St. Joseph was an ordinary manual laborer although descended from the royal house of David. In the designs of Providence he was destined to become the spouse of the Mother of God. His high privilege is expressed in a single phrase, “Foster-father of Jesus.” About him Sacred Scripture has little more to say than that he was a just man-an expression which indicates how faithfully he fulfilled his high trust of protecting and guarding God’s greatest treasures upon earth, Jesus and Mary.
When Joseph awoke he did as the angel of the Lord had directed him…
We don’t know a lot about Joseph – we know that his Father’s name was Jacob and that he was the husband of Mary. We know that he was a carpenter and that he lived in Nazareth. We know that before he and Mary lived together, after their engagement, he found out that she was pregnant and instead of shaming her or causing scandal, he decided to divorce her quietly. The Gospel tells us that he did this because he was an upright man, a man of principle.
We also know that he was a righteous man who followed the law: He observed religious law – we know he went to Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals. He also followed civil law: He went to Bethlehem for the census. We also know that Joseph had dreams. God spoke to him in his dreams and he followed his dreams.
Nowhere in the Gospels do we ever hear anything Joseph says. He never says anything. But he’s a man of action: he does what the angel tells him; he takes Mary as his wife; he goes to Bethlehem; he finds a place to stay for the night; he takes his family to Egypt… He’s a man of action – not a man of words.
For centuries, scholars and artists have tried to figure out Joseph’s words. One of my favourite Christmas songs is by Michael Card, Joseph’s song:
How can it be, this baby in my arms, sleeping now, so peacefully. The son of God, the angel said, how could it be? O Lord I know he’s not my own, not of my flesh, not of my bone. Still Father let this baby be the son of my love.
Then Joseph prays: Father show me where I fit into this plan of yours. How can a man be father to the son of God? Lord, for all my life I’ve been a simple carpenter… how can I raise a king? How can I raise a king?
St Joseph with Infant Christ in his Arms *oil on canvas Guido Reni (1575–1642)
He was a man after God’s will. He longed to know God’s will and searched to see how he fit into the Father’s plan.
And just like God had a plan for Joseph, God has a plan for each one of us. The plan does not need to be more than that He wants us to be upright and righteous. He wants us to be loving parents, loving husbands and wives. God wants us to follow the law – observe the commandments. But, just like Joseph, we may feel that we don’t have anything to contribute: that we are nothing but simple carpenters…we may feel insignificant, that we have nothing to offer. Still, God has a plan for us. God gives us dreams and speaks to us in our dreams.
But also, just like Joseph we may never see the fruit of our labour. We may never reap the harvest. The first reading for today’s Solemnity, from the book of Samuel tells us about a promise to King David – we hear about it in Responsorial Psalm 89 as well: The son of David will live forever or his line will continue forever. But David never lived to see this promise fulfilled. In the second reading, from Romans Chapter four, Paul is telling the Romans about another upright man who never saw the fruit of his work: Abraham. He did God’s will, but never saw the fulfillment of God’s promise to him.
But the promise was fulfilled. St. Joseph may have been a simple carpenter who did not amount to much during his life, but today he is venerated as one of the greatest saints in the Church. Today we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary. There aren’t a lot of Saints for whom we have solemnities. The Church has been observing this feast since the 10th century. And Joseph gets another feast, a Memorial on May 1st: the Feast of St. Joseph, the Worker. St. Joseph is the patron saint of husbands, of fathers, the patron saint of families, the patron saint of homes, the patron saint of workers. He is the unofficial patron against doubt and hesitation, as well as the patron saint of fighting communism, and of a happy death. Joseph is believed to pray also for pregnant women, travelers, immigrants, and people buying or selling houses. In 1870, St. Joseph was declared patron of the universal Church. He is the Patron of the Church! And for us in our country, we should all know that St. Joseph is the principal patron of Canada. That’s a huge responsibility for a man of so few words. But it’s a perfect job for a man of action.
And so, as we journey through Lent – especially when we gather around the Eucharistic table, let’s pray to St. Joseph: Let him guide us and help us open our hearts to God’s plan. That we may be upright and righteous; that we may be men and women after God’s will; that we may be able to pray, “Father show me how I fit into this plan of yours.” And dream. Let God speak to you in your dreams and then get up and do as the angel of the Lord directs you. God has a great plan for everyone. Even for a simple carpenter.