).
As we have seen, Mary was already married to Joseph at the time of the Annunciation. The Angel Gabriel, therefore, did not make the Annunciation simply to a Virgin, but he visited her precisely as the Virgin-Spouse of Joseph. Because she was his wife, the moment she virginally conceived of the Holy Spirit, the Child became Joseph’s, too, through the marriage bond.
Reflecting on this, we see also that in the Gospel we, too, only ‘meet’ and come to know Joseph and Mary as already joined in marriage, as already mutually enriching one another. Even though it be true that the sanctification of St. Joseph was inseparable from his participation in the preeminent election of Mary, this does not diminish in any way the great human and spiritual contribution he makes to Mary. Although Eve had come forth from the side of Adam, she was nevertheless a substantial collaborator with Adam in his mission as the father of humanity. In a similar and more sublime way, Joseph and Mary were joined having, as it were, one heart in receiving the salvific gift of the Incarnate Word of God. "St Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood. It is precisely in this way that, as the Church’s Liturgy teaches, he ‘cooperated in the fullness of time in the great mystery of salvation’ and is truly a ‘minister of salvation’" (cf. St. John Chrysostom, In Matth. Hom. V, 3; in RC, 8).
Joseph’s Mission in Relation to the Mystical Body of Christ
His headship over the Holy Family, his true human paternity over Jesus Christ, the Son of God, applies by extension to the whole Mystical Body of Christ. His spousal association with Mary in her motherhood of Jesus gains for him in the order of grace an analogous participation in her maternity over the Church. Since Mary is our spiritual mother, since our spiritual sonship is a share in Christ’s sonship, it follows that St. Joseph is, in a certain spiritual sense, also our father. This is why the Church venerates him as the universal patron of the Church and appeals to his paternal love and care.
"Pope Leo XIII had already exhorted the Catholic world to pray for the protection of St. Joseph, Patron of the whole Church. ...[He] appealed to Joseph’s ‘fatherly love...for the Child Jesus’ and commended him as ‘the provident guardian of the divine Family,’ ‘the beloved inheritance which Jesus Christ purchased by His blood.’ Since that time...the Church has implored the protection of St. Joseph on the basis of ‘that sacred bond of charity which united him to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God,’ and the Church has commended to Joseph all of her cares, including those dangers which threaten the human family.
"Even today we have many reasons to pray in a similar way: ‘Most beloved father, dispel the evil of falsehood and sin...graciously assist us from heaven in our struggle with the powers of darkness...and just as once you saved the Child Jesus from mortal danger, so now defend God’s holy Church from the snares of her enemies and from all adversity’"(Leo XIII; in RC, 31).
By St. Joseph’s prayers and
intercession may we be fully incorporated
and assimilated to Jesus Christ, our Lord and God!
Fr. William Wagner, ORC