Patris Corde 1b: Joseph in the Eyes of Christians

Wasn’t feeling up to posting this on Father’s Day as I had planned. An octave, maybe? In a way, Saint Joseph was a “first father” of Christianity. Not an apostle, bishop, or any exalted figure. Just a plain working man looking out for his family.

Thanks to his role in salvation history, Saint Joseph has always been venerated as a father by the Christian people. This is shown by the countless churches dedicated to him worldwide, the numerous religious Institutes, Confraternities and ecclesial groups inspired by his spirituality and bearing his name, and the many traditional expressions of piety in his honor.

Let’s note: the saint himself developed none of these. If he had a spirituality, what we know of it was as a devoted Jew. Ah yes, and a dreamer.

Innumerable holy men and women were passionately devoted to him. Among them was Teresa of Avila, who chose him as her advocate and intercessor, had frequent recourse to him and received whatever graces she asked of him. Encouraged by her own experience, Teresa persuaded others to cultivate devotion to Joseph. [Cf. Autobiography, 6, 6-8]

I must have forgotten or been unaware of this. I like Teresa of Avila a little bit more for it.

Every prayer book contains prayers to Saint Joseph. Special prayers are offered to him each Wednesday and especially during the month of March, which is traditionally dedicated to him.

Pope Francis adds a personal note here:

Every day, for over forty years, following Lauds I have recited a prayer to Saint Joseph taken from a nineteenth-century French prayer book of the Congregation of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary. It expresses devotion and trust, and even poses a certain challenge to Saint Joseph:

Glorious Patriarch Saint Joseph,
whose power makes the impossible possible,
come to my aid
in these times of anguish and difficulty.
Take under your protection
the serious and troubling situations
that I commend to you,
that they may have a happy outcome.
My beloved father,
all my trust is in you.
Let it not be said that I invoked you in vain,
and since you can do everything with Jesus and Mary,
show me that your goodness
is as great as your power.
Amen.

I was thinking of the “impossible” career of his namesake from the Torah. According to legend (and the musical) the boy from the backwaters of southwest Asia, who became a slave and later a prisoner, manages to save the whole world from ancient climate change.

Popular trust in Saint Joseph is seen in the expression “Go to Joseph”, which evokes the famine in Egypt, when the Egyptians begged Pharaoh for bread. He in turn replied: “Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do” (Gen 41:55). Pharaoh was referring to Joseph the son of Jacob, who was sold into slavery because of the jealousy of his brothers (cf. Gen 37:11-28) and who – according to the biblical account – subsequently became viceroy of Egypt (cf. Gen 41:41-44).

As a descendant of David (cf. Mt 1:16-20), from whose stock Jesus was to spring according to the promise made to David by the prophet Nathan (cf. 2 Sam 7), and as the spouse of Mary of Nazareth, Saint Joseph stands at the crossroads between the Old and New Testaments.

As we consider relations with our Jewish brothers and sisters, we might well look to Joseph as a guide. He attended to the voices of angels, taking them for guidance from God. He obeyed. He cultivated religious practices and kept his family under the umbrella of the best of spiritual devotions.

Jesus was not “his” in the sense many modern parents take with an emphasis on the birth experience. Clearly Joseph was not the inspiration for the Western indulgence for male heirs, biological descendants, and other aristocratic fetishes.

Joseph’s dreams were nudges–not unlike those felt by many Christians as they relied on God’s guidance through the years. This is the way of spirit and truth.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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