Saint Joseph Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Liturgical Color: White
Patron Saint of the Universal Church, fathers, carpenters and a happy death
The Son of God and Mary Immaculate lived under his gentle, fatherly authority
The husband of Mary had a perfect spouse, untouched by original sin. He was also the foster father to a boy who was the Son of God and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Yet Saint Joseph, the least perfect member of his household, was still the head of the family. Authority does not always flow from moral or intellectual superiority. Authority in the Church, in particular, is God given. Because God chooses a certain person to fulfill a task in His household of faith, that person acts with a divine mandate to teach, sanctify, and govern the people and things entrusted to him. Saint Joseph is a model for how God uses imperfect instruments to exercise His perfect will. God does not want robots, machines, or zombies to mindlessly implement His plan for mankind. The history of the Church is replete with imperfect tools who have caused scandal and division. Wayward leaders have cost the Church entire countries. Yet despite all these unworthy instruments in the hands of the Divine Master, truth and shelter and grace continue to be provided to those baptised into the Church, the Master’s family.
God wants personality. God wants us to have character. God’s angels are created spirits who lack the restrictions imposed by a human body. But in not having a body, the angels also lack what makes us unique. They lack the spit, vinegar, and spark that make a man a man. Every man is an enfleshed soul, the coming together of a body and a spirit. This coming together is not half soul and half body, like the mythical centaur with the body of a horse but the torso and head of a man. When copper and zinc are welded together they are superficially united into one larger piece of metal. But the union is not total and does not create something new. The copper is still copper and the zinc is still zinc. But when copper and zinc are each melted down and then mixed together, they form brass. Brass is not just the joining of copper to zinc but an entirely new material with unique properties. In a similar way, the union of a body and a soul together composes a human person with unique properties, a child of God unlike any other. The saints, in particular, were unique people often possessing hot tempers, forceful personalities, and unbending wills. They placed their uniqueness at the service of God and His Church and helped to change the world. God did not make, and does not want, just vanilla ice cream. Everyone likes vanilla. But no one likes only vanilla. God wants flavor.
Saint Joseph was, like all the saints, unique. He probably had personal traits which were less than perfect. These imperfections were absolutely no obstacle to Mary and Jesus obeying him, loving him, and ceding to his authority in the Holy Family of Nazareth. Mary and Jesus would have happily bent to the will of their God-given guide, despite their metaphysical, moral, spiritual, and intellectual superiority.
Ancient traditions hold that Saint Joseph was considerably older than the Virgin Mary. Other traditions tell that he was married previously and that the “brothers” of Jesus were half brothers from Saint Joseph’s previous marriage. Scripture tells us he was a carpenter and that Jesus was known as the “carpenter’s son” (Mt. 13:55). Joseph may have been more precisely a builder, who worked with the native stone so common to Palestinian construction. A Jewish ritual bath made of stone discovered beneath the church of Saint Joseph in Nazareth, a church which long tradition says was built over the Holy Family’s home, may be Joseph’s very own handiwork. A firm tradition teaches that Saint Joseph died long before his Son’s death. This is based not on biblical evidence but on the lack of it. It can be reasonably presumed that Saint Joseph would have been present at his Son’s crucifixion, as was Mary. Yet no mention is made of him being there. From this absence, biblical scholars have, from the beginning of the Church, surmised that Saint Joseph was by then dead. Thus, Saint Joseph is the Patron Saint of a Happy Death, because he presumably died with Jesus and the Virgin Mary at his side. This is how all of us want to die, with Christ holding our hand on one side of the bed and the Virgin Mary seated beside us on the other side. Saint Joseph died in the best of company. May we do so as well.
Saint Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, guide all those under the care of their pastors to see not their imperfections but their God-given obligation to fulfill God’s plan. May your humble and faithful service inspire all fathers to lead their flocks with tenderness, wisdom, and strength.