As a reader commented yesterday, when I began a novena in anticipation of his feast day, March 19, St. Joseph is the silent man in the Gospels. He speaks not a word, although Matthew and Luke both show him acting decisively in response to the Word of God. Much of what we “know” about St. Joseph is apocryphal; many images of him, for example, the old man holding a staff from which a lily sprouts (left), are derived from the Protoevangelium of James and other texts discredited by Church Fathers. Most modern scholars seem to agree that Joseph was in fact a young man, making his virginal marriage far more impressive.
St. Joseph was silent and pretty much unnoticed for the first 1200 years of Christian history. There is little record of devotion to him during that period. In his essay “Theological Reflections on Devotion to Saint Joseph,” Michael Griffin, OCD, writes: “Though the Church from the beginning was aware that Mary was given to be the spiritual mother of all, it is a fact that consciousness of Saint Joseph as the spiritual father and protector of every Christian was only gradually arrived at.”
As I will be telling in subsequent posts, devotion to St. Joseph and, by extension, to the Holy Family began at the time of the Franciscans (13th Century) and St. Joseph alone has been an increasingly important figure for Popes since the late 19th century. I’ll conclude this short post today with the next paragraphs in a homily for the Feast of St. Joseph written by Karl Rahner, SJ, which began yesterday. It reflects a consensus that in some way the Holy Spirit “reserved” devotion to St. Joseph for our troubled times:
The blessed men and women with whom we have fellowship in the communion of saints are not pale shadows. Rather, they have brought over into the eternal life of God the fruits of their earthly life, and thus have brought with them their own personal uniqueness.
Their God even calls them by name in the one today of eternity. They are ever the same as they were in the unique history of their own lives. We single out one individual from among them to honor him as our heavenly protector and intercessor, because his own individuality means something unique and irreplaceable to us. We mean that between him and us there exists a specific rapport that makes him a special blessing for us and assigns a special duty to us, if we are to be worthy of his protection.
From this point of view, is it possible to think that Joseph, the spouse of the Blessed Virgin and foster father of our Lord, is particularly suited to be a patron of a twentieth-century person? Is it possible to think that anyone living today will be able to see himself reflected in Joseph? Are there not people today who, if they are true to their character as willed by God, are a people of small means, of hard work, of only a few words, of loyalty of heart and simple sincerity?
[To be continued tomorrow]
Oh blessed St. Joseph, virginal husband of Mary, pray for us!