St. Joseph: Lessons from a simple man

St. Joseph, pray for us!

Holy Family fresco (1963) by Jozef Antal in St. Michael Church, Sebechleby, Slovakia. Photo: Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock

The Church puts great emphasis on St. Joseph and for good reason. As foster father of Christ, taking care of the young Savior and looking after his Most Blessed Mother, he is among the most distinguished figures in Christianity.

And yet while St. Joseph’s role in Scripture is small, quiet, and subdued in comparison to his son, of all the saints over the Church’s many generations, he remains among the most relatable. He has been the subject of great devotion for centuries and not without reason. It is worthy of note that of his many patronages are included travelers, craftsmen, workers, expectant mothers, fathers, and families. In short, he is a man of the ordinary, the humdrum, the standard and the everyday.

For the vast majority of all humans who have ever lived, the sum total of their lives is not known to the entire world or of particular note to the masses. Most will live a fairly simple life, and this is a fine existence which should not be discounted.

However, to live these simple lives can be disconcerting to many who struggle with their own ambitions, who feel themselves called to some other, greater life than the one they already live in their day-to-day existence. We can feel anxious about our place in life, nervous that our small, routine actions ultimately make no impact upon the world around us. We take a self-centered view of the world, where those actions which are most worthwhile are those which will most accredit ourselves. We can become so caught up in our own vision of how the world should be that we lose sight of remarkable things happening within our mundane little worlds.

Let us look then to St. Joseph. When betrothed to Mary, he no doubt expected that the union would be the typical affair of the time. He would have his own children with her and live a quiet family life in the small Judean backwater of Nazareth out of which nothing good seemed to have ever come (see John 1:46).

And yet his life takes a completely unexpected turn when his bride-to-be becomes pregnant somehow, and an angel of the Lord informs him that he is now betrothed to the mother of God’s Son and had an obligation to watch over them both (see Matthew 1:18–25).

Joseph would still be a father, but even this mundane life would be suddenly transformed in a way he had never anticipated. This man who had likely never been far beyond his home would now have to flee to distant Egypt as King Herod unleashed soldiers upon the youth of Bethlehem and its vicinity in a desperate attempt to kill the Christ child (see Matthew 2:13–18).

St. Joseph’s commitment to the Christ child was done, like the works of all saints, not for his own gain or benefit but that God may be glorified, that his life may most adhere to the plan the Lord had laid out for him. From out of the mundanity of his prior life came an experience which not only changed Joseph’s life, but the fate of the universe itself.

Those of us who in our daily lives often feel inadequate and unfulfilled, who doubt that our actions contribute to any greater whole, must realize that every action we make will, in some way have an effect somewhere else in the world. We as human beings are all intimately connected, in the modern world more than ever before. To feel that one’s actions or interactions with the world at large are insignificant is to say that “the path I walk goes nowhere”. This is silly, for as we see in St. Joseph’s story, even the most mundane lives can be radically transformed both through our interactions with our Lord as well as with each other.

No person, regardless of how well known they do or do not become, is insignificant. St. Joseph, a man who says little and about whom we know next to nothing, is nonetheless integral to the story of human history. To bemoan one’s unremarkable circumstances is to discount the potential we have to do remarkable things, be it through our direct interactions with the world around us, or through the little things we do which may ultimately have far-reaching consequences.

To live the life we are given, that is itself a vocation, one which is different for all people (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1700) No matter the circumstances of our lives, we will end up changing someone else by the end. With St. Joseph as our guide, let us then inspire each other for the better.

St. Joseph, guardian of the infant Christ and spouse to Our Most Blessed Mother, be with us always in our lives. In times of trial and struggle as well as of joy and peace, pray for us. Lead us to your son, Jesus Christ, to the great gift of the Holy Family and the charge entrusted to you by Our Lord. Let us see the child of salvation, with your guidance, as we seek the joy you have known on both heaven and earth. Amen.

Prayer to St. Joseph after the rosary

To you, O blessed Joseph,
do we come in our tribulation,
and having implored the help of your most holy spouse,
we confidently invoke your patronage also.

Through that charity which bound you
to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God
and through the paternal love
with which you embraced the Child Jesus,
we humbly beg you graciously to regard the inheritance
which Jesus Christ has purchased by his blood,
and with your power and strength to aid us in our necessities.

O most watchful guardian of the Holy Family,
defend the chosen children of Jesus Christ;
O most loving father, ward off from us
every contagion of error and corrupting influence;
O our most mighty protector, be kind to us
and from heaven assist us in our struggle
with the power of darkness.

As once you rescued the Child Jesus from deadly peril,
so now protect God’s holy Church
from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity;
shield, too, each one of us by your constant protection,
so that, supported by your example and your aid,
we may be able to live piously, to die in holiness,
and to obtain eternal happiness in heaven.



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