On Wednesday, the Church celebrates the great feast of St. Joseph, Foster-Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, True Spouse of the Virgin Mary, and Protector of the Universal Church. Devotion to St. Joseph has especially been a mark of the saints of modern times. St. Teresa of Avila is perhaps the most famous and expansive promoter of his patronage.
Teresa was utterly convinced that Joseph was the great teacher of the interior life. She boldly proclaimed that anyone who took him as his or her spiritual director would soon reach the heights of contemplative prayer and concrete sanctity. Her main reason for this assertion is that Joseph lived in the quiet company of Divine Love all his days, especially in his intimate conversation with Our Lord and Our Lady. Joseph, called the “just man,” by St. Matthew, is truly a man of faith working through love.
We learn from him how faith working through love becomes concrete in the circumstances of our lives. We especially see certain virtues of his life connected with certain times in which he was asked to obey God’s plan of salvation, even amidst great difficulties and suffering. In fact, we see in the Gospels four different times when Joseph is given specific instructions from the Lord by means of an angel.
The first of these times is when he is commanded to take Mary as his wife, despite the fact that she has conceived a child without relations with her husband. The almost-unanimous opinion of the Fathers of the Church is that Joseph sought divorce to remove himself from the mystery out of a sense of awe at the Divine Majesty. In Joseph’s obedience to the angel, we see in him the virtue of magnanimity, whereby he persevered in his call to spiritual greatness, despite the difficulties.
The second message of an angel ordered Joseph to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus in order to protect the Child from King Herod. Here, we see exemplified the virtue of obedience itself, as Joseph uproots his entire life, with all the comforts associated with living in one’s own home among one’s own family and friends, and takes his Wife and Son to a foreign country for their own safety.
Then, after some time in Egypt, he is commanded by an angel to return to the Holy Land. Here we see in him the virtue of courage, as he takes his family back into what he must have considered some danger, even despite the death of Herod. Joseph had gone to Egypt out of obedience, motivated by concern for his family’s safety. He returns to the location of danger with courage, motivated by obedience to the Divine Will.
Finally, he is commanded by an angel to retire to the quiet backwater town of Nazareth, with Our Lord and Our Lady, to live in quiet obscurity all the days of his life. We see here his humility, which allowed him to follow the divine command, to forsake earthly greatness and to live in the quiet anonymity of Nazareth.
In these four dramatic episodes of the life of St. Joseph, we see how his faith working through love was assisted by the cardinal virtues. As we entrust ourselves on Wednesday to his fatherhood in the spirit, let us open our hearts to all his virtues, that we may die as he did, in the arms of Jesus and Mary.
Yours in the Lord,
Fr. Joseph Previtali