Saint Joseph Foster Father of Jesus
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St. Joseph - Foster Father of Jesus

It is remarkable, how little the Holy Spirit says about famous people in the Bible. The classic example of this is Saint Joseph. He is the most prominent saint in the Catholic liturgy after the Blessed Virgin Mary. Yet there is not a single word in the Scriptures quoting Saint Joseph.

Our plan here is to identify just five qualities of Saint Joseph. Each quality will be briefly described and then applied to ourselves. Of the twenty five invocations in the Litany of Saint Joseph, the ones on which we shall concentrate really cover all we know about the spouse of the Mother of God. Each invocation deserves a volume of commentary.

The Humility of Saint Joseph

Humility, as we know, is the truth. It is the virtue that enables us to recognize and act on the recognition of our true relationship to God first, and to other persons.

By this standard, Saint Joseph was a very humble man.

He recognized his place with respect to Mary and Jesus. He knew that he was inferior to both of them in the order of grace. Yet he accepted his role as spouse of Mary and guardian of the Son of God.

The lesson for us is that genuine humility prevents us from claiming to be better or more than we really are. At the same time, we are not to underestimate ourselves either. A humble person does not consider himself more than he is but also not less than he is.

If we are truly humble, we do not pretend to be more than we really are, which is pride. But we also do not deny what we are, or claim to be less, which is false humility.

Humility is the moral virtue that keeps a person from reaching beyond himself. It is the virtue that restrains the unruly desire for personal greatness and leads people to an orderly love of themselves based on a true appreciation of their position with respect to God and their neighbors. Religious humility recognizes one’s total dependence on God. Moral humility recognizes one’s creaturely equality with other human beings. Yet humility is not only opposed to pride. It is also opposed to immoderate self-abjection, which would fail to recognize God’s gifts and use them according to the will of God.

The Chastity of Saint Joseph

The Church’s constant tradition holds that Saint Joseph lived a life of consecrated chastity. Some of the apocryphal gospels picture him as an old man, even a widower. This is not the Church’s teaching.

We are rather to believe that he was a virgin, who entered into a virginal marriage with Mary. This was to protect Mary’s reputation and safeguard the dignity of her Son.

What is the lesson for us? That chastity has an apostolic purpose. It is meant to help us win souls. It also shows how highly God regards the virtue of chastity, seeing that He providentially arranged a series of miracles of chastity:

The virginal conception of the Savior.

The virginal birth of the Son of God.

The marriage of Mary and Joseph.

The life of Jesus Christ.

Chastity is the virtue that moderates the desire for sexual pleasure according to the principles of faith. For married people, chastity moderates the desire in conformity with their life. For the unmarried people who wish to marry, the desire is moderated by abstention until (or unless) they get married. For those who resolve not to marry, the desire is totally sacrificed.

Chastity and purity, modesty and decency are comparable in that they have the basic meaning of freedom from whatever is lewd or salacious.

Yet they also differ. Chastity implies an opposition to the immoral in the sense of lustful or licentious. It implies refraining from all acts or thoughts that are not in accordance with the Church’s teaching about the use of one’s reproductive powers. It particularly emphasizes an avoidance of anything that might defile or make the soul unclean because the body has not been controlled in the exercise of its most imperious passion.

The Obedience of Saint Joseph

Joseph’s obedience covers every aspect of his life.

He was obedient in entering into a marriage with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

He was obedient in his willingness to put her away when, though he knew she was innocent, he found her with child.

He was obedient when he went to Bethlehem to be registered with Mary, and accepted the humiliation of having Jesus born in a stable cave.

He was obedient in taking the Child and His Mother by night and fleeing to Egypt.

He was obedient in taking the Christ Child to Jerusalem, as prescribed by the Law, and accepted God’s mysterious will when the Child was lost, and God’s even more mysterious will when Jesus told Mary that he must be about His Father’s affairs—even to grievously paining Joseph, His foster father, in order to do the will of His Father.

What are the lessons for us? Obedience is the test of our love of God. His laws are God’s way of enabling us to prove our love for Him; there is no obedience where there is no love, there is much obedience where there is much love.

Joseph was head of the Holy Family. He did not have identifiable superiors whom he should obey. Joseph’s obedience consequently was mainly interior.

This is illustrated by the fact that each time Joseph was to obey, he was divinely inspired. Thus it was by a special communication from God that Joseph was told to marry the Blessed Virgin. Thus it was also by interior communication that he was told to marry the Blessed Virgin after he found that she was pregnant. It was also by divine communication that Joseph was told to flee with Mary to Egypt. It was also by divine communication that he was told to return from Egypt to Palestine. It was finally by divine communication that Joseph was instructed to live with Jesus and Mary in Palestine. We may also say that Joseph was divinely instructed to remain in Palestine after the Holy Family returned to Nazareth.

There is not a single recorded word of Saint Joseph which he spoke during his years of caring for Jesus and Mary.

We may say that Joseph’s obedience was profoundly interior. He obeyed God’s will by supernatural instinct. Needless to say, he did not have to be ordered by God to exercise authority over Jesus and Mary. We may say that Joseph obeyed not because he was told to but because his mind was always conformed to the mind of God. We may further say that Joseph’s faith always saw in Jesus the living God who instructed His foster father constantly in everything that the Lord wanted him to do.

The Prudence of Saint Joseph

The prudence of Saint Joseph is part of our Catholic faith. It is especially shown in his remarkable practice of silence. Of course, Joseph talked. Yet the Gospels do not record a single word he spoke, no doubt to teach us that if we wish to practice the virtue of prudence, we must look to our practice of silence.

We are to be silent when others want us to speak, and we practice charity by our self-control.

We are to be silent when it is clearly necessary to do something and not talk about it. For some people talk and more talk is an excuse for doing God’s will, but speech is no substitute for actions.

No one has practiced prudence better than Jesus and Mary. But Saint Joseph teaches us that prudence is correct knowledge about things to be done or, more broadly, the knowledge of things that ought to be done and of things that should be avoided.

Prudence is the intellectual virtue by which a human being recognizes in any matter at hand what is good and what is evil. In this sense, prudence is a moral virtue that enables a person to devise, choose, and prepare suitable means for the avoidance of any evil. Prudence resides in the practical intellect and is both acquired by one’s own acts and infused along with sanctifying grace. Prudence may be said to be natural as developed by our own efforts, and supernatural because it is conferred by God.

As an act of virtue, prudence involves three stages of mental cooperation: to take counsel carefully with oneself and from others; to judge correctly on the basis of the evidence at hand; and to direct the rest of one’s activity according to the norms determined after a prudent judgment has been made.

The Love that Joseph Had for Jesus and Mary

Saint Joseph deserves our admiration for his other virtues, but he is to be especially imitated in his love for Jesus and Mary.

He was placed into their lives by an all-wise Providence and lived up to God’s expectations by giving them his deepest attention and care.

What most bears emphasis is not so much that Jesus and Mary were physically so close to Saint Joseph. He was in their company day after day for many years.

It was rather that Joseph put his love into practice.

Joseph put his love to work. He did not merely tell Jesus and Mary that he loved them. He acted out his love. He lived it.

That is the secret of true love. We are as truly devoted to Christ and His Mother as we do what we know they want us to do. And what is that? It is to see God’s providence in everything that enters our lives:

the disappointments and failures

the unexpected turn of events

the frustrating delays

the unwanted demands on our time

the strange behavior of some people

the mysterious silence of God who often hides the purpose He has and yet tells us, through people—that is the key, through people—what He wants us to do.
Saint Joseph is surely worth studying and invoking to help us love Jesus and Mary as he loved them. So we should pray:

Saint Joseph, foster father of Jesus and protector of the Virgin Mary, teach us the hardest lesson we have to learn in life; to love as you loved, by putting our affections to use, and by acting on the sentiments we so often express in our prayers. Teach us to understand what Mary meant when she said, "Be it done to me according to your will." And what Jesus meant when He said, "If you love me, keep my commandments."

St. Joseph, Patron of Dedicated Souls

There are many good reasons why St. Joseph should be the special heavenly patron of dedicated souls - in the religious life, in the priesthood, and among the laity. But as the Church teaches, he is especially to be venerated and his patronage invoked because he was the guardian of the Virgin Mary and the foster-father of Jesus.

The dignity of the Mother of God is so sublime that nothing created can rank above it. But as Joseph was united to the Blessed Virgin by the ties of marriage, we may believe that he approached nearer than anyone else to the eminent dignity by which the Mother of God surpasses all human persons in holiness. Marriage is the most intimate of all unions, which from its essence confers a sharing of gifts between those joined together in wedlock. Thus, in giving Joseph the Blessed Virgin as his spouse, God appointed him to be not only the witness of her virginity, the protector of her honor, but also, because they were truly married, a sharer in her exalted sanctity.

Joseph shines above all mankind by the august privilege of his vocation as the foster-father of the Son of God and, therefore, the diligent protector of Christ.

From this two-fold dignity flows the obligation which nature lays on the heads of families, so that Joseph became the administrator and legal defender of the Holy Family. He set himself to defend with a mighty love and a daily concern his spouse and the Divine Infant. Regularly by his work he earned what was necessary for the one and the other for nourishment and clothing. He guarded the Child from death when threatened by Herod’s jealousy, and found for him a refuge in Egypt. In the miseries of the journey and in the bitterness of exile, he was ever the companion, the helper, and the upholder of Jesus and His Virgin Mother.

We may confidently say that the Holy Family which Joseph ruled with the authority of a father contained within itself the first beginnings of the Church. So that, even as Mary is the Mother of the Church because she is the Mother of Christ, so Joseph is the Protector of Holy Church because he was the guardian of Jesus and Mary.

Dearest St. Joseph, I consecrate myself to your service. I give myself to you, that you may always be my father, my protector, and my guide in the way of salvation. Obtain for me a great purity of heart, a fervent love of the interior life, and the spirit of prayer.
After your example may I do all my actions for the greater glory of God, in union with the Divine Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. And you, blessed St. Joseph, pray for me, that I may share in the peace and joy of your holy death. Amen.

The Role and Responsibility of Fatherhood - St. Joseph as Model

If there was one fact of our Christian faith which needs to be stressed today it is the need for a father in the family. At the center of the social revolution today is the attack on men, as husbands and fathers of families. Behind this revolution is the philosophy of Karl Marx. According to Marx, families are the invention of dictating males who created, what we call the family, in order to dominate women in human society.

The result has been disastrous. Most of the laboring force in America is women. Feminism is an epidemic that our popes tell us will destroy family life. Abortions are only the most tragic consequence of this plague.

Men as Husbands and Fathers

Within the family community, the man is called upon to live his gift and role as husband and father.

In his wife, he is to see the fulfillment of God’s intention, as expressed in the first book of the Bible, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” The Lord makes His own the cry of Adam, the first husband; “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

At the dawn of creation, God made the human race as two genders, men and women. He told them to increase and multiply. He promised them a Redeemer after they had sinned. He assured them of His blessings, provided they responded to His divine will.

With the coming of Christ marriage was elevated beyond anything known before in human history. He restored marriage to its condition before the fall of our first parents. He told the Pharisees that a man may not put away his wife. Even if she is unfaithful, he cannot remarry.

Our present Holy Father could not be clearer on the quality of love that a husband should have for his wife.

Authentic conjugal love presupposes and requires that a man have a profound respect for the equal dignity of his wife: “You are not her master,” writes St. Ambrose, “But her husband; she was not given to you to be your slave, but your wife … reciprocate your attentiveness to you, and be grateful to her for her love.” With his wife, a man should live, “A very special form of personal friendship.” As a Christian, he is called upon to develop a higher form of love, showing his wife a charity that is both gentle and strong like that which Christ has for the Church” (Familiaris Consortio, 25).

But that is only the beginning. The husband is to love his wife as mother of their children and love the children themselves. This love belongs to the very essence of fatherhood.

In countries like our own, fathers are encouraged to be less concerned with their family and less involved in the education of the children. Here the Church’s highest authority tells us that fathers must restore what is God’s revealed command: the role of the father in the family is of unique and irreplaceable importance. In this context, I think it is important to quote the exact words of Pope John Paul II.

“As experience teaches, the absence of the father causes psychological and moral imbalance and notable difficulties in family relationships. In contrary circumstances, the oppressive presence of a father, where there still prevails the phenomenon of machismo, or a wrong superiority of male prerogatives which humiliates women and inhibits the development of healthy family relationships (Familiaris Consortio, 25).
Christ tells his married followers that they are to reveal and relive on earth the very fatherhood of God. On these premises, a man is called to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of his family. He will perform this responsibility by exercising generous, even heroic charity, for the life conceived under the heart of the mother. He must be deeply concerned for the education of his children. He must share with his wife the duty of training these children in the knowledge of their faith and their love for God. With God’s grace, he must do everything possible to avoid division, and foster unity and stability in the family. With his wife, he is to be a channel of grace to his children, whom they have brought into this world in order to reach their heavenly destiny.

St. Joseph, Model of Fathers

In the litany of St. Joseph, we say, “St. Joseph, Head of the Holy Family, pray for us.” There is more hidden behind this invocation than meets the eye.

We know, of course, that Mary is the Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ. We know that the Savior was not conceived of a human father. Yet the Church has never tired insisting on the fatherhood of St. Joseph in the Holy Family.

It is crucially important to understand that there are two levels to fatherhood. There is the physical level of providing for the conception of a human body. In this sense, Christ did not have a human father.

But a father is not only to cooperate with his wife in generating a child. He is also to cooperate with her in rearing the offspring which his spouse brings into the world.

From all eternity, Joseph was destined to be the spouse of the Blessed Virgin. They were truly married. Joseph was Mary’s husband, and she was his wife.

Marriage is the most intimate of all unions between two human beings. It imparts a community of gifts between those joined together in matrimony. Consequently, in giving Joseph the Blessed Virgin as his spouse, God appointed him to be not only her life’s companion, but also the witness of her virginity, the protector of her honor. No, by reason of his conjugal tie to Mary, he participated in her sublime dignity.

We cannot exaggerate the importance of seeing St. Joseph as the true spouse of Mary. Under God, he was to share in her unique role as Mother of the Word made flesh who dwelt among us.

St. Luke tells us that, on returning to Nazareth after Mary and Joseph found the young Christ in the temple, “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace before God and men (Luke 2:52)”.

What are we being told? We are being told that the Christ child constantly manifested greater wisdom as he grew in age. In God’s mysterious providence, both Mary and Joseph contributed to this manifestation of greater wisdom in Jesus.

We return to our main theme: that St. Joseph is the divinely revealed model of human fatherhood. We know only too well that a man can father a child in body without even being married to the mother of his offspring.

True fatherhood begins with a lifetime commitment of the husband to his wife.

True fatherhood builds on the selfless love of the husband for his wife.

True fatherhood depends on the generous love of the husband for the offspring of his wife.

True fatherhood means that the husband cooperates with his wife in the spiritual upbringing of the children.

True fatherhood therefore, is not only or even mainly generating a human body in this world. It is also and mainly collaborating with the mother in developing the human soul for everlasting life in eternity.
How, then, is St. Joseph the exemplar of fatherhood? He is, to coin a word, the prototype of what all human fathers should be. They should reflect, in their families the seven virtues which the Church specially honors in St. Joseph’s relationship to Jesus and Mary.

Like Joseph, fathers should be:

most just, without partiality or human respect.

most chaste, according to their married state of life.

most prudent, in knowing God’s will through constant prayer.

most valiant in courageously accepting the cross every moment of the day.

most obedient in seeing every event as part of divine Providence and responding with, “Here I am Lord. I am ready to do Your will.”

most faithful in loving their wives with perfect fidelity, and their children with tireless generosity.

the strength of the home by their exercise of manly courage. They are to protect their wives and children from the plots of the modern Herods who are inspired by the evil spirit to destroy the Christian family in the modern world.


“St. Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster father of the Son of God, obtain from Jesus the grace we fathers need to raise our families according to the will of God. We need light to recognize our grave responsibility as husbands and fathers. Above all we need the courage to persevere in the fatherly care of our families through time into the endless reaches of eternity. Amen.”


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