Joseph, “You are the quietest of those who visit peaceful homes” *
My woodland is still heavy under snow. A fresh coating fell last night, quiet and slow, diluting our sap-buckets and frustrating the goats, who long whole-heartedly for true spring. In New England, March is an uncertain time – full of false starts, steadily dripping sap and the slow advent of spring.
It is also the Lenten season. The time to remember death and prepare our souls for judgement. Maybe that’s why both of St. Joseph’s feast days fall in springtime. He is the saint who guides and guards us in that final journey through death and into life.
In spring, we’re planting seeds. Tiny bundles of life which die within the earth and are reborn, and we entrust the season to the foster father of Christ. Joseph, who died in the arms of Love Himself. May he teach us to die as he did, walking toward God with his whole life.
“Beloved Joseph, ever blessed be that moment of thy life in which thou didst most sweetly die in the arms of Jesus and Mary.” **
In a world so determined to deny death, to sanitize and dismiss those daily reminders that we are dust and to dust we shall return, devotion to St. Joseph is often set aside in favor of more ‘relevant’ saints. He is the quietest saint, the dreamer, the artist, the faithful. Neither a warrior nor a martyr, Joseph is the triumph of the quotidian. Like God Himself, St. Joseph makes each small seed, each tiny act, grow wide in beauty:
“There’s nothing too small, I can still find its charm and paint it in gold and quite big,
..without even knowing whose soul will be fed by it.” *
Joseph did little that we remember. None of his words are written down. Like seeds in the spring earth his life is hidden. We catch only the briefest glimpses of his holiness before the sun sets and he passes out of sight. But, on earth and in heaven, the patronage of Joseph is essential. He is the patron of all causes. God has made him “the lord of his household; and prince of all His possessions.”
We turn to Joseph with all questions of life: love, marriage, birth, death, shelter, vocation. He is the tender guardian of our daily lives, as he guarded the lives of Jesus and Mary.
Joseph- The Just Man
Tradition tells us that Joseph was chosen to be the husband and guardian of the Blessed Virgin, who had vowed her life to God in the Temple. Among a line of good men, Joseph’s staff burst into bloom and he was betrothed to Mary.
When he discovered that the Virgin was with Child, St. Joseph, the just man sought to put her away quietly. Though justice calls for a public trial in cases of adultery he responded in a quieter way. A way that implies he understood the magnitude of her motherhood.
Pope St. John Paul II writes that Joseph “decided to draw back so as not to interfere in the plan of God which was coming to pass in Mary.”*** The just man chose the quiet, humble path of true devotion. Like St. Elizabeth he wonders that the Mother of his Lord should come to him. But the angel came, comforting him and encouraging him. He was capable of taking on this enormous responsibility.
“O holy Patriarch Joseph, ever blessed be thine intellect, which was full of the most sublime knowledge of God and was enlightened with revelations.” **
“Fear not” say all the angels when they come bearing blessings. Blessings are overwhelming things, often terrifying; and this angel was lifting up a humble man. As the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “Joseph was minded to put away the Blessed Virgin not as suspected of fornication, but because in reverence for her sanctity, he feared to cohabit with her.”***
Joseph is too humble to imagine himself worthy to shelter the Mother of God and Her Divine Son in his house. To eat, drink, work, and pray beside the living Tabernacle of God is a heavy blessing.
Like St. Peter, Joseph gives God the opportunity to go elsewhere, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” When the angel comes to Joseph in his dream, it isn’t to rebuke him for unjust assumptions about the Mother of God, it is to set him in authority over them. “You will call His name Jesus.”
Can you imagine naming God? Can you imagine holding the authority of a father over a Son who chose and created you? When Joseph imagined such a thing he shuddered, and like the Centurion said, “Lord I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.”
In this justice toward himself, knowing his own sins, he resolved to set aside this too abundant blessing.
But of course, that isn’t his mission. Joseph is chosen, selected to raise up the Child Jesus in righteousness. To be forever cherished in the mind of God as the man who first introduced Him to His fellow men. In his humility, Joseph is guided by the angel to see his role in the life of Christ.
The Gentle Father
“I am the father but the son is more,
Is everything the father was; and what
He couldn’t be, the son becomes as well;
The son is both the future and the past:
Source of rivulets and the sea to which they turn.”*
In the springtime, it’s refreshing to think of St. Joseph tending young Jesus like a seedling. The Son of God selected Joseph, brought His Blessed Mother under Joseph’s protection, and then threw Himself – childlike, into the arms of His beloved foster father for the formation of His humanity.
St. Thomas Aquinas emphasizes this essential father-nurturance. Children need their mothers, but “even more the care of the father, who must instruct, defend, and perfect [the child] in both interior and exterior goods.”***
This formative role must have had all the joy and worry of natural fatherhood, all the joy and worry of priestly fatherhood, and all the overarching awe of Moses before the burning bush.
“What will you do, God, when I’m dead…
Your gaze I used to capture with my cheek…
will wander, searching for me long –
at dusk will finally settle on
a distant slab of rock.
I fret about you, God.” *
But love, worry, and inevitable death do not divide the father and Son. Joseph is often called the human imaged of God the Father, a living Icon of the Living God; and God-made-Man may have looked at him as a tiny baby and said “Abba” before any other word had passed His lips.
When I Am Dead
“You are the heir.” *
When he died, in the arms of Jesus and Mary, St. Joseph left an interior inheritance to the Son of God, a foundation of human love, human family, and a human nature shaped by the holiness of Joseph’s most pure and loving heart.
“You inherit dew from a thousand days…
and the many springs with bliss and pain…
everything becomes eternal.”*
The man, Joseph, helped to form for us the human history and human nature of the Man, Christ, Who is the Salvation of the world. He filled the Child Christ up with memories of joy, a human light and peace that He could carry with Him as a Man.
Christ, Who chose to learn to walk, talk, work, and pray from this quiet, just man, in this springtime, when “the earth is like a child that knows poems,” help us to renew intimacy with Your earthly father.
Blessed are thou among men, St. Joseph: “Image of God the Father, father of God the Son, the temple of the Holy Spirit, beloved of the Trinity…Hail and blessed be.”**