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  • Fr. Scott Haynes

St. Joseph's Role in the Holy Family

Fr. Scott A. Haynes

On this Feast of the Holy Family we should consider how the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph gives us a splendid example of trust in the providence of God. In Biblical times Jewish couples were legally married one year before consummating their marriage as religious ceremonies and celebrations took place. Even though Jewish couples were legally married and the ceremonies completed, for the 1st year they did not live together yet. Remember people did not date as they do today. Marriages were arranged. So during the 1st year they got to know each other and the man prepared the home as the wife prepared herself to leave her father’s house. During the 1st year spouses enjoyed the rights of marriage so it is not usual in Jewish culture that the wife would be pregnant in that first year. But Mary and Joseph had vowed virginity before the marriage.


So when, during the preliminary year of marriage, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary asking her to be the mother of Jesus she asked “But how can this be for I have no relations with a man?” This plan did not seem to fit in with her virginal vow. But when Gabriel the Archangel revealed God’s special plan—that the Holy Spirit would overshadow here and that she would be the Virgin Mother of God, she said “yes” to God’s plan of grace. Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant.


What suffering he must have endured at that news, for, on one hand, he knew and believed in Mary’s purity. Yet, on the other hand, she was with child. How we should sympathize with St Joseph in those moments of heartache. But the Lord did not keep Joseph waiting long to learn of the plan of his divine providence, for Joseph too, like Mary, received a visit from an angel revealing God’s plan for Jesus in this Holy Family as the angel reassured him saying that the Holy Spirit was the father of Mary’s child and that this child was Emmanuel – God with us.


The Gospel says, “When Joseph woke up he did what he angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home.” Just as Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me”, Joseph also did likewise when he promptly and joyfully obeyed the angel. Elizabeth said of Mary, “blessed is she who believed the promise made her by the Lord…” (Luke 1:45) and the same could also be said of Joseph, “blessed is he who believed the promise made him by the Lord…”


What consequences the actions of one couple, Adam and Eve, had at the beginning of the Old Testament and what consequences the actions of another couple, Mary and Joseph, had the beginning of the New Testament. Every time you say “no” or “yes” to sin you are affecting many others. What consequences our actions can have on thousands and millions of others.

Marriage and virginity are two signs of the love of God for us and we see both of these united in the first couple of the New Testament, Mary and Joseph. Joseph is a model of chastity for men just as Our Lady is the example par excellance of chaste living for all women.


There has always been a tradition that Mary had an ambition to dedicate herself exclusively to God in virginity. Pope John Paul II refers to this in his exhortation about St. Joseph entitled Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer). How could Mary combine this wish with marriage? Pope St John Paul II said the Holy Spirit combined them through the virginal conception of Jesus. In our times, sin is glamorized on TV and in magazines so much that people have come to accept sin as normal.


The chastity of Joseph and Mary is a challenge to our times when the sanctity of marriage and fidelity to one’s spouse for life are no longer respected. Although Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, he was a true father to Jesus. When Jesus was found in the temple, Mary said to Jesus, “Your father and I have been looking for you.” (Luke 2:48). We can imagine the love and affection between Joseph and Jesus, and between Joseph and Mary. We can imagine Joseph’s pain at the poor circumstances of Jesus’ birth.


We can imagine the pain that he must have suffered when Simeon told Mary that Jesus would be a sign that would be opposed and that a sword would pierce Mary’s soul (Luke 2:34-35). We can imagine the pain Joseph suffered when he had to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt for safety to preserve their lives. What gave Joseph the strength to endure all the trials his vocation brought him? It was obviously his life of prayer that gave him the strength to be obedient to God’s call to him. He was a just man, a man of honor as our Gospel today tells us. (Matt 1;19)


He had to have been a man of deep faith to fulfill his high calling. There is no record of him being present on Calvary so we presume he had died before Jesus. We can presume that this man of faith had Jesus and Mary present with him as he died. That is the way that all people of faith would like to die, in the company of Jesus and Mary.


In 1870 Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph Patron of the Universal Church. He said, “in the same way that he once kept unceasing holy watch over the family of Nazareth, so now does he protect and defend with his heavenly patronage the Church of Christ.” Pope Leo XIII prayed to Joseph in this way, “Most beloved father, dispel the evil of falsehood and sin...graciously assist us from heaven in our struggle with the powers of darkness...and just as once you saved the Child Jesus from mortal danger, so now defend God’s holy Church from the snares of her enemies and from all adversity.”[1]


In Joseph’s role as Patron of the Church he is indeed defending her from the snares of her enemies. This true story illustrates this. In the early 1980’s a woman visited the Convent of the Religious of St. Joseph at Bessillon in France where Joseph had appeared. She was expecting her fourth child and was very ill. The doctors told her the only way she could survive was to have an abortion. They even told her it was her duty since she already had three children to mind. She went to a priest who told her to go to Mass for nine consecutive days at St. Joseph’s Convent in Bessillon. The child was born at full term with no defects and she has given birth to another two boys since then.[2]


The celebration today of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, reminds and challenges us to value our family life, hidden from the world – even hidden in the womb. Today, more than ever, with the Christian family under attack, let us renew our love for our families and let us follow Mary and Joseph, for they lead us to the Temple – they lead us to Jesus Christ.


Notes: [1] (Oratio ad Sanctum Iosephum, contained immediately after the text of the Encyclical Epistle Quamquam pluries). [2] (The Glories of Saint Joseph published by Traditions Monastiques, France, pages 79-80.)

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