The devotion to St Joseph, husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, has grown in popularity in recent centuries. Today Joseph is the patron of families, the patron of workers, as well as of the universal Church, and is invoked in preparation for a happy death. His is one of the most popular name for boys and girls.
This is all the more remarkable considering that we know so little about Joseph from the Scriptures. But that little tells us much.
From the references to him in the Gospels, Joseph was a humble artisan and carpenter, a native of Nazareth in Galilee. Matthew’s Gospel describes him as ‘righteous’, that is, good, reliable, god-fearing. He was understandably upset when he found his betrothed Mary pregnant out of wedlock.
In the Old Testament we find that the patriarch Joseph had his life re-arranged for him through the medium of dreams – a shorthand for God’s intervention through the unconscious – and so is our Joseph. ‘The angel of the Lord’ who speaks to Joseph through his dreams tells him to marry Mary, and later to flee into Egypt to escape Herod; and still later, to settle down in Nazareth. In the stories of the ancient world only great men had dreams of destiny. With Jesus’s coming even ordinary people like Mary and Joseph are pre-destined by God for greatness. Their greatness consists in being chosen by God to fulfill his plans, no matter how strange. God continues to surprise us, dreaming or working.
Joseph was entrusted with the care of Mary and Jesus. It was a trust he measured up to, though there were difficult times, as the Gospel records: the birth of the Christ Child in a strange town, and his persecution; the time the boy Jesus went missing in the Temple; the challenges of understanding just who this son of his was, so similar to other boys, and yet so remarkably different. Every family has crises of this kind, and it is from Joseph that the Church asks us to seek guidance.
Someone once remarked that God must have a special love for ordinary people, since he made so many of them. In Joseph we see the ordinary virtues of parental love, reliability, trust and goodness expressed in one who is now a model for us all. Well does the Church say, as once Pharaoh said to the famished people of Egypt of our saint’s ancestor: “Go to Joseph, and do whatever he tells you!”
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