We are now in the Year of St. Joseph, as proclaimed by Pope Francis last December 8, 2020. This celebration of the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church will last till December 8, 2021. There is a beautiful coincidence with the celebration by Philippine Catholics of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of Christianity in our archipelago. It was in 1521 when Ferdinand Magellan landed in Cebu, bringing with him the cross. As I wrote last week, Catholics in the Philippines are fortunate that during these very troubled times of the pandemic they can turn to a very powerful intercessor to ask God for protection and help, whether they be overseas workers, workers in general and fathers especially of little children.
We should take this opportunity for us to be more familiar with the person of St. Joseph. It is notable that in the Bible, there are very few lines devoted to the second most beloved human being by God after the Blessed Mother. His name was mentioned only on two occasions. First, when he was told by an angel in a dream not to be troubled after he realized that his wife Mary was with child. The Angel assured him that it was God who was behind this mystery and that he should “take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” The only other occasion when his name cropped up in the Bible was when, again in a dream, he was told by an angel to take the Child Jesus and Mary to a foreign land, Egypt, so that they could escape the fury of King Herod who was intention in murdering the God Child. Always receiving heavenly revelations while he was asleep, St. Joseph is now often venerated through an image of the “Sleeping Joseph.” What more can we know about this Patron of the Universal Church?
One of my sources is a homily delivered by St. Josemaria Escriva on March 19, 1963, in which the founder of Opus Dei, a great devotee of St. Joseph, gave more details about his occupation as an ordinary worker in the town of Nazareth: “Scripture tells us St. Joseph was a craftsman. Some Fathers of the Church add that he was a carpenter. When talking of the life of Jesus, St. Justin says that he made ploughs and yokes. Perhaps that’s why St. Isidore of Seville concludes that St. Joseph was a blacksmith. In any event, he was a workman who supplied the needs of his fellow citizens with a manual skill acquired through years of toil and sweat.” This inspires me to pray to St. Joseph to enlighten many Filipino youth to consider manual skills as honorable and dignified as intellectual skills. Hundreds of thousands of Filipino workers can serve her fellow citizens as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, masons, and blacksmiths but there is a shortage of these skills, especially in the booming construction sector because of a bias in the minds of both parents and their children against manual work.
Another eye-opener about St. Joseph in this homily delivered by St. Josemaria had to do with his age when he married Mary. Up to very recently, most paintings by the masters showing St. Joseph with the Child Jesus and Mary always depicted him as a very old man. Fortunately in recent years, we have been seeing St. Joseph in paintings and statues as a handsome youth just a few years older than his beloved spouse. It was St. Josemaria who first alerted me about what was the most probable case – that St.Joseph was in the prime of his youth when he married Mary. As St. Josemaria said: “I don’t agree with the traditional picture of St. Joseph as an old man, even though it may have been prompted by a desire to emphasize the perpetual virginity of Mary. I see him as a strong young man, perhaps a few years older than Our Lady, but in the prime of his life and work.” I consider this hypothesis more realistic considering the hardships and rigors that St. Joseph had to endure, hastily bringing Mother and Child in the dark of night to Egypt and earning his living there as an overseas worker until they were told to return to Palestine after the death of Herod. Also consider the many years of toil as a carpenter in Nazareth to support his family. All these would have not been physically possible for an ageing person.
Another important detail about Joseph concerns his love relationship with Mary. Again, some well-meaning writers have presented the relationship between Joseph and Mary as “platonic” to stress the perpetual virginity of Our Lady. This, however, reflects a mistaken notion of the conjugal love that existed between the two holiest individuals to come from the hands of God. In the book “Joseph of Nazareth” by Spanish theologian Federico Suarez, a more realistic description can be found: “St. Joseph was deeply in love with Mary. He must have loved her so much and with such generosity of heart that, when he learned of her desire to preserve the consecration she had made to God, he agreed to marry her. He would renounce having children than live apart from the woman he loved.” Just to belabor the point, Joseph loved Mary in the same way that Romeo loved Juliet, that Tony loved Maria in “Westside Story”, and for those of us who are addicts to the Korean telenovela series, the same way Captain Ri loved Seri in “Crash Landing on You,” or Do-san loved Dal-mi in “Start-Up.” In other words, Joseph loved Mary with all of his heart and soul.
As St. Josemaria stated with the greatest clarity about the Christian meaning of chastity: “You don’t have to wait to be old or lifeless to practice the virtue of chastity. Purity comes from love and the strength and gaiety of youth are no obstacle for noble love. Joseph had a young heart and a young body when he married Mary, when he learned of the mystery of her divine motherhood, when he lived in her company, respecting the integrity God wished to give the world as one more sign that he had come to share the life of his creatures. Anyone who cannot understand a love like that knows very little of true love and is a complete stranger to the Christian meaning of chastity.” From all these considerations, I can picture Joseph as a youth in his late teens or early twenties, good looking and a heart throb among the young girls of Nazareth. That would explain why the most beautiful creature to come out of the hands of God was romantically attracted to him and agreed to marry him. It is no surprise that he in turn was romantically attracted to Mary and was willing to make the supreme sacrifice of uniting with her until death in the sacred institution of marriage even if he knew he would never enjoy the legitimate pleasure of marital sex and the noble aspiration of having children. He was rewarded by God when he received the indescribable gift of being the foster father of the God Child himself.
Let me end this short profile of the person of St. Joseph by describing his relationship with Jesus. Again from the homily of St. Josemaria we read: “Joseph loved Jesus as a father loves his son and showed his love by giving him the best he had. Joseph, caring for the child as he had been commanded, made Jesus a craftsman, transmitting his own skill to him. So the neighbors in Nazareth would call Jesus both “faber” and “fabri filius,” the craftsman and the son of the craftsman. ….For Jesus must have resembled Joseph: in his way of working, in the traits of his character, and in his way of speaking. Jesus’ realism, his eye for detail, the way he sat at table and broke bread, his preference for using everyday situations in his teaching—all this reflects his childhood and the influence of Joseph.” We can, therefore, join Pope Francis in praying to St. Joseph: “Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To you God entrusted his only son; in you Mary placed her trust, with you Christ became man. Blessed Joseph, to us too, show yourself a father and guide us in the path of life. Obtain for us grace, mercy, and courage and defend us from every evil. Amen.”
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