The truth about St. Joseph is mysterious.
He is easily overlooked so little does he appear in the Gospels. Even then he says nothing. For many, the saint is elusive. He comes into the story of the Infancy Narrative and then he’s gone. When and how, there is no hint; we are left wondering. Yes, it is true: St. Joseph is mysterious but, maybe, even more than many Catholics realize.
There is, of course, much to this Holy Patriarch. There must be. But you have to look for it. St. Joseph is a sort of ‘buried treasure’: to find it and to benefit spiritually — especially so for men — one has to ‘dig’. That is where books such as The Truth about Saint Joseph: Encountering the Most Hidden of Saints by Fr. Maurice Meschler come into play.
Fr. Meschler’s book divides into two halves. The first deals with what we know of St Joseph’s life from the Gospels. The second unpacks the spiritual implications of his life for us. Throughout Fr. Meschler writes with a sense of purpose. His portraits of the various well-known Gospel scenes in which St Joseph plays a part are enriched with many illuminating geographical or historical details. These references to the topography of the Holy Land resonate with Old Testament history. They give a fresh vision of what might otherwise merely be a well-worn path of exposition. Take, for example, the journey of the Holy Family to the Temple for the Presentation of the Child:
‘The Road to Jerusalem led again over the plain of Rephaim, which at the time was resplendent in the adornment of spring. Here it was that on a former occasion Abraham journeyed to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moria. From the elevated border that crowned the valley of Hinnom the Holy Family could view on the opposite side of the great city of Jerusalem with its pinnacled walls, the glorious fortress of David, the mighty Temple, and the verdant Garden of Olives in the background.’
In this example you have what might simply be a passage linking one Infancy scene to another but is, instead, a description echoing with the whole of Salvation History, harking back as well as prefiguring what is to come. In the first part of The Truth about Saint Joseph such passages recur frequently. Fr. Meschler’s account of the Holy Family’s life is permeated with salvific promise – encompassing past, present and future.
The two halves of the book are evenly balanced: nine chapters and ten. All the chapters are relatively short, no more than a 15-minute read: just right for daily spiritual reading, a chapter or, perhaps, two at a time. In fact, this book would be a perfect companion when praying a novena to St. Joseph. Such is its style and, above all, its subject matter that this is a book to be meditated on. Although St. Joseph is a man of action rather than words, he is also a model of silence and contemplative prayer. He is a holy example not a theorist, an inspiration; but, before and above all else, he is a great saint.
Like the book’s saintly subject, Fr. Maurice Meschler, also proves somewhat illusive. Try as I might, I could find little about him. What is known is that he was a German Jesuit who produced a number of devotional works on saints in the early part of the 20th century. The Truth about Saint Joseph was originally published in an English translation in 1932. The text comes from a different time, but is still arrestingly contemporary in explaining the saint’s relevance to our times. Perhaps this is not so surprising given such an exemplary role model and spiritual inspiration has never been more needed than today, especially so for fathers, husbands, for men in general.
The Truth about Saint Joseph may spring from another era but, curiously, its time is now. Pope Francis has inserted the name of St. Joseph into all of the Canons of the Mass. And this comes just as there appears to be a new awakening of interest in St. Joseph among theologians. Learned conferences have started to appear delving deeper into the mystery and the relevance of the man. At the same time, around the world, there is a renewed appetite for pilgrimage to sites associated with him, for example, Montreal’s Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal. Looking at the times in which we live this should come as no surprise. It is a natural reaction to today’s crisis of manhood, of fatherhood, and doubts about what it is to be a man.
There were many crises in the life of the Holy Family, many threats and much dislocation, to begin with anyway. All were calmly and trustfully navigated with St. Joseph’s rock-solid faith — doubtless helped by Our Lady — and his steadfast conviction in the vocation given to him and his equally firm determination to live that gift.
St, Joseph is indeed a saint for all times. His example is more needed now than ever though. This latest edition of The Truth about Saint Joseph: Encountering the Most Hidden of Saints has, therefore, appeared at an interesting moment in history. In these pages we reflect once more on the preeminent protector of the Church and the family. And, today, in contemporary society, as both family and Church are under attack in so many different ways, it is to St. Joseph that we must look, just as in an earlier time the only answer to society’s ills was to ‘go to Joseph.’ (Gen. 41:55)
Editor’s note: Fr. Meschler’s book, The Truth about Saint Joseph: Encountering the Most Hidden of Saints, is available as an ebook or paperback from Sophia Institute Press.