One of the best things to have come out of this calendar year is an increase in the number of individuals with a devotion to Saint Joseph. I believe this is due to the publication of the book Consecration to St. Joseph which was written by Father Don Calloway. It seemed that, nearly-overnight, this book became the “it” piece of reading material for Catholics as it was a constant topic of conversation in many faith-filled circles.
I was thrilled to see the exploding popularity of Saint Joseph. Widespread devotion to the head of the Holy Family has been long overdue, because this man played such a crucial role in the history of our salvation. Even though Saint Joseph does not utter a single word in Scripture, the old adage, “actions speak louder than words” could not be more true in reference to this patriarch.
The Betrothal of Our Lady and Saint Joseph
In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, it is mentioned that Mary and Joseph were only betrothed at the time of Jesus’ conception. When I was in Catholic grade school, it was explained to me that the Jewish custom of betrothal could be thought of as our modern custom of engagement. However, the two are actually vastly different.
A first century Jewish wedding consisted of two parts, the first being this custom of betrothal. At this ceremony, wedding vows were exchanged and contracts were signed. Bride and bridegroom were considered legally and spiritually bound to one another, so much so that if one of them changed their mind before the second part of the wedding took place, a bill of divorce would have been required. It is much more binding than an engagement.
After the betrothal ceremony took place and before any typical “wedding night festivities,” the bridegroom would leave his bride with her family for another extended length of time. It could have been just for a few days or weeks, but typically it was somewhere between six months to a year.
Preparing a Place
During that time, the bridegroom would go and prepare a place for his new family to dwell. Sometimes he would simply be adding another room to the house in which his parents lived. Sometimes he would be constructing a whole new home. It was a long, grueling, and physically demanding process. The bride could not go and live with the bridegroom until her father (or his representative) had approved this new lodging.
Once completed and approved, the second part of a Jewish wedding would take place: the wedding feast. The bridegroom’s return would be announced by heralds, guests would follow and gather at the home of the bride, and when the bridegroom finally arrived, a week-long feast would occur.
It was during this wedding week that the bride and groom would consummate their marriage.
No Small Detail
By including the detail that Mary was betrothed at the time of the Annunciation, Matthew and Luke are telling us many important things, but we will only look at two here:
- Mary and Joseph were legally married.
- Both were still virgins.
It can also be assumed then, that during the time in which Mary becomes pregnant and goes to visit Elizabeth, Joseph has been working incredibly hard to build them a home.
Also Chosen by God
This knowledge of the Jewish role of the bridegroom puts Joseph’s response to Mary’s unexpected pregnancy into a new perspective. Unfortunately, our understanding of when Joseph learns of this pregnancy is still lacking. There is no way of knowing how far into their betrothal they were, but we do know that Joseph would have been working hard on their dwelling place regardless. Only Matthew and Luke’s Gospels tell us about this miraculous event, and both share differing details: Matthew shares Joseph’s side and Luke shares Mary’s (this includes her visit to Zechariah and Elizabeth).
Did Joseph know of Mary’s pregnancy before she left for her visit, or did he learn when she returned three months pregnant and was beginning to show? We honestly do not know. All we know is that when Joseph discovers she is pregnant, he decides to divorce her quietly.
Joseph Protected and Provided from the Beginning
What was Joseph’s intent in divorcing Mary? Scripture scholars debate this heavily. Some scholars think that Joseph knew Mary would never have been unfaithful, but that he had no idea how she became pregnant. Other scholars, including the powerhouses Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and John Chrysostom, all argued that Joseph believed Mary to have been unfaithful to him. Though Mosaic Law would have called for her stoning, Roman regulations forbid Jewish capital punishment.
There is much uncertainty surrounding this event in Scripture, and much we cannot know. However, one thing we can know and that is often overlooked is the fact that the conception of Jesus took place after his mother was legally bound to Joseph. With God, everything is about correct timing, thus we know that God’s plan for our salvation included Joseph’s role, and Joseph’s yes. In the same way Mary was set apart for this role, Joseph, too, was chosen.
Joseph’s yes in this whole scenario protected Mary and Jesus from the very beginning. He protected our Salvation in its most vulnerable state.
Could God have issued this protection in another way? Absolutely! But He chose Joseph…
…and that speaks volumes about the man.
A Child Needs a Father
Being a just man, as soon as Joseph received confirmation of Mary’s truth from an angel, and without any further questions, Joseph immediately brought Mary into his home, assuming his role as the earthly father of Jesus.
According to the traditional novena to Saint Joseph, Jesus learned the following from this man of justice.
His Heart is like God the Father’s
In order for the child Jesus to understand true providence and refuge, God the Father designed the heart of Saint Joseph to be like His own. Most Theologians agree that God placed a spark of Divine life within his heart, in order that Jesus would recognize Saint Joseph as His father.
It also enabled Joseph to properly model masculine love to his Son, who was fully God (Love) and fully man (masculine).
He Was the Head of the Holy Family
There were three people in the Holy Family: Jesus (who was sinless and God), Mary (who was sinless), and Joseph (who was a just man, but not sinless). Guess who God put in charge? The one who was least qualified.
How do we know this for sure? When Baby Jesus was in danger, God’s messenger came to warn Joseph in a dream—not Mary. Similarly, Scripture tells us that pre-teen Jesus was obedient to his earthly father.
If the only perfect people to have ever lived followed the direction of Saint Joseph, I’m going to choose to do the same.
He Taught Jesus How to Obey
When the angel told Joseph to take Mary into his home, he immediately obeyed. When the angel told Joseph to flee to Egypt with his family, he immediately obeyed. When advised in a dream to return to Nazareth, Joseph immediately obeyed. Joseph knew God’s voice and followed it without delay.
It was this example that Jesus grew up with… and quite likely part of what enabled Him to say, “not my will, but yours be done.”
He Taught Jesus How to Suffer
Joseph was a “tekton,” a profession that made no one rich. In fact, it was a profession full of sacrifice and suffering. Jesus grew up in poverty, watching His father serve with great devotion through all of life’s difficulties. It was partially why Jesus had such a heart for the poor. It was also why he was ready and willing to sacrifice Himself for the sake of others.
Joseph modeled that behavior for the Christ Child.
He Made the Eucharist Possible
Did you know that the Old Testament Joseph is a foreshadowing of the New Testament Joseph? Both had the ability to interpret dreams, and both saved the world from famine.
Just as Old Testament Joseph used the years of plenty to stockpile supplies of wheat for the world, saving them from death, New Testament Joseph nurtured, “stored up,” and preserved for us the Bread of Life, which keeps us from eternal death.
He is the Terror of the Demons
Pride is the source of all sin. Joseph was not 100% sinless, but he was incredibly humble. It was his humility that allowed him to answer swiftly and without a second thought each and every time the angel of the Lord spoke to him. It was with humility that he lead and served his wife and Son. It was with humility that he set an example of sacrifice and obedience for his Son.
It is this great humility (and all the reasons listed above) that the demons are terrified of this man.
Devote Yourself to Him
If you haven’t already, foster a devotion to this great saint (pun intended)!
The Novena of Saint Joseph, the book by Father Calloway, as well as Rejoice! Advent Meditations with Joseph by Father Mark Toups from Ascension Presents are all great places to start.
A relationship with this man will only bring about good things. I actually give this statement a 100% guarantee.
Saint Joseph, pray for us!
The Fiat of Saint Joseph #BISblog // Click To Tweet
This post contains affiliate links. Thanks so much for supporting the ministry of Blessed is She!