When my husband Shaun and I were engaged, he was in the armed forces, stationed in another state. Military life is unpredictable, and we, of course, wanted our upcoming marriage to go as smoothly as possible. For help, we turned to a man who soon became our constant companion: Saint Joseph.
We decided to begin praying a Saint Joseph novena together (this one). Shaun did not have access to the internet, so I printed him a copy and sent it to him in the mail. Each night, hundreds of miles apart, we each did the novena for our mutual intentions. We first prayed that we would find good housing together once we were married, and as new intentions came up, we added them to our novena and kept praying. Nine days…eighteen days…twenty-seven days… by the time we were married, we were still praying the novena together every night. During the early years of our marriage, that paper novena I mailed to Shaun had been folded and refolded so many times that it fell apart at the seams; we taped it together and kept praying. To this day, we still turn to Saint Joseph as our “go-to” saint, and to that novena as our favorite novena, and he has never once let us down.
I also did a fair amount of research on Saint Joseph in graduate school, the sum of which is best used for the purpose of creating internet quizzes. In honor of March, the month of Saint Joseph, here is a short quiz to help us get to know even more about this gentle giant of a saint and his place in Church history.
1. At the time of his betrothal to Mary, Saint Joseph was most likely:
A. old and gray-bearded.
B. a widower.
C. a strong young man.
The image of Joseph as an old man or widower, as he is often portrayed in Catholic art, took root, in part, because early Christians had a difficult time understanding the idea that a young man could handle a celibate marriage. As Pope John Paul II explains:
“The difficulty of accepting the sublime mystery of their spousal communion has led some, since the second century, to think of Joseph as advanced in age and to consider him Mary’s guardian more than her husband. It is instead a case of supposing that he was not an elderly man at the time, but that his interior perfection, the fruit of grace, led him to live his spousal relationship with Mary with virginal affection.”
2. The most accurate title for Saint Joseph in relationship to Jesus is:
A. foster father.
B. legal father.
Early Christians knew that Joseph was not the natural father of Jesus in terms of physical paternity, so they introduced approximate terms and analogies to explain the relationship. However, in the end, it is best to note that Mary herself called Joseph the “father” of Jesus in Luke 2:48, when she said, “Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” As Saint Augustine explains in his Sermon 51:
“For the Son of God He was—ever the Son of God… but the Son of Man in time; born of a Virgin without the operation of her husband, yet the Son of both parents. Whence prove we this? Already have we proved it by the words of Mary, ‘Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.’” “Joseph…as he is in chastity a husband, so is he in chastity a father. …Let us then acknowledge him to be a father, as in truth he is. For most advisedly and wisely do the Evangelists reckon [the generations] through him. …And why? Because he is the father.…The Lord then was not of the seed of Joseph, though He was supposed to be; yet nevertheless the Son of the Virgin Mary, who is also the Son of God, was born to Joseph, the fruit of his piety and love.”
3. In what way does Joseph, son of Jacob, from the book of Genesis, prefigure Saint Joseph?
A. They shared the same name.
B. They received special messages through dreams.
C. They saved their families by bringing them to Egypt.
D. All of the above.
Many of the Church Fathers believed it was no coincidence that the two Josephs shared a name. In the perfection of divine design, the Joseph of the Old Testament and the Joseph of the New echo one another as their lives reveal God’s plan to save his people. As Pope Pius IX explains:
“As almighty God appointed Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob, over all the land of Egypt to save grain for the people, so when the fullness of time had come and He was about to send to earth His only-begotten Son, the Savior of the world, He chose another Joseph, of whom the first had been the type, and He made him the lord and chief of His household and possessions, the guardian of His choicest treasures.”
4. What title did Pope Pius IX give to Saint Joseph?
A. Spouse of the Chaste Virgin
B. Faithful Guardian of Jesus
C. Patron of the Universal Church
In 1870, Pope Pius IX declared Joseph “Patron of the Universal Church.” In 1889, Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical emphasizing the importance of Saint Joseph in the life of the Church. He writes:
“The Blessed Patriarch looks upon the multitude of Christians who make up the Church as confided specially to his trust—this limitless family spread over the earth, over which, because he is the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus Christ he holds, as it were, a paternal authority. It is, then, natural and worthy that as the Blessed Joseph ministered to all the needs of the family at Nazareth and girt it about with his protection, he should now cover with the cloak of his heavenly patronage and defend the Church of Jesus Christ.”
A century later, in the encyclical Redemptoris Custos, Pope St. John Paul II called on the Christian faithful to trust in Joseph’s patronage and to “always keep before their eyes his humble, mature way of serving and of ‘taking part’ in the plan of salvation.”
In March, the month of Joseph, one way we can heed the words of our Holy Fathers is by praying one of the many beautiful Saint Joseph novenas, beginning March 10 and leading up to Saint Joseph’s feast day on March 19. As we celebrate his feast day, may we discover anew the extraordinary blessings that follow when we take Joseph as our patron and protector in all things.
Dear Saint Joseph, pray for us!