St. Joseph

THE FEAST OF ST. JOSEPH, March 19

INTRODUCTION

May 19th is the traditional feast day of St. Joseph, the Husband of Mary. May 1st was added as an additional feast of St. Joseph by Pope Pius XII in 1955. Pope Francis also promotes the devotion to St. Joseph. This saint is a model for us in many ways. Though selected as the foster father of Jesus, he had a hard life in this world. He took up the hardships of life as a humble servant of God for which he is rewarded in heaven. Like St. Joseph, let us be the servants and the presenters of the Word of God in our given situation.

Foster Father of Jesus

God entrusted a great responsibility to Joseph as the foster father of Jesus. This role was difficult because of the circumstance in which Jesus was born. When Mary was about to deliver the baby, Joseph had to go with her from Nazareth to Bethlehem walking around 90 miles. Then Joseph could not find a house for Mary to give birth to the baby. Later, Joseph had to flee to Egypt as a refugee and stay there for few months and then return to Nazareth. Though selected to a dignified position, Joseph’s role was a humble service in this world for which he is honored in heaven.

Character of Joseph

The Bible describes Joseph as "a righteous man" (Matthew 1:19). The Biblical meaning of righteousness is based on how one relates to God and fellow humans. Joseph’s righteousness is exemplified in Mathew 1:19-25. When he came to know that Mary, his betrothed “wife,” was pregnant without any relationship with him, he could present her to be stoned to death as per law. (Deut. 22:19-20). “If a man is discovered lying with a woman who is married to another, they both shall die, the man who was lying with the woman as well as the woman.” (Deut. 22:22). However, Joseph could not find any man as culprit for Mary’s pregnancy. Joseph could suspect that Mary was hiding the identity of the person who was the offender. Though Joseph could not believe Mary’s explanation of a divine intervention for a miraculous pregnancy, he did not want a probable innocent Mary to be accused of a serious “sin,” subject her for capital punishment, or even expose her to shame. So, he decided to send her away quietly. While he was patient to implement his decision, an angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream and told him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” (Mathew 1:20). The Biblical sense of taking the betrothed virgin home means to celebrate the wedding.  “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” (Mathew 1:24). The suspicion of Joseph on the credibility of Mary and the subsequent events are also proves of the divine origin of Jesus.

Joseph was an obedient servant of God. Unlike Zachariah and Mary who had vision of angel Gabriel, Joseph had only a dream revealing the innocence of Mary and his special vocation as foster father of Jesus. A vision happens when one is awake and conscious. Whereas, a dream occurs while one is asleep and not conscious. That means the dreamer is not free to ask clarification like Zachariah or Mary did during their vision. Still Joseph believed and obeyed what the angel said. Joseph obeyed without question the messages he got from the angel later also. Thus, he fled to Egypt with the Holy Family to protect the life of baby Jesus and returned to Nazareth in time.

Joseph loved and took care of Jesus as his own son. Though Jesus was son of God, Joseph worked hard to support his poor family. When the twelve-year-old Jesus was found lost, Joseph was searching with Mary for three days “with great anxiety.” (Luke 2:48). From the way Joseph treated Jesus, the people of Nazareth used to say of Jesus, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22)

Joseph respected God and the Laws given through Moses. He followed the Jewish law of the circumcision of the child Jesus on the eighth day and presentation of Jesus and purification of Mary on the 40th day in the Temple of Jerusalem. He also used to take Jesus to the Temple every year for the Jewish feast of Passover (Luke 2:41) though he was not bound by law since he lived more than 15 miles away from Jerusalem.

Joseph, a Builder

By profession, Joseph was known as a carpenter. The skeptics of Nazareth ask about Jesus: “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” (Mathew 13:55). Carpenters on those days were not just doing wooden work alone. They were also builders.

Poverty of Joseph

The means of support for the Holy Family was the carpentry or construction work of Joseph. He was not a rich person is evident from the Bible. When Jesus was presented in the temple on the 40th day, Joseph could offer only two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons (Luke 2:24) as offering for the first born and for the purification of the Blessed Mother Mary. The law for normal offering was: “When the days of her purification for a son or for a daughter are fulfilled, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a yearling lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon or a turtledove for a purification offering.” (Lev. 12:6). Only those who could not afford to offer the lamb could substitute the lamb with an additional turtledove or pigeon. (Lev. 12:8).

Royal Lineage

Though St. Joseph was financially poor, he had royal blood as a descendant of King David and he was married to Mary who also had the same lineage. God had promised to King David:I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.” (2 Samuel 7:12). Genealogy of the descendants of David were preserved to make sure that the Kings of Jews and the Messiah were from this lineage. Gospels of Mathew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-38) give the genealogy of Jesus. Luke presents Mary’s genealogy to prove that Jesus was biologically the son of David and Mathew presents Joseph’s genealogy to prove that the legal or adopted father of Jesus was also a son of David. According to Jewish tradition, adopted as well as biological sons could have hereditary rights. Jesus, his mother Mary, and legal father Joseph were all born in Bethlehem, the City and birthplace of David.

Apocryphal books on Mary and Joseph

Some of the Eastern Non-Catholic churches believe that St. Joseph was a widower with older children from previous marriage when he was betrothed to Mary. He was aged at the time of his betrothal with Mary who had a vow of virginity. She was entrusted to Joseph not to bear children but as a protector with a covenantal relationship. Such believes came from the legendary stories of St. Joseph and Mary and from the apocryphal (non-canonical) writings like the Protoevangelium of James and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. These books also justify for the mention of the siblings of Jesus who were children of Joseph from his previous marriage.

According to the old legends, that helps to answer many of the missing details in the Bible, Joachim and Anne were childless for a long time. Joachim was rich and used to offer double offering in the Temple. Being childless was considered a shame and lack of blessing from God because the lineage of the family could not be continued to the next generation through children. According to the old concept, one’s life continues after death through his children and the fame of his good works. 

Joachim was discouraged for being childless, by people and his own study of the Scriptures. He went to desert and lived in a tent fasting for 40 days seeking God’s mercy to have a child as it happened for Abraham at his old age. Anne also prayed in the garden under a tree seeking God’s intervention for a child as He gave to Sarah. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to Anne and informed her that she would have a child who “will be spoken of everywhere people live”. Anne said, “As the Lord God lives, whether I give birth to either a male or a female child, I will bring it as an offering to the Lord my God and it will be a servant to him all the days of its life”. Angel also informed Joachim the same news. Anne gave birth to a baby girl whom they named Mary.

When Mary was three years of age, her parents presented her in the Temple to be dedicated to God’s service as Anne had promised. She was brought up in the Temple and she had made a vow of lifelong virginity by herself. When she was turned 12 (15), she could not be continued in the Temple. Children were not allowed to remain in the Temple from puberty so that they won’t defile the sanctuary of the Lord. Mary’s parents might have died by that time. So, she was to be entrusted to a reliable person who would marry her while keeping her virginity.

While the high priest was praying for a way, an angel of the Lord appeared and told him to gather the widowers in the area and let them bring a staff to the Temple. All the widowers gave their rod to the High Priest who took them to the temple and prayed. When he returned the staff, a dove came out of the Joseph’s rod and stood on his head. Another version of this story is that Joseph’s staff bloomed into flowers and a dove descended from heaven and landed on it. It was a divine revelation that Joseph was to take Mary as his spouse. This is the reason for the artists to depict a wooden stick with blooming flowers on the pictures and statues of St. Joseph.

This legend is an imitation of an event described in Numbers 17:16-26. Israelites were grumbling against Moses for having Aaron as the high priest. God instructed Moses to ask the leaders of the 12 tribes to bring their staff along with the staff of Aaron to the Tent of God. The next day only Aaron’s staff flowered and produced almond fruits proving Aaron as the God’s selected high priest. 

Death of Joseph

Joseph is not mentioned in the Bible after Jesus started his public ministry. However, his natives in Nazareth still remembered him as the father of Jesus. Historians conclude that Joseph would have died before Jesus started his public ministry. That must be the reason Jesus entrusted the care of his mother Mary to John at the foot of the cross. The Apocryphal books date the birth of Joseph as 90 BC in Bethlehem and his death on 20th of July, 18 A.D. in Nazareth

Patronage of Joseph

Devotion to St. Joseph was not popular in the early church. It began to develop in the fifteenth century, fostered by saints like Brigid of Sweden, Bernadine of Siena and St. Teresa.

St. Joseph is the patron saint of the dying because it is believed that he had the privilege to die at the physical presence of the Blessed Mother and Jesus. St. Joseph is also patron and protector of the Universal Church because God entrusted him the responsibility to care and protect the Virgin Mary, the mother of the church and her son Jesus, the head of the church. Since Joseph was a builder, husband, and protector of the Holy Family, he is also patron saint of the families, fathers, pregnant women, travelers, immigrants, house sellers and buyers, craftsmen, engineers, and working people in general. He is also patron of social justice. Many dioceses, religious orders and communities have selected him as their patron saint.

Feast Day of St. Joseph

Two feast days are popular in honor of St. Joseph: March 19th for Joseph the Husband of Mary, and May 1st for St. Joseph the Worker.

March 19th has been the most commonly celebrated feast day for St. Joseph. That is one week prior to the feast of Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on March 25th that commemorates Angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she was going to give birth to the Messiah. According to the tradition from the apostolic times, this great mystery of the Incarnation occurred on March 25th, nine months prior to Christmas.

Another feast of St. Joseph is a later addition by Pope Pius XII in 1955 on May 1st as the Feast of "St. Joseph the Worker," May Day or International Workers' Day was selected to reflect Joseph's status as the patron of workers.

“The Table of St. Joseph”

Italians have special traditions for St. Joseph's Day in commemoration of God saving the Sicilians from a very serious drought in the middle ages through the intercession of St. Joseph. When the distressed people pleaded to St. Joseph for rain, they received rainy weather. In response, they began the feast in honor of St. Joseph. The dress code for this feast is red. On this feast day, people bring meatless food to the church and they will be laid on a big altar or table. Symbolic food include pasta with breadcrumbs reminding the sawdust that covered St. Joseph’s workshop, and fava beans that thrived while crops failed during the draught. The priest will bless the table and participants share the food and take home the rest of the food in bags.

Statues of St. Joseph

Art depiction of St. Joseph is mainly based on apocryphal books and traditional believes. He is portrayed as an older man, with bald head, gray hair, beard, and holding a staff depicting him that he was aged when he married Blessed Mary. Three white lily flowers on the top of his staff reminds the legend of his selection as the protector of the virginity of Mary. Only his staff was blossomed when many widowers presented their staff at the temple for selection to be the husband of Mary. The three flowers represent the three members of the Holy Family and white indicates the purity of the family. Lily symbolizes the chastity of Mary. Joseph is holding the Infant Jesus because he took care of Jesus with Mary in his infancy and childhood. Joseph is depicted with two turtle doves that were offered as a poor man’s offering when he presented Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem. He carries carpenter’s tools representing his humble profession to support his poor family. Thus, these symbols are based on the Bible, apocryphal books and legends on the life of St. Joseph.

Since St. Joseph had God’s revelations through the dreams of angles while sleeping, there are icons and images of St. Joseph sleeping. Pope Francis made this image more popular recently disclosing that he often places his prayer requests under the image of sleeping St. Joseph.

 Message

1. St. Joseph was a silent servant of God. Though Joseph spoke in his life, we don’t see Joseph speaking in the Bible. However, he was at the service of God and his family. Through performing simple things according to the will of God for him, he rose to high position. Thus, Joseph is a role model for us to be humble servants of God in our given situation.

2. Joseph was a righteous man and was non-judgmental in his approach to Mary during his time of great crisis. Joseph reminds us to leave the judgement to God and never treat badly on others with our limited understanding.

3. Joseph was the protector and caretaker of the Holy Family. Let us entrust our life, our family, our homes, and our profession at the protection of this saint.

4. St. Joseph was privileged to have a happy ending in this life at the presence of Jesus and Mary. Let us entrust our life journey towards heaven to the Holy Family. Our ancestors used to recite at the time of their death and prompted to the dying: “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, be the companions of my soul.” Let that be the final words of our earthly life.