Joseph — son of David, husband of Mary, the humble builder, and adoptive father of the Messiah — stands as one of the greatest saints in the life of the Church. Throughout history, we, as members of God’s family, have realized more and more the crucial role that Joseph plays as “the wise steward the Lord has placed over his household” (Mt 24:45). It can be easy to overlook Joseph — he doesn’t even say a word in the gospels, and it appears that he died before Jesus’s public ministry — but he played a pivotal role in Jesus’s life and mission. It is through Joseph that Jesus inherits the throne of David. Joseph leads the Holy Family and, amazingly, the Son of God obeyed the man Joseph as his father (Lk 2:51).
And Joseph continues to watch over the family of the Church, serving as guardian and protector of the Body of Christ — the reason he has been named the patron of the universal Church. It can be hard to comprehend how much we, as Christians, share in the life and prerogatives of Jesus. Joan of Arc said it best during her trial: “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §795). In this close identity of the believer with Christ, he gives us everything he has, even his divine life: his Father becomes our Father, he gives us his own spirit and life — the Holy Spirit, we receive the fruits of his victory over death, and on the Cross he gave his mother to be our mother too (Jn 19:26-27). Likewise, as members of Jesus’s own body, Joseph becomes our own protector and guardian, taking on a fatherly role in our growth as Christians.
Through the Gospels, we see clearly how Joseph models the virtues, particularly obedience, courage, silence, and humility. Matthew’s Gospel in particular gives us the story of Jesus’s birth from Joseph’s perspective. Despite his fears, Joseph immediately obeyed the voice of the angel who spoke to him in a dream: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Mt 1:24). Joseph had to exercise radical trust in God’s plan even when it didn’t seem to make sense. When his sleep was interrupted again, he showed his courage in setting out for Egypt at a moment’s notice, leaving everything behind, to protect his family. Joseph’s ongoing readiness to do whatever was expected of him can be seen in the angel’s words, “remain there till I tell you” (Mt 2:13). Joseph was a perfect Dad — always available, even in the night, and ready to do whatever his family needed.
He epitomized the strong and silent type. Despite his crucial role in salvation history, Joseph remained silent in the Gospels. His silence manifests his humility, as an acknowledgment that his life was not focused on himself. He served the Holy Family devotedly and quietly, modeling daily faithfulness through work and prayer. Although in the kingly line, he was not ambitious, remaining a poor builder focused more on his family than anything else. He taught Jesus and invited him into his work. He lived chastely with Our Lady, achieving the true goal of marriage – a deep spiritual union ordered toward heaven. Joseph shows us that true happiness comes from giving of ourselves sacrificially for others. With Jesus and Mary, he had all he needed!
The witness of Joseph has become even more relevant in the modern world. Our individualistic culture embraces values directly opposed to his witness. As we’ve been drawn into rebellion, noise, distractions, and pleasure, a great spiritual famine has resulted. Just as during the seven-year famine that struck Egypt in the book of Genesis, “Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, ‘Go to Joseph and do what he tells you’” (Gen 41:55), so God has sent us another Joseph. Popes have told us continually over the last 150 years, “Go to Joseph, Son of David,” as in our current year dedicated to St. Joseph. Now truly is the time of St. Joseph — calling forth faithful fathers, humble workers, and silent contemplatives. He inspires us to take up our own simple daily tasks for the renewal of our family, the Church, and society.
The Church proposes Joseph as a “pillar of families” in the litany dedicated to him. He continues to oversee the household of the Church and provides a fatherly model for leading the Christian home. Fathers, in particular, have the greatest influence on the faith of their children, as many studies have demonstrated. Fathers can learn through Joseph the courage and sacrifice needed to steer their families away from the threats that seek to harm their children. Just as Joseph had to make great sacrifices to keep his family safe from Herod, so do fathers have to prioritize the safety of their families from the many dangers that constantly assault their children, be they clear physical threats or insidious risks such as those presented through technology and media. Hard decisions have to be made to ensure purity and a greater peace and silence in the home, prioritizing people over things and clearing out the family’s schedule for what is most important— time for God and for each other.
The Year of St. Joseph gives us an opportunity to develop a stronger relationship with our adoptive spiritual father. By sharing in Jesus’s life, he draws us into his own relationship with his close family and friends — who will, in turn, draw us into deeper friendship with Jesus. As the patron of the Church and families, we need to turn to Joseph for help. Here is a great prayer from St. John Henry Newman that we could add to our daily prayers: “God, who in your ineffable Providence did choose Blessed Joseph to be the husband of your most holy Mother, grant, we beseech you, that we may be made worthy to receive him for our intercessor in heaven, whom on earth we venerate as our holy Protector: who lives and reigns, world without end. Amen.”