What St. Joseph meant to Jesus

Photo: Sidney de Almeida/Shutterstock

We interrupt this Eastern Rite calendar to bring you St. Joseph.

Why? Because St. Joseph (feast day March 19 on the Western calendar, patron of the universal Church) does not have a separate feast day on the Eastern calendar. This may lead you to wonder: Why do St. Patapius and St. Menas get to have their own feast days but St. Joseph does not? Is it possible that the man who raised Jesus, loved Jesus, and lived in the same house with Jesus, is simply dismissed by the Eastern half of the Church as insignificant background furniture?

Of course not. This is the Church calendar we’re talking about. Holy days aren’t random like Pen Pal Day or Talk Like a Pirate Day. They have theological significance. In this case, the reason St. Joseph doesn’t get his own feast day all to himself is because the Eastern Church considers him inseparable from Jesus. After all, he raised Jesus, loved Jesus, and lived in the same house with Jesus!

Nobody knew Jesus as Joseph did, except for his mother Mary. The three of them make up the Holy Family. Because of this enviable relationship, the Eastern Rite commemorates St. Joseph, along with Mary on the day after the Nativity. Similarly, you will rarely see a headshot of Joseph on an icon. He is traditionally pictured alongside Mary with Jesus in the center.

Icon in Slovakia of the Holy Family. Photo: Adam Jan Figel/Shutterstock

But since it is March over here in the West and St. Joseph is my favorite favorite, I just can’t wait until December to talk about him. But before I get into what he means to me and you, let’s talk about what he meant to Jesus.

Jesus, as the Son of God didn’t “need” St. Joseph. He chose to need him. He chose to depend on him. He chose to have an earthly father because he wanted to grow up in a family the way we do. In doing so, Jesus showed us his plan for family life. He looked to his earthly dad to guide him, protect him, and model manhood for him. And St. Joseph delivered. He was devoted to his foster son from the very moment he learned of Jesus’ conception through the angel Gabriel. He would sacrifice anything for Jesus and Mary. He was all in.

Now it may be surprising that for a long time Christians did not pay much attention to St. Joseph. He lived a largely hidden life, humbly serving Our Lord and his Blessed Mother and then dying before Jesus began his public life. He never wrote an epistle. He didn’t die a martyr. He did no miracles in Jesus’ name. He was always a supporting actor or behind the scenes. Perhaps that’s why people overlooked him.

Then along came St. Teresa of Ávila. She was devoted to St. Joseph and she spread this devotion in her native Spain.

I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to the glorious St. Joseph, for I have great experience of the blessings which he can obtain from God. I do not remember that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant. I am astonished at the great favors which God has bestowed on me through this blessed saint, and at the perils from which he has delivered me, both in body and in soul.

To other saints, the Lord seems to have given grace to help us in some of our necessities. But my experience is that St. Joseph helps us in them all; also that the Lord wishes to teach us that, as he was himself subject on earth to St. Joseph, so in heaven he now does all that Joseph asks. This has also been the experience of other persons whom I have advised to commend themselves to the saint.

I only request, for the love of God, whoever will not believe me will test the truth of what I say, for he will see by experience how great a blessing it is to recommend oneself to this glorious patriarch and to be devout to him. (Autobiography of St. Teresa of Ávila)

I can barely add anything to this except that when you talk to St. Joseph, somehow he lets you know he is listening.

Since Teresa was a saint herself, she influenced many people to appreciate St. Joseph. Take a look at this record from the court of Queen Isabella of Castile (died 1504) and you will see the state of affairs just before St. Teresa came along. It lists 1,957 men who received money from the queen. Guess how many were named Jose? One. And he was probably Jewish.

In those days if you were named Jose, it was after the Old Testament patriarch Joseph, the son of Jacob. Joseph was a funny name to Christians. St. Teresa, who died in 1582, is credited with starting the Joseph trend in Christian names — if you can call it a trend. These days there are lots of men and boys named Joseph.

Despite his now universal popularity, St. Joseph the man continues to be largely hidden to us. Most of what we know about him comes straight from Scripture. How he learned of Mary’s conception and his first thought was to protect her from public shame and a possible stoning; how God sent an angel to reveal that Jesus was his divine son and to call Joseph to the supreme honor of caring for him; how Joseph came through in every situation, every hardship, every danger  — every day. Then the screen goes dark.

Stained glass window depicting the Holy Family in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Dili, East Timor. Photo: Kok Leng Yeo / CC BY

I have a thought about that. It is only my opinion. You may take it or leave it.

Remember when Princess Diana was alive and she could not get away from the public eye ever? When she died, people’s fascination only increased. Once I saw an interview with her two sons. They were asked for more of Diana. Tell us about your childhood. Tell us what your mum was like. Tell us stories about her with you at home. The men politely said no. That’s personal. That’s special. She was the people’s princess but she was their mom. They wanted to keep something of her just for them.

Our Lord lived a very public life. People wouldn’t leave him alone. He’d go out in a boat and the next thing you know people would be lining the bank on the other side. It wearied him. He would slip away to pray and to rest from the needs and wants and noise of the crowds. The first 30 years of his life were nothing like that. He could enjoy peace every day.

Perhaps Our Lord inspired the Gospel writers to tell us so little about his private life because he wished to keep his time at home with Mary and Joseph, just for them. He was human after all.

St. Joseph and C.S. Lewis




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