The Gospels tell us very little, in real terms, about the life of Saint Joseph. Unlike so many of the other great Saints of the Church, we have no available biographies detailing every aspect of his life, his sayings and so forth. And yet despite this, Saint Joseph is one to whom so many of us feel close, and under whose protection we place so many of our causes.
The Infancy Narratives speak of the time leading to the Annunciation and then the Birth of Jesus, completing his story with some futher additional narratives, although these are very brief even for the Gospels. After this, there is no other mention of him. And yet despite so little being said about him, Saint Joseph remains the greatest of Saints after his spouse, the Blessed Virgin Mary. The history of the Church has always held him in the greatest regard and affection. And despite such scarcity of original source material, many of the great Saints who wopuld follow later, have written at great length about this quiet man.
So what can Saint Joseph tell us?
What is clear from the texts concerning St Joseph and his role in the divine plan is that he was called to trust in the Lord, even – in fact, especially – at those moments when he did not understand what the Lord asked of him. He was asked to trust in the divinity of the Child being carried in the womb of Mary; to protect the Child and Mother; to accept the instruction given to him by the Lord in his dreams; and then – we can suppose, although the Gospels to do go into it – to teach this Boy in the early years of his life. Everything that is written about St Joseph makes clear that he was a deeply honourable man, a good and just man, one who always followed the ways of the Lord – even when his understanding of the full plan of the Lord was absent or reduced.
In his Apostolic Letter ‘Patris Corde’ (“With A Father’s Heart”), our Holy Father places St Joseph anew before the eyes of the Church in our day. He writes –
“With a father’s heart: that is how Joseph loved Jesus, whom all four Gospels refer to as ‘the son of Joseph’.. After Mary, the Mother of God, no saint is mentioned more frequently in the papal magisterium than Joseph, Her spouse.. In every situation, Joseph declared his own ‘fiat’, like those of Mary at the Annunciation and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.. Often in life, things happen whose meaning we do not understand.. The spiritual path that Joseph traces for us is not one that explains, but accepts.”
Perhaps this is the very simple path of Saint Joseph which we can follow – to say our own personal ‘yes’ to the will of God in our lives, even when the cost to us is great. And to do so always simply because it is the will of God and because we trust in the Lord.
But – also like our Saint – it is important that we very carefully discern what is the will of the Lord for us, so that we are not fooled or led astray; to do this, we need to be guided by (and listen carefully to) the Church. And part of that listening comes in the form of this Apostolic Letter from Pope Francis, which we would all do well to read and to consider. Our Holy Father is, above all else, a wise and prudent man whose ordinary magisterium will help us greatly along the way of virtue and perfection. As Catholics, we are obliged to give our religious assent to his teaching. This Letter is a beautiful expression of some of that teaching.
Life can appear very uncertain at times – events take place over which we have no control; and yet all those events work to the greater glory of the Lord and to our own salvation if we make proper use of them. God, as they say, “writes straight with crooked lines”. St Joseph had the perception to see this and the humility and obedience required to follow the way the Lord had marked out for him. This is a salutary example for us to follow.