St Joseph hardly gets a mention in the gospels: just two oblique references to him in Luke, one stating his being of the House of David and the second, anonymously, of his being a carpenter. Otherwise we have only today’s gospel and references to him on the finding of the child Jesus in the temple. But, paradoxically, Joseph must be the most prolific saint of all time in his patronage of hospitals, schools, stadiums, etc! Not to mind being the personal patron saint of so many individuals, of monasteries (like our own) & religious congregations, as well as of the universal church! Clearly Joseph stands at the heart of something very central for Christians.
Above all Joseph highlights the incarnation! Here it is his very inaction which underlines the pure gratuity of God becoming human in the person of Jesus Christ. “Before they came to live together”, the gospel reads, “Mary was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” The sovereign God of grace required only the cooperation of Mary, nothing from Joseph! This, as St Augustine would later write, revealed to us the sovereign grace of God”, that the salvation offered to is no fruit of human endeavour; it is gift from God, and there was no other reason or cause for it but His love.
However Joseph’s active cooperation was required on another level: We have heard in the gospel: “She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.” And this Joseph did! and then proceeded to care for them, in the long term. Joseph is the man of faith who entrusting himself to a mystery which he could not understand but of which he was nonetheless part, proceeded with the work of God.
In this Joseph shared in the tradition of the patriarchs, from Abraham, father of faith, through Joseph, who fed his brothers in Egypt, to David, from whom St Joseph could share his lineage with Jesus. The righteous patriarchs of Israel find their culmination in St Joseph. None of them knew the great mystery of which they were a part – but, in that twilight zone, they did their share. And this must be true for us too. We do not understand, and cannot demand to understand, in full, God’s workings even in our own lives but, trusting in Him we can follow His way and He will fulfil his purpose in each and every one of us.
Thirdly and finally, we heard: that “Joseph, being a man of honour and wanted to spare her publicity.” At that time the penalty for adultery, of which the Blessed Virgin Mary ran the risk of being convicted, was stoning, But Joseph was not one to pursue that; we see his ‘humanity’, his respect for Mary, though he did not understand her. Joseph thus could be a counter-cultural inspiration for our times, inside and outside the church, supporting a long overdue movement of our times. Respect, loyalty, moral fibre, and resilience, add to the attractiveness of this man of faith who can still inspire us.
Fr John O’Callaghan OSB