Very little is known about St Joseph from the bible. However, it is interesting that the Catholic Church has endowed so many great titles upon this man who is not widely known. He is popularly portrayed as the patron saint for peaceful deaths, workers, fathers and most importantly the Universal Church. Even though not a word is mentioned by St Joseph in the Scriptures, many great saints such as St John Chrysostom, St Teresa of Avila and St Pope John Paul II have recognised St Joseph’s faithfulness in his sacred silence, they encouraged devotion to him or see him as a role model to our spiritual life. It is no doubt that we uncover the mysteries of St Joseph this Father’s Day to discover what are some of the qualities we can imitate from him as a husband and father.
St Joseph’s fidelity as a husband
When Joseph took Mary as his wife, as God commanded him to do, he was in effect giving his consent to God’s salvific plan. This event was indeed of importance, for without Joseph’s consent, Jesus would not have been from the lineage of David or have been accepted as the Messiah. Despite his initial decision to end his betrothal with Mary, Joseph’s responded with his “yes” to God by acting upon the dream he had, in obedience and steadfastness. For this very reason, the Holy Spirit sanctified Joseph, the ‘just man’ (Mt 1:19) and made him the perfect spouse of Mary.
In the Nativity of Jesus (Lk 2:1-7), Joseph needed to make the arduous journey to Bethlehem with Mary, who was with child at that time. Would Mary be able to make that journey without the support of Joseph? It was therefore clear that God has ordained St Joseph to accompany Mary in this process so that the prophecy of the Scriptures (Mic 5:2; Mt 2:4-6) can be fulfilled.
By his obedience to God’s command, St Joseph completely allowed himself to be moulded by God in a unique way. His gift of self to Mary is a reflection of the marital covenant between spouses, an authentic communion which models the Blessed Trinity.
Perhaps husbands today can take a moment to reflect upon the condition of their marriages. In my own marital vocation, how am I living it out in obedience to God’s plan for me and my family? Am I making decisions for my marriage/family justly and devoutly like St Joseph, even in times of uncertainty and tribulation?
St Joseph’s fidelity as a father
The Mosaic law requires that new-borns are circumcised before they are given a name. It is the religious obligation of a father to exercise his rights as the head of the household for this ceremony. Through the circumcision, Joseph not only fulfilled his role as the earthly father of Jesus, he also fulfilled the Mosaic law (rites of the Old Testament). In addition, Joseph fulfilled the Divine law by conferring the name “Jesus” for our infant Lord (Mt 1: 21; Lk 1:31). This conferral of name declares Joseph’s fatherhood over Jesus and proclaims the Child’s mission as the Saviour.
Joseph and Mary fulfilled yet again another Mosaic law when they presented the infant Jesus to the Lord in the Temple (Lk 2:22). The Gospel states that “And his father and his mother marvelled at what was said about him” (Lk 2:33) after Simeon proclaimed his canticle to God. By now it is highly likely that Joseph was making sense of all that has happened from the Nativity of Jesus to His Presentation in the Temple – that his role as the father of Jesus is something uniquely ordained by God. Joseph fulfilled both the human and divine laws by practising his fatherly rights.
Perhaps at this juncture, fathers today may want to privately reflect on how he lives out his role as a father? Do I see my vocation of fatherhood something uniquely ordained by God?
The flight to Egypt was an event which divine providence had recourse to Joseph again. Similarly, Joseph responded dutifully and relentlessly when he was prompted by the angel of the Lord to flee to Egypt (Mt 2:13). Promptly, they set off for Egypt in the night (Mt 2:14). Joseph needed to lead both Mary and baby Jesus through unknown territory, they endured all the discomfort and uncertainty – no maps, no guide, no food nor shelter, surrendering themselves to complete divine providence. This journey into Egypt and back, fulfilled what the Lord has spoken through the prophet ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son’(Mt 2:14-15; Hos 11:1). As Moses was instrumental in leading the Israelites out of Egypt in the Old Covenant, St Joseph – the guardian and protector of Mary and Jesus – cooperated with the mystery of God which resulted in bringing about the New Covenant.
Again, today’s fathers may reflect. In my role as a husband and father, do I abandon myself to divine providence and cooperate with His plans for my family? In obedience, St Joseph made sacrifices and embarked on a journey into the unknown. As head of the household, what sacrifices am I willing to make to keep my family safe?
Another expression of Joseph’s fatherly love is depicted in how he educated the young Jesus in faith. It is clear from the Gospels that he brought Jesus up well, teaching Him the Jewish prayers that every male over twelve ought to know. Undoubtedly, Joseph taught Jesus those special passages of Scriptures which referred to the salvation history of the chosen people, along with the most commonly read Psalms and the teaching of the prophets. This was clearly evident when scripture mentions “(a)fter three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” [Lk 2: 46-47]. Yet again, one may ponder upon how, as a father, am I passing on the faith to my child? What steps am I taking to lead my child to encounter God or learn about the teachings of the Church?
In conclusion, Joseph was chosen by God to be the spouse of Mary and the earthly father of Jesus. He was appointed to live with them whilst protecting and providing for them. This he did faithfully to the very end of his earthly life, as tradition has it that he eventually died in their arms. Joseph’s vocation was one worthy of the admiration of heaven and earth. As God once walked in friendship with man, through St Joseph, man once more walked with God. Let us take this Father’s Day to pray for the intercession of St Joseph that all fathers may be able to imitate his fidelity and obedience and thereby encounter God in their marital and familial relationships.