Everything in the world is fraught with sorrow, and no mortal here below can escape suffering. It clings to human nature and dogs its footsteps. Indeed the whole history of the human race is but one great tragedy of a thousand difficulties and contradictions. Suffering began with the fall of our first parents and ends only with death. All this must be quite reasonable, for a wise and merciful God has so ordained it. Through suffering we were redeemed, and only through suffering do we share in the Redemption. Many are the souls that will be taught and saved only by suffering. And so the Cross is the portion of all men, even of the saints, and hence, of Saint Joseph also.
Indeed, his share of suffering was exceedingly great because of his close relationship to the divine Savior. All the mysteries of our Lord’s life are more or less mysteries of suffering. Even Bethlehem and Nazareth have their Cross. Wherever the Savior pillowed His head, traces of the crown of thorns were to be found. How long the divine Child dwelled with Joseph, and how often He rested in his arms and on his breast! Surely the cross could not be wanting to the saint. The cross of labor followed him everywhere; poverty pressed upon him, less on his own account than on that of his divine Son and his holy spouse, Mary, whom he saw so poorly and unbecomingly provided for in this world. Even the lack of necessary shelter afflicted him more than once. Hard-hearted people refused to open the door to him; bloodthirsty persecutors and men full of deadly hate, sought both his life and that of his child.
Nor was he spared even domestic crosses, owing to misunderstandings in regard to the holiest and most cherished of beings, Jesus and Mary, who were all to him. Again and again they were the occasion of bitter crosses to him. Keen indeed must have been the suffering caused by the uncertainty regarding Mary’s virginity, by the circumcision of Jesus and the bestowal of His name, which pointed to future misfortunes. Profoundly painful, too, must have been the prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, and the disappearance of Jesus at the Paschal feast, which occurrence itself strikingly foreshadowed the Passion. These mysteries were like a bloody summit of Calvary in the life of Saint Joseph.
To these sufferings was surely added that interior, gnawing sorrow of the saint at the sight of the sins of his people and of the calamities that threatened them. Truly, suffering and contradiction as well as blessings were the lot of the Joseph of the New Testament. If his afflictions are not great and extraordinary when compared with the terrible sufferings experienced by the Mother of God at the foot of the Cross, they nevertheless wounded his heart most bitterly because these sufferings had as their object and source his highest good, his divine Son, and because his love for Him was inexpressibly great.
The sufferings of Saint Joseph are therefore noble, admirable, and sublime on account of their cause, which was none other than the sufferings of the Savior Himself, and on account of the manner in which he bore and endured these contradictions. The greatest triumph of art, it is said, is to represent suffering in a sublime and attractive manner. But it is infinitely more difficult to bear suffering properly and in a Christian manner. Here the saint gives us a splendid example. No sound of complaint or impatience escapes him; in general, he must have been a man of silence, since Holy Writ has not handed down to us a single word of his. He submitted to all in the spirit of faith, humility, confidence, and infinite love, and cheerfully bore all in union with the Savior and His Mother, glad to be able to suffer something with them and for them.
God, in His turn, never forsook the saint in his trials. Everywhere God was with him, and everything went well. The trials, too, vanished and were converted at last into consolation and joy. After the misunderstanding concerning Mary came the message of the angel, which made Joseph the happiest of men. After the rebuff at Bethlehem came the joy and happiness of the birth of Christ and the adoration of shepherds and kings. The trial of the flight into Egypt was rewarded by the joyful return to Galilee; the cruel loss of the Child and the three days of heartrending search for Him were amply repaid by the happy finding of Him in the Temple and the blissful years of the hidden life.
It seems that God purposely so constituted and intended the life of Saint Joseph to keep very vividly before our eyes the truth that our life on earth is but a succession of good and bad days, and that we must make up our minds to accept both and to preserve toward them a proper attitude of soul. After all, the days of peace and joy ordinarily predominate, just as oil floats upon the water. We must not forget this and must gratefully accept whatever God sends us. We must courageously carry the burdens of the harder days in thanksgiving for the joyful ones and, during the time of consolation, must prepare for suffering.
To use both joy and sorrow in the proper manner is a great art. The cross tries to cast us down through impatience, distrust, and despair, while joy and gladness, on the other hand, would undo us by means of self-elation, frivolity, and the awful danger of forgetfulness of God. Like Saint Joseph, let us ever remain the same in time of suffering and of joy. The fact that we rejoice in happy circumstances, while we keenly feel the bitterness of the cross, is not counted against us by our benign Maker. Such is our nature. Let us bear all in the spirit of faith, of confidence, and of a grateful attitude toward God. In a happy eternity we shall not thank God for anything as much and as fervently as for the sufferings that He deigned to send us during our sojourn on earth and that, after the example of Saint Joseph, we endured with patience and heartfelt love for Jesus and Mary.
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in The Truth about Saint Joseph: Encountering the Most Hidden of Saints, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
image: Toros Roslin [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons