St. Joseph can be a forgotten saint. He doesn’t say a word Scripture and even devotion to him has taken some time to build momentum. Yet, the Old Testament tells us allegorically: “Go to Joseph” (Gen 41:55).
It was May of 2009 and I had just defended my dissertation. I didn’t have a job lined yet and was slightly burned out after an intense year of writing, teaching, serving as a DRE, and working at UPS in the evenings. It was a moment of grace in which I had the closest thing to a 30 day retreat with extra time for prayer and silence. One particular grace that emerged from that time was the gift of receiving St. Joseph as a father. I had a clear sense, as I was about to begin my career and as my family continued to grow, that St. Joseph was given to me to be my father.
Why should we go to Joseph? Why is St. Joseph the patron of the universal Church?
I would argue that the experience I had seven years ago is not a unique grace. It is rightly accepted that because Mary is the Mother of Christ and the Church is the Body of Christ, Mary is the Mother of the Church and of all of the members of Christ’s body. The same logic should hold for St. Joseph. Nevertheless, we tend to downplay Joseph’s fatherhood of Jesus, because it is adopted and not natural. Think of an historical example, however. Julius Caesar was the adopted, not natural, father of Caesar Augustus. What did that mean for Augustus? It meant that he inherited Julius’ Empire (though not without a fight of course). That is pretty serious!
And the example is fitting. How many times is Jesus referred to as the Son of David in the New Testament? David had received a promise about his descendants, as we see in Psalm 89:” You said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.’” Although some argue that Mary is also from the royal line, Jesus’s lineage is traced from his adopted father. Why? It is Joseph, the carpenter, who is the royal son of David at the beginning of the New Testament. Jesus’s inherits the throne of David from Joseph.
Joseph’s kingly identity helps to explain his importance in the Holy Family and for the Church. Just as the first Joseph, through the interpretation of dreams, came to save and protect his family in royal fashion, so St. Joseph exercises a kingly governance over the Holy Father. He truly is most perfectly the “faithful and wise servant, whom his master has put in charge of his household” (Mt 24:45). Although Jesus in dramatic fashion announces the identity of his eternal Father: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49). Nonetheless, immediately after this, Luke tells us that he went back to his foster father’s home: “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Lk 2:51). Jesus was not obedient to a random man, but to the heir of David’s throne, a truly just and holy man, who merited to be the spouse of sinless Virgin Mary.
This also helps to explain why Joseph is the Patron of the Universal Church and our own father in the spiritual life. The Eternal Father is our Father in the most perfect sense. But even the eternally begotten Son of this Father was obedient and entered the care of St. Joseph. As members of Christ’s body, we too enter into the care of St. Joseph who still acts as a “faithful and wise servant” over his Master’s household.
There are few other reasons that enlighten us as to why St. Joseph is so crucial for the Church as a fatherly model for the Christian life. Although he was in the Davidic line, Joseph was not a political agitator, haughtily complaining of Roman occupation and stirring up support for his own cause. Rather, and more positively, he was a builder. The Greek tekton certainly can be translated as carpenter, but also has a broader connotation of craftsman or builder. Joseph, the kingly carpenter, would teach the Son of God, through whom all things were made, to fashion things with his hands. To be a builder or craftsman is fitting for one who is like God, sharing in God’s own creative work. It is from Joseph that Jesus the Creator learned to create. St. John Paul II draws this out in his encyclical Laborem Exercens, describing Christ’s “gospel of work,” and how “he who proclaimed it was himself a man of work, a craftsman like Joseph of Nazareth.”
We also see in Joseph the importance of the role of husband and father. St. Joseph is necessary right now as a model of fatherhood as we face its near extinction. In a piece called The Crisis of Fatherhood, Ray Williams describes how “America is rapidly becoming a fatherless society, or perhaps more accurately, an absentee father society” and gives starting statistics on the effects of the absence of fathers. Fathers have to be spiritual and moral leaders, as it has been widely noted that fathers are the number one influence on the religious practice of their children. St. Joseph’s courageous care for his wife and foster child, through poverty, danger, and hardship, is a model for us as we seek to restore fatherhood to its foundational role in society and the Church.
In this effort, we need St. Joseph as a patron. I propose that we take St. Joseph especially as the patron of our efforts to restore authentic marriage and family life in our country. St. Teresa of Avila entrusted her own reform efforts to St. Joseph and taught us the great power of his intercession:
To other saints, Our Lord seems to have given power to succor us in some special necessity, but to this glorious saint (I know by my experience), he has given the power to help us in all things. Our Lord would have us understand that, as he was subject to Joseph on earth—St. Joseph, bearing the title of his father and being his guardian, could command him—so now Our Lord in heaven grants all his petitions.
The bonds that tied Jesus to his foster father on earth remain in Heaven. I am confident that Jesus wants to help all of the members of His Body, the Church, but especially fathers, through the intercession of St. Joseph and that He would be pleased by our prayers for the restoration of family life through his intercession. I am grateful that God showed me the power of accepting Joseph as a saintly father and I would say to you in response: “Go to Joseph!”
And by the way… thank you, St. Joseph the builder, again, for your help in my efforts to sell and find a new home!