The admirable example of Saint Joseph

The admirable example of Saint Joseph
The admirable example of Saint Joseph

In his catecheses to young married couples, Pope Pius XII mentioned the figure of Saint Joseph on several occasions. We must also remember that it was Pope Pius XII himself in 1955 who established this feast of Saint Joseph the Craftsman on May 1 (while it was previously celebrated on the 3rd Sunday after Easter).

How could We, in receiving you, dear young spouses, not turn Our thoughts towards Saint Joseph, most chaste husband of the Virgin, patron of the universal Church, whose solemnity the Church celebrates today? If all Christians rightly resort to the protection of this glorious Patriarch, you certainly have a special title to do so.

All Christians are children of the Church. Through baptism this holy and sweet Mother gives souls a mysterious participation in the divine nature: grace; after having thus given birth to supernatural life, she does not abandon them, but provides them through the sacraments with the nourishment which will maintain and develop their life. In this way, the Church resembles Mary, Our Lady, from whom the Word received human nature and whose maternal care supported and nourished the life of Jesus. Now, in each of the children of the Church Christ must be formed (Ga 4:19), and each must tend to grow in virum perfectum, in mensuram aetatis plenitudinis Christi“in a perfect man, commensurate with the stature of Christ” (Eph 4:13).

But who will watch over this mother of Jesus? You have understood, he is the one who, some twenty centuries ago, was called to become the husband of Mary, the putative father of Jesus, the head of the Holy Family. What care he showed in fulfilling this sublime mission! We would like to know the small circumstances. But this favorite of divine confidence, which was to serve as a veil to the double mystery of the Incarnation of the Word and the virginal motherhood of Mary, seems in her earthly life as if hidden in the shadows. However, the rare and brief passages where the Gospel speaks of him are enough to show what head of family Saint Joseph was, what model and what special patron he is therefore for you, young spouses.

A very faithful guardian of the precious deposit that God had entrusted to him in Mary and her divine Child, he watches over their material lives above all. When, obeying the edict of Augustus, he left to be registered in the census register of Bethlehem, he did not want to leave Mary alone in Nazareth who was going to become Mother of God. In the absence of details in the evangelical texts, pious souls like to represent more intimately the care that he then lavished on the Virgin and her Child. They see him lifting the heavy door of the inn which was already full, like the khan of modern oriental villages; then apply in vain to his parents and friends; finally put off everywhere, strive to bring at least a little order and cleanliness to the cave. There he is holding in his virile hands the little hands trembling with cold of Jesus to warm them.

Having learned a little later that his treasure was threatened, “he took the child and his mother by night” (Mt 2:14) and along sandy paths, pushing stones and thorns out of the way, he led them to Egypt. He worked hard to feed them. On a new order from Heaven, probably a few years after his arrival, at the cost of the same fatigue, he led them to Galilee. In Nazareth (Mt 2:22-23), he showed Jesus, his divine apprentice, how to use the saw and the plane; to go to work outside he sometimes left his home and, in the evening when he returned, Jesus and Mary were waiting for him on the threshold with a smile; with them he sat around a small table for a frugal meal.

Providing daily bread for his wife and children: this is the most urgent task of a father. Oh ! his sadness, when he sees those he loves wasting away, because there is nothing left in the cupboard, nothing left in the purse!

But Providence, which led the first Joseph by the hand when, betrayed and sold by his brothers, he was first a slave, to then become superintendent, master of all the land of Egypt (Gen 41, 43; Gen 9) and provider of his own family (ib., 45, 18); Providence, which led the second Joseph to this same country, where he arrived destitute of everything, without knowing the inhabitants, the customs, or the language, and from where he nevertheless returned safe and sound with Mary still active and Jesus who increased in wisdom, age and grace (Lk 2:52); Would Providence no longer have today the same goodness, the same compassion, the same limitless power? Ah! rather, let us fear that men will forget the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ: “Seek first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness and everything else will be added to you” (Mt 6:33). Courageous and loyal, give to God what he has the right to expect from you: all your personal effort, the obedience that you owe to him as to the Supreme Master, the confidence that the best of fathers deserves. Then you will be able to count on what you expect from him and which he has promised you with these words: “Look at the birds of the air; look at the lilies of the field, and do not worry about tomorrow” (Mt 6:26-34).

Knowing how to ask God for what we need is the secret of prayer and its power, and it is another teaching of Saint Joseph. The Gospel, it is true, does not tell us expressly what were the prayers that were said in the house of Nazareth. But the fidelity of the Holy Family to religious practices is, if ever there was a need, explicitly attested to us when Saint Luke (II, 41 et seq.) tells us that according to custom Jesus went with Mary and Joseph to the temple of Jerusalem for the Easter holidays. It is therefore easy, it is sweet to imagine the Holy Family at the time of prayer. At the golden dawn or the purple twilight of Palestine, on the small terrace of their white house, facing towards Jerusalem, Jesus, Mary and Joseph are on their knees: as head of the family, Joseph recites the prayers, but it is Jesus who inspires her and Mary combines her sweet voice with the serious accents of the holy patriarch.

Future heads of family, meditate and imitate this example that too many men forget today. You will find in trusting recourse to God, not only supernatural blessings, but the best guarantee of that “daily bread” so anxiously, so laboriously, and sometimes so vainly sought. Delegates and representatives of the Father who is in heaven and “from whom all fatherhood is named in heaven and on earth” (Eph 3:15), ask him to give you something of his power, as he has given you something of his tenderness, in order to bear with dignity the very dear, but sometimes very heavy, burden of family worries and responsibilities.

Pope Pius XII

Speech to young married couples, April 10, 1940 (Salve Regina)

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