Today, March 19 is the feast of St. Joseph, the man chosen by God to be the foster father of His Divine Son.
As St. Joseph is my favorite saint, as well as the saint whose name I chose at my confirmation, I thought it would be appropriate to offer a few, brief reflections on his life. They are not my original thoughts but rather a compilation of ideas I’ve come across over the years. I will lay them out here as they come to my mind, in the form of a brief meditation.
St. Joseph is known for his many virtues, but two that stand out the most to me are his gentle strength and genuine humility. When we first meet him in the Gospel, Joseph is betrothed to the Blessed Virgin. Very soon afterward, he discovers that she is with child, and he knows the child is not his own. The discovery causes him both great anguish and great confusion. He knows Mary is chaste, but the biological facts seem to contradict that knowledge. How does he respond? He decides to “put her away quietly.” In other words, he decides to leave her. By doing so, he would make himself look like the villain in the eyes of everyone. This shame would be a great sacrifice for him, but he is willing to accept to preserve Our Lady’s honor.
As we all know, the angel’s message assures Joseph that he needn’t be afraid to take Mary as his wife. But shortly before she is to give birth, Caesar Augustus decrees that all the empire’s residents must return to their places of birth to participate in the census. And so we find St. Joseph leading his very-pregnant spouse to Bethlehem. When they arrive, he finds that “there was no room for them in the inn.” Not that “there was no room in the inn,” but that “there was no room for them in the inn.” Inns cost money, and Joseph, the poor carpenter, was unable to pay.
He searches frantically for shelter, knowing that Our Lord’s arrival is imminent. Imagine how ashamed he must have felt knowing that he would be unable to provide a decent place for the Son of God to make His entry into the world. We tend to romanticize the stable at Bethlehem, and we forget that in reality it was a dirty, smelly barn.
After the Nativity, St. Joseph learns from the angel that Herod is seeking to kill the child Jesus. He quickly takes the child and his mother and leads them along the long, dangerous journey into Egypt, all the while facing the threat of roving bandits who liked to prey on unwary travelers. Then, for the first several years of Our Lord’s life, He lives in exile in a foreign land, under the care of Joseph who must find work there in order to provide for the child and His mother.
After the death of Herod, Joseph returns the holy family to Judea, to Nazareth. There he is faced with yet another challenging problem: How exactly does one go about raising God’s own Son?
St. Joseph, being the simple, humble man that he was, raised up Our Lord in the one way that he knew how—he taught him to be a carpenter. He had the creator of the universe under his care . . . and he taught him how to build tables and shelves.
I find it’s a beautiful image for meditation, the thought of St. Joseph in the dusty woodshop, teaching the child Jesus, the Son of God, how to use hammers and saws.
This wasn’t all for show, either. Before his public ministry, Our Lord earned his living as a carpenter. That’s how he kept a roof over his head. That’s how he provided for Our Lady after the death of Joseph. He used the skills taught to him by the man who spent thirty years raising Him as his own son.
In conclusion, St. Joseph is a beautiful example of humility and simplicity. He shows us the dignity of labor done for the love of God. He demonstrates for us how to be a good and faithful spouse. He shows us the tremendous importance of fatherhood.
Our Lord, being God, was able to choose any man in the world—any man in history—to be His father on earth . . . and He chose Joseph, the carpenter.