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St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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In our Catholic tradition, the month of March is customarily observed with special devotion to St. Joseph, and on the 19th of this month we will celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Last year, Pope Francis announced a special Year of St. Joseph to take place from Dec. 8, 2020, through Dec. 8, 2021. During this year, we have the opportunity to reflect on St. Joseph’s humility, courageous faith, and guardianship of Mary and Jesus. His role in salvation history is tremendous and it is important we observe this year with reverence.

Devotion to St. Joseph goes back to the ancient Fathers of the Church and became so widespread by the 14th century that Pope Sixtus IV, himself deeply devoted to St. Joseph, declared a universal feast of St. Joseph to be celebrated March 19.

By better understanding St. Joseph and his place in Sacred Scripture, his role in the devotional life of the Church becomes clearer as an intrinsic part of our spiritual life. There has been a universal re-introduction of St. Joseph throughout the Church. St. Joseph’s name was joined with Mary’s in the Eucharistic prayers, for instance, which demonstrates his fundamental role in the Holy Family. During this Year of St. Joseph, and certainly on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, we should pause and consider the broader role St. Joseph has in the life of our Church and should have in our hearts.

This reflection begins by recognizing that St. Joseph "stands at the crossroads between the Old and New Testaments" (Pope Francis, "Patris Corde," no. 1). As St. Bernadine of Siena explains so beautifully, "In Joseph the Old Testament finds its fitting close. He brought the noble line of patriarchs and prophets to its promised fulfillment. What the divine goodness had offered as a promise to the patriarchs and prophets, Joseph held in his arms" (Sermon 2 on St. Joseph). The connection is made explicit in the genealogy provided by the evangelist St. Matthew, which identifies St. Joseph as a descendent of David. In choosing St. Joseph to be Mary’s spouse, God fulfilled the promise he made to King David through the prophet Nathan: "Go, tell my servant David, ‘When your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you … and I will make his kingdom firm’" (2 Sam 7:12,16).

Christ fulfills these promises: he is the Incarnate Word who suffered, died and rose for our redemption. In doing so, he establishes the New Covenant. From the very beginning of the saving mystery of the New Covenant, St. Joseph is present and indeed entrusted with an important vocation. St. John Paul II described it by saying, "Together with Mary, Joseph is the first guardian of (the) divine mystery. Together with Mary, and in relation to Mary, he shares in this final phase of God’s self-revelation in Christ and he does so from the very beginning" ("Redemptoris Custos," no. 5). After the angel announces to Mary the mystery of the Incarnation, she responds, "May it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38). In a similar way, the angel announces to St. Joseph the same mystery, to which he responds by his actions: "He did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him" (Mt 2:24).

Prior to the angel’s instruction to him, however, St. Joseph was troubled by his first encounter with the fulfillment of God’s promise in Mary. Though already married to her, St. Joseph and Mary did not yet live together when he found that she was pregnant. In Jewish tradition at the time, the husband brought his wife into his house only after a period of living apart following the official marriage. St. Joseph was a just and righteous man, faithful to the Law, as well as compassionate. Therefore, in fidelity to the old Law and not yet understanding God’s plan, he "decided to divorce her quietly" (Mt 2:19).

It is then that the angel of the Lord appears to St. Joseph in a dream, saying to 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. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins" (Mt 2:20-21). And St. Joseph obeyed. The angel’s appearance to Mary’s spouse is significant because it not only reveals the saving mystery, but it also reveals St. Joseph’s place within the mysteries.

God chose St. Joseph to be the Spouse of Mary in order "to assure fatherly protection for Jesus," and through the angel’s message, God entrusts to St. Joseph "the responsibilities of an earthly father with regard to Mary’s Son" ("Redemptoris Custos," nos. 7, 3). As a Jewish husband and father, St. Joseph is responsible for naming the child. In obedience to the angel, St. Joseph names the child Jesus, meaning "God saves," and in this way he accomplishes his role in the fulfillment of God’s promise to save his people. St. Joseph, with Mary, raises Jesus according to the Law, fulfilling such prescriptions as presenting Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2). He protects the child and his Mother and is their earthly guardian. In short, St. Joseph is the "wise and faithful servant in charge of (God’s) household" who watches "like a father over (the) Only Begotten Son" (Preface, Solemnity of St. Joseph).

Therefore, as we strive to observe this month and especially March 19 with devotion, we turn to St. Joseph with deeper appreciation for this great saint’s place in the mystery of salvation, the very same mystery that is offered to us, here and now. May we implore his intercession with the great consolation that the one who was the guardian and protector of Christ from the very beginning is now named the patron of the Church, of which we are members.

We should all strive to imitate his example and virtues on a daily basis. He is the "just man" who understands that righteousness is not something that we achieve on our own but comes from faith, which itself is a gift from God (cf. Rom 4). He is God’s faithful servant, obedient to his commands and ever faithful, even in times of trouble. Finally, in commemorating St. Joseph during this sacred season of Lent — no less during such trying times in our world — let us keep before us the truth manifested in the life of St. Joseph: when God chooses you to receive a special grace or to accept a lofty vocation, he adorns you with all the gifts of the Spirit needed to fulfill the task at hand (cf. Sermon 2 on St. Joseph).

Prayer to St. Joseph

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.

Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy, and courage,
and defend us from every evil.  Amen.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021