I grew up in a home situated right next to a small chapel. In fact, from the garden in front of our house, we could see the altar through the open window. Though this chapel was dedicated to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, feasts of a few other saints were celebrated with great pomp there. One such feast was that of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.
What intrigued me was the fact that one particular widow and her daughters staked their claim to celebrate this feast every year. What was so special about this saint that with singular devotion they vied to honour him annually?
St. Joseph remains a figure shrouded in mysterious silence. In the whole of the New Testament he does not utter a single word. And yet, the Church holds him in the highest esteem and on 19th March joyfully celebrates the transformation of a humble carpenter into one of its greatest Saint.
St Josemaria Escriva describes St Joseph as a young man, perhaps a bit older than Our Lady, but imbued with vigour and strength. The first time we hear of St. Joseph in the Bible, he is described with a single word: just (Matthew 1:20-21). Joseph was also a righteous man and we see this virtue of his in many areas of his life. He was God fearing, a man whose steadfast desire was to seek the Lord first. He took great pains to follow the law of the land. According to the decree of Caesar Augustus he took his pregnant wife to Bethlehem to be registered in the census. Later, he left the comfort of his home town Nazareth in submission to the call of God and made the journey across the desert, not once but twice, first to Egypt to flee the wrath of Herod and then back to Jerusalem to perform the ritual of presenting Jesus to the Lord in the temple. These actions of St. Joseph paint a picture of a man striving to be faithful to God and his law.
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness
In this Year of Mercy we need to recollect the merciful nature of this wonderful saint. St Josemaria talks about Joseph being pure, clean and chaste and hence the news that the beautiful girl he was betrothed to marry was with a child, must have caused great consternation. But being the compassionate man that he was, his first thought was to dismiss her quietly and because of his deep love for her and God he didn’t condemn or accuse her.
When he received the angelic message he may have had many doubts and questions in his heart, but still he chose to obey with much humility. The book of 1 Samuel 15:22 tells us “Surely to obey is better than sacrifice and to heed than the fat of rams” The strength of St. Joseph’s character is seen in his obedience. How many of us would have obeyed an angelic message and that too received in a dream? In the world we live in, we all want to be independent and rebellious. For, our only desire is to seek our own happiness. And yet, his obedience in the face of great adversity is a direct rejection of the rebelliousness of today. We too can be like him. By filling our hearts with the love of God, it is possible for us not to rebel at the many trials we face but to remain faithful to God.
This holy man of God teaches us the value of waiting on God, on obedience and self-sacrificial love. I was left contemplating the numerous times in my life when unable to bear the suspense of a particular situation I have jumped either to false conclusions or sought the wrong solution instead of prayerfully waiting on the Lord.
The Church calls St. Joseph the foster father of Jesus.
As my thoughts went to the annual celebration of the feast in the small chapel, I realised, that to the widow and her daughters who so ardently celebrated the feast annually, St. Joseph was not the father of Jesus alone but also their own father. And so, though God blessed my biological father with many years of life, I too at a young age decided to make St. Joseph my spiritual father. I would often pray for his help and intercession which grew in intensity when my father went to his heavenly abode.
The life which St.Joseph lived as father of the divine child and spouse of the Virgin Mary must have been challenging for him. The prophecy of Simeon and Anna or Jesus teaching the scribes in the temple must have astonished or even shocked Joseph, but as God gradually reveals His plans to him, this man of faith chose to accept and recognize the wonders of God in his life.
St.Joseph must have received tremendous grace from God, to fulfil the task He had given him, of bringing up His son. Was this grace bestowed on him because of his continual relationship with God?
Just as he taught Jesus, he also teaches us to live a life of self-sacrifice and total self-giving, if we are only willing to learn from him.
St.Joseph spent a great deal of his time in silent prayer contemplating the mysterious ways of God and lovingly served both the Virgin Mary and her son. Since God had entrusted him to be the protector of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the educator of His beloved son Jesus, he taught Jesus all the finer nuances of the Jewish culture as also his own carpentry skills. St. Joseph, though from the House of David, was not a rich man and toiled hard to provide for his family. His dedication to work and support his family is a stark contrast to many men today, who fail to do so.
Three qualities of this saint endear him to us. His humility, his obedience and his courage. In times of humiliation who better to turn to than St. Joseph who bore it all so silently?
‘Go to Joseph,’ is the advice and counsel given to every Catholic who wants a favour for self or for their family. St. Teresa of Avila says
“To other Saints our Lord seems to have given power to succour us in some special necessity, but to this glorious Saint, He has given the power to help us in all.”
If we emulate the life of St. Joseph and seek his intercession, he will help us to sanctify our ordinary lives and as God gradually unveils the plan He has for each of us, he will show us definite ways, both human and divine to approach Jesus. And soon, in the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, you will dare, as St. Joseph did, “to take up in his arms, kiss, clothe and look after this child God who has been born unto us.