St. Joseph

Husband of Our Lady St. Mary (First Century)

According to the Roman Martyrology, March 19 is `the (heavenly) birthday of St. Joseph, husband of the most Blessed Virgin Mary and confessor, whom the Supreme Pontiff Pius IX, assenting the desires and prayers of the whole Catholic world, had proclaimed patron of the Universal Church.'

What is told in the gospels is familiar: he was of royal descent and his genealogy has been set out for us both by St. Matthew and by St. Luke. He was the protector of our Lady's good name, and in that character of necessity the confidant of Heaven's secrets, and he was the foster-father of Jesus, charged with the guidance and support of the holy family, and responsible for the education of Him who, though divine, loved to call Himself `the son of man'. It was Joseph's trade that Jesus learnt, it was his manner of speech that the boy will have imitated, it was he whom our Lady herself seemed to invest with full parental rights when she said without qualification, `Thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing'.

None the less our positive knowledge concerning St. Joseph's life is very restricted, and the `tradition' enshrined in the apocryphal gospels must be pronounced to be quite worthless. We may assume that he was betrothed to Mary his bride with the formalities prescribed by Jewish ritual, but the nature of this ceremonial is not clearly known, especially in the case of the poor; and that Joseph and Mary were poor is proved by the offering of only a pair of turtle-doves at Mary's purification in the Temple. By this same poverty the story of the competition of twelve suitors for Mary's hand, of the rods deposited by them in the care of the High Priest and of the portents which distinguished the rod of Joseph from the rest, is shown to be quite improbable.

We must be content to know the simple facts that when Mary's pregnancy had saddened her husband his fears were set at rest by an angelic vision, that he was again warned by angels - first to seek refuge in Egypt, and afterwards to return to Palestine - that he was present at Bethlehem when our Lord was laid in the manger and the shepherds came to worship Him, that he was present also when the Infant was placed in the arms of Holy Simeon, and finally that he shared his wife's sorrow at the loss of her Son and her joy when they found Him debating the doctors in the Temple. St. Joseph's merit is summed up in the phrase that `he was a just man', that is to say a godly man. This was the eulogy of Holy Writ itself.

Butler's Lives of Saints - edited by Michael Walsh

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