St. Joseph: Savior of God's Elect, Then and Now
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On March 3 I posted on this site an article entitled “St. Joseph, the Social Kingship of Christ, and the Solution to Our Nation’s Ills.” I did so because March is the month dedicated to St. Joseph, spouse of Our Lady and foster-father of Our Lord. (You can still read that article here: www.gerrymatatics.org/March-2-2009-Hard-Truth-St.-Joseph.html.)
Today, March 19, is the feast of St. Joseph – the feast that gives this entire month the character of being dedicated to him. And today, as we gathered for our daily noontime family devotions (the Angelus, various other daily prayers, hymn singing, Bible reading, spiritual Lenten reading, the Rosary, the Propers for the day with commentary thereupon from Fr. Goffine’s The Church’s Year, the life of the saint for the day from Butler’s Lives of the Saints, etc.), I read to my wife and nine children what Fr. Butler had to say about this extraordinarily humble, heroic, and holy man in his classic 4-volume work, The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and other Principal Saints.
I’d like to share Fr. Butler’s words with you, for two reasons. First, by informal inquiries over the years, I’ve discovered that lamentably few Catholic families have the unexpurgated, unabridged, 4-volume edition of Butler's Lives (before Fr. Thurston and a host of other modern critics got their hands on it and bled it nearly to death).
Second, the more I think about St. Joseph, and the more we have prayed to him every day as a family to honor him this month (we pray the indulgenced prayer issued by Pope Leo XIII along with the encyclical I appended to the previous essay I posted on March 3; see link above), the more convinced I am that St. Joseph holds a unique key to our present predicament. Many people are anxious, in today’s economic climate, about how they will provide for their families. And many Catholics are wondering, in today’s political climate, where their safety lies if our government's "audacity" grows more overtly anti-Catholic and seeks to coerce Catholics to conform to the New World Order.
St. Joseph went through all these challenges and anxieties and emerged with his confidence in God intact. He thus serves as a powerful role model for us, especially we who are heads of households and providers for and protectors of our families. And his intercession, if sought for, springs from a keen sympathy for our situation, even at the merely natural level, apart from his supernatural charity.
Even richer in food for thought are the astounding parallels between St. Joseph and his namesake in the book of Genesis. The latter literally saved his family (which constituted the entire nation of Israel at that point – 70 people “strong”!) from starvation in the midst of the worst economic crisis of the world at that time, one that lasted seven long, grueling, desperate years. In fact, under the shield of Joseph’s wisdom and strength, God’s covenant people didn’t just survive, they thrived – more than all the pagans around them.
I believe that can, and will, be our lot as well, if we look to God in faith and hope and avail ourselves of the gift He has given us in St. Joseph.
I plan to write and post another essay soon on the parallels between these two Biblical Josephs – the patriarch of Genesis and the parent of Jesus – as well as their amazing relevance to the politics and economics of our day. But today let us simply sit at the feet of the incomparable Fr. Alban Butler. Because he wrote in the eighteenth century, not the twenty-first, I have modernized some of his punctuation and spelling as well as the archaic verb endings (e.g., “hath” > “has”), and updated a few words and phrases whose meaning has changed or would otherwise be obscure to modern readers, and I have broken his very long paragraphs into the shorter ones we are more used to in modern prose. I have also, out of reverence and for added clarity, capitalized all pronouns referring to Deity, a practice that did not become standard in Catholic publishing until after Fr. Butler's time.
Here, without any further ado, are the words of the immortal Fr. Butler (Lives, reading for March 19, volume 1, pp. 350-54):
“The glorious St. Joseph was lineally descended from the greatest kings of the tribe of Judah, and from the most illustrious of the ancient patriarchs; but his true glory consisted in his humility and virtue. The history of his life has not been written by men; but his principal actions are recorded by the Holy Ghost Himself. God entrusted him with the education of His divine Son, manifested in the flesh. In view of this he was espoused to the Virgin Mary.
“It is an evident mistake of some writers, that by a former wife he was the father of St. James the Less, and of the rest who are styled in the gospels the brothers of our Lord; for these were only cousin-germans [first cousins] to Christ, the sons of Mary, sister to the Blessed Virgin, wife of Alphaeus, who was living at the time of our Redeemer's crucifixion. St. Jerome assures us that St. Joseph always preserved his virgin chastity; and it is of faith that nothing contrary to that ever took place with regard to his chaste spouse, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“He was given her by heaven to be the protector of her chastity, to secure her from calumnies in the birth of the Son of God, and to assist her in His education, and in her journeys, fatigues, and persecutions. How great was the purity and sanctity of him who was chosen the guardian of the most spotless Virgin!
“This holy man seems, for a considerable time, to have been unacquainted that the great mystery of the Incarnation had been wrought in her by the Holy Ghost. Conscious, therefore, of his own chaste behavior towards her, it could not but raise a great concern in his breast to find that, notwithstanding the sanctity of her deportment, yet he might be well assured that she was with child. But being a just man, as the Scripture calls him, and consequently possessed of all virtues, especially of charity and mildness towards his neighbour, he was determined to leave her privately, without either condemning or accusing her, committing the whole cause to God.
“These, his perfect dispositions, were so acceptable to God, the lover of justice, charity, and peace, that before He put his design into execution He sent an angel from heaven, not to find fault with anything in his [Joseph’s] holy conduct, but to dissipate all his doubts and fears, by revealing to him this adorable mystery. How blessed would we be if we were as tender in all that regards the reputation of our neighbor; as free from entertaining any injurious thoughts or suspicion, whatever certainty our conjectures or our senses may seem to rely on – and as guarded in our tongue! We commit these faults only because in our hearts we are devoid of that true charity and simplicity, of which St. Joseph sets us so eminent an example on this occasion.
“In the next place we may admire in secret contemplation, with what devotion, respect, and tenderness, he beheld and adored the first of all men, the new-born Savior of the world, and with what fidelity he acquitted himself of his double charge, the education of Jesus, and the guardianship of His blessed mother.
" ‘He was truly the faithful and prudent servant,’ says St. Bernard, ‘whom our Lord appointed the master of His household, the comfort and support of His mother, His foster father, and most faithful co-operator in the execution of His deepest counsels on earth.’ ‘What a happiness,’ says the same Father, ‘not only to see Jesus Christ, but also to hear Him: to carry Him in his arms, to lead Him from place to place, to embrace and caress Him, to feed Him, and to be privy to all the great secrets which were concealed from the princes of this world!’
" ‘O astonishing elevation! O unparalleled dignity!’ cries out the pious Gerson, in a devout address to St. Joseph, ‘that the mother of God, queen of heaven, should call you her lord; that God Himself, made man, should call you father, and obey your commands. O glorious Triad on earth – Jesus, Mary, Joseph – how dear a family to the glorious Trinity in heaven, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! Nothing is on earth so great, so good, so excellent.’
“Amidst these extraordinary graces, what more wonderful than his humility! He conceals his privileges, lives as the most obscure of men, publishes nothing of God's great mysteries, makes no further inquiries into them, leaving it to God to manifest them at his own time, seeks to fulfill the order of providence in his regard, without interfering with anything but what concerns himself. Though descended from the royal family which had long been in the possession of the throne of Judea, he is content with his condition, that of a mechanic or handicraftsman, and makes it his business, by laboring in it, to maintain himself, his spouse, and the divine Child.
“We would be ungrateful to this great saint, if we did not remember that it is to him, as the instrument under God, that we are indebted for the preservation of the infant Jesus from Herod's jealousy and malice, manifested in the slaughter of the Innocents. An angel appearing to him in his sleep, bade him arise, take the child Jesus, and flee with him into Egypt, and to remain there till he should again have notice from him to return. This sudden and unexpected flight must have exposed Joseph to many inconveniences and sufferings in so long a journey, with a little babe and a tender virgin; the greater part of the way being through deserts, and among strangers; yet he alleges no excuses, nor inquires at what time they were to return.
“St. Chrysostom observes that God treats thus all His servants, sending them frequent trials, to clear their hearts from the rust of self-love, but intermixing seasons of consolation. ‘Joseph,’ says he, ‘is anxious on seeing the virgin with child. An angel removes that fear. He rejoices at the child's birth, but a great fear follows: the furious king seeks to destroy the child, and the whole city is in an uproar to take away His life. This is followed by another joy – the adoration of the Magi. A new sorrow then arises: he is ordered to flee into a foreign unknown country, without help or acquaintance.
“It is the opinion of the Fathers, that upon their entering Egypt, at the presence of the child Jesus, all the oracles of that superstitious country were struck dumb, and the statues of their gods trembled, and in many places fell to the ground, according to the words of Isaiah 19: ‘And the statues of the Egyptians shall be shaken in His presence.’ The Fathers also attribute to this holy visit the spiritual benediction poured on that country, which made it for many ages most fruitful in saints.
“After the death of King Herod, which was notified to St. Joseph by a vision, God ordered him to return with the child and His mother into the land of Israel, which our saint readily obeyed. But when he arrived in Judea, hearing that Archelaus succeeded Herod in that part of the country, apprehensive that he might be infected with his father's vices – cruelty and ambition – he feared on that account to settle there, as he would otherwise probably have done, for the more advantageous education of the child. And therefore, being directed by God in another vision, he retired into the dominions of his brother Herod Antipas, in Galilee, to his former habitation in Nazareth, where the wonderful occurrences of our Lord's birth were less known.
“St. Joseph being a strict observer of the Mosaic Law, in conformity to its direction, annually traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Archelaus, being banished by Augustus, and Judea made a Roman province, he had now nothing more to fear at Jerusalem. Our Savior being advanced to the twelfth year of His age, accompanied His parents there; who, having performed the usual ceremonies of the feast, were now returning with many of their neighbors and acquaintance towards Galilee, and never doubting but that Jesus had joined Himself with some of the company, they traveled on for a whole day's journey without further inquiry after Him, before they discovered that He was not with them.
“But when night came on, and they could hear no tidings of Him among their kindred and acquaintance, they, with the deepest affliction, returned with the utmost speed to Jerusalem; where, after an anxious search of three days, they found Him in the temple, sitting among the learned doctors of the law, hearing them discourse, and asking them such questions as raised the admiration of all that heard Him, and made them astonished at the ripeness of His understanding: nor were His parents less surprised on this occasion.
“And when His mother told him with what grief and earnestness they had sought Him, and to express her sorrow for that, though short, privation of His presence, said to Him, "Son, why have You thus dealt with us? Behold, Your father and I sought You in great affliction of mind;" she received for answer, that being the Messiah and the Son of God, sent by His Father into the world in order to redeem it, He must be about his Father's business, the same for which He had been sent into the world; and therefore that it was most likely for them to find Him in His Father's house: intimating that His appearing in public on this occasion, was to advance His Father's honor, and to prepare the princes of the Jews to receive Him for the Messiah; pointing out to them from the prophets the time of His coming. But though in thus staying in the temple, unknown to His parents, he did something without their leave, in obedience to His heavenly Father, yet in all other things He was obedient to them, returning with them to Nazareth, and there living in all dutiful subjection to them.
“[Saint] Aelred, our countryman [i.e., a fellow Englishman: Fr. Butler was English], Abbot of Rieval, in his sermon on losing the child Jesus in the temple, observes that this His conduct to His parents is a true representation of that which He shows us, when He often withdraws Himself for a short time from us to make us seek Him the more earnestly. He thus describes the sentiments of His holy parents on this occasion: ‘Let us consider what was the happiness of that blessed company, on the way to Jerusalem, to whom it was granted to behold His face, to hear His sweet words, to see in Him the signs of divine wisdom and virtue; and in their mutual discourse to receive the influence of His saving truths and example. The old and young admire Him. I believe boys of His age were struck with astonishment at the gravity of His manners and words. I believe such rays of grace darted from His blessed face as drew on Him the eyes, ears, and hearts of every one. And what tears do they shed when He is not with them.’
“He [St. Aelred] goes on considering what must be the grief of His parents when they had lost Him; what their sentiments, and how earnest their search: but what their joy when they found Him again. ‘Reveal to me,’ says he, ‘O my Lady, Mother of my God, what were your sentiments, what your astonishment and your joy when you saw Him again, and sitting, not amongst boys, but amidst the doctors of the law: when you saw every one's eyes fixed on Him, every one's ears listening to Him, great and small, learned and unlearned, intent only on His words and motions. You now say: I have found Him whom I love. I will hold Him, and will no more let Him part from me. Hold Him, sweet Lady, hold Him fast; rush on His neck, dwell on His embrace, and compensate the three days' absence by multiplied delights in your present enjoyment of Him. You tell him that you and His father sought him in grief. For what did you grieve? not for fear of hunger or want in Him whom you know to be God: but I believe you grieved to see yourself deprived of the delights of His presence even for a short time; for the Lord Jesus is so sweet to those who taste Him, that His shortest absence is a subject of the greatest grief to them.’
“This mystery is an emblem of the devout soul, and Jesus sometimes withdrawing Himself, and leaving the soul in dryness, that she may be more earnest in seeking Him. But above all, how eagerly ought the soul which has lost God by sin, to seek Him again, and bitterly ought she to deplore her extreme misfortune!
“As no further mention is made of St. Joseph, he must have died before the marriage of Cana, and the beginning of our divine Savior’s ministry. We cannot doubt but he had the happiness of Jesus and Mary attending at his death, praying by him, assisting and comforting him in his last moments; from this circumstance he is particularly invoked for the great grace of a happy death, and the spiritual presence of Jesus in that tremendous hour.
“[In the Roman Breviary] the Church reads the history of the Patriarch Joseph on his festival, who was styled the savior of Egypt, which he delivered from perishing by famine; and was appointed the faithful master of the household of Potiphar, and of that of Pharaoh and his kingdom. But our great saint was chosen by God the savior of the life of Him who was the true Savior of the souls of men, rescuing Him from the tyranny of Herod. He is now glorified in heaven, as the guardian and keeper of his Lord on earth. As Pharaoh said to the Egyptians in their distress, "Go to Joseph;" so may we confidently address ourselves to the mediation of him, to whom God, made man, was subject and obedient on earth.
“The devout [medieval theologian] Gerson expressed the warmest devotion to St. Joseph, which he endeavored by letters and sermons to promote. He composed an office in his honor, and wrote his life in twelve poems, called Josephina. He enlarges on all the circumstances of his life by pious affections and meditations.
“St. Theresa [of Avila] chose him as the chief patron of her order. In the sixth chapter of her life she writes thus: ‘I chose the glorious St. Joseph for my patron, and I commend myself in all things singularly to his intercession. I do not remember ever to have asked of God any thing by him which I did not obtain. I never knew any one, who, by invoking him, did not advance exceedingly in virtue; for he assists in a wonderful manner all who address themselves to him.’
“St. Francis of Sales, throughout his whole nineteenth entertainment, extremely recommends devotion to him, and extols his merits, principally his virginity, humility, constancy, and courage. The Syrians and other eastern churches celebrate his festival on the 20th of July; the western church on the 19 of March. Pope Gregory XV in 1621, and Urban VIII in 1642, commanded it to be kept as a holiday of obligation. [Note by Gerry Matatics: Regrettably, though the feast of St. Joseph is a holy day of obligation in other countries, it never was in the United States.]
“The holy family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, presents to us the most perfect model of heavenly living on earth. How did those two seraphim, Mary and Joseph, live in their poor cottage! They always enjoyed the presence of Jesus, always burning with the most ardent love for Him, inviolably attached to His sacred person, always employed and living only for Him. What were their raptures in beholding Him, their devotion in listening to Him, and their joy in possessing Him! O heavenly life! O anticipation of the heavenly bliss! O divine lifestyle! We may imitate them, and share some degree of this advantage, by conversing often with Jesus, and by the contemplation of His most amiable goodness, kindling the fire of His holy love in our breasts. The effects of this love, if it be sincere, will necessarily appear in our putting on His spirit, and imitating His example and virtues; and in our studying to walk continually in the Divine Presence, finding God everywhere, and esteeming all the time lost which we do not spend with God, or for His honour.”
Sancte Joseph, ora pro nobis!