The Blessed Virgin Mary is all things to God: she is a daughter of faith to God the Father; she is the spouse of the Holy Spirit; and she is the Mother of Jesus. In that sense, we can accurately say in the words of the Council of Ephesus that she is the Mother of God. But even with her favored relationship with the Trinity, her obvious spiritual superiority, Mary needed Joseph.
There has never been a married couple in all of history with a more important mission than the Blessed Virgin Mary and her husband, Joseph of Nazareth. They had a child to raise, and this was no ordinary child. He was God incarnate. He was the Savior, the New Adam, the only One in human history who could restore mankind’s relationship with God.
Jesus was at the center of Mary and Joseph’s
relationship. In this way, their marriage prefigures sacramental marriage in
which Christ is central. Jesus was the motivation for everything they did,
whether it was the ordinary tasks of life, or extraordinary events concerning
Him. Mary and Joseph are the prototype for the ideal; they are the example
given to us by God. And although they had different roles, the two were
complementary in mission as the parents of the divine Child.
Jesus received His human nature completely from His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Even so, Joseph is the virginal father of Jesus — not in the biological sense, to be sure, but in all the ways that make a man truly a father. Saint Luke writes of both Mary and Joseph as Jesus’ “parents.” And when Mary addresses her Son, she refers to Joseph as His father: “His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety’ ” (Luke 2:48).
The Divine Rescue Mission
At the proper time, the divine rescue mission was set in motion. Pride had caused the Fall of mankind. The restoration would come through its antidote — humility. And so, the promised Savior entered the world as a helpless, humble babe. And “the huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world” (Rev. 12:9) sought to destroy the Divine Child:
The dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth. She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations. (Rev. 12:4–5)
In early first-century Judea, this child would have been as vulnerable as any person could possibly be, as would His Mother. That’s why God had given them a protector and a provider, someone faithful, faith-filled, fearless, self-sacrificing, and capable. That man was Joseph of Nazareth.
When King Herod sought to kill the child and ordered the massacre of the Holy Innocents, the evil king was outmaneuvered by Joseph. Joseph’s faith, obedience, and prompt response to the life-threatening situation were powerful weapons against the enemy. When it came to the divine plan — that all-important mission to redeem the world — Joseph was all in, no matter what it meant, how it looked, or what sacrifices were required. Saint Matthew explains:
When they [the Magi] had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matt. 2:13–15)
During that night of terror, as the Holy Family prepared for their escape, one might imagine the Blessed Virgin questioning her husband: “Joseph, what’s going on? Let’s talk about this. I should have fifty percent of this decision.” No, our Blessed Mother would never behave like that. She trusted God and His choice in Joseph as head of the Holy Family. Mary obediently followed Joseph’s lead, and the family fled that night.
Shouldering the most important job on earth was probably
not something Joseph had ever considered doing with his life, at least not
until the angel came to him in a dream. But there he was, protecting the
Incarnate Son of God, not simply from King Herod, a formidable adversary, to be
sure, but also from Satan.
Joseph’s fiat, his yes to God, was an irreplaceable component in the plan of salvation. Jesus and Mary were dependent on Saint Joseph’s protection and provision. In this way, Joseph of Nazareth was the custodian of Christ’s mission. His cooperation in the plan of salvation made Christ’s redemptive work possible. We all owe Joseph our deep and sincere gratitude.
We Need Joseph, Too
Because of our relationship with Jesus, Joseph is also our spiritual father. In fact, the Church formally entrusted us to his paternal care and protection by declaring Saint Joseph “Patron of the Universal Church.” One of his many titles is “Terror of Demons,” and rightly so. For Saint Joseph is a powerful ally in our battle against the devil, who has diabolical designs on our children, friends, and family.
Like Mary, we need Saint Joseph. Saint Teresa of Avila (1515– 1582) had this to say about the efficacy of a relationship with the foster father of Jesus:
I took for my advocate and lord [authority and father figure] the glorious St. Joseph and earnestly recommended myself to him. I saw clearly that as in this need so in other greater ones concerning honor and loss of soul, this father and lord of mine came to my rescue in better ways than I knew how to ask for. I only ask for the love of God those who do not believe me to try [or test] and they will see through experience the great good that comes from recommending oneself to this glorious patriarch and being devoted to him.Teresa of Avila, The Book of Her Life, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D.
Mary was not disappointed in Joseph. She relied on him and was dependent on his protection and provision. Our elder sister in Christ, Saint Teresa of Avila, wasn’t disappointed either, and neither will we be when we depend on him.
Complementary in Mission
In our current cultural setting, women are continually being tempted to pride, believing that they do not need men. If ever anyone had a claim to superiority, it would be the Blessed Virgin Mary, and yet she was dependent on Joseph. During the childhood of Jesus, God’s cosmic plan of salvation was carried forward by this humble couple — together. God’s design to vanquish evil requires both men and women, in friendships, in marriages, in families between brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters, and mothers and sons. We are in this struggle together, and we must not compete with one another over positions on the battlefield. If we quibble, argue, and get flustered over who does what, who is superior, whose job is more important, we will be distracted soldiers — a dangerous position that is easily manipulated by the evil one.
The Queen of Heaven and Earth humbly accepted her place as the wife of Joseph. Although their roles differed, with hers including obedience to Joseph, this couple perfectly complemented each other in the mission given to them by God.
This article is adapted from a chapter in Julie Onderko’s new book, Holy Handmaids of the Lord: Women Saints Who Won the Battle for Souls.
It is available as an ebook or paperback from your favorite bookstore or online through Sophia Institute Press.
image: Nativity from BL YT 5, f. 41v / The British Library — Public Domain Mark.