Canons Regular of St. John Cantius

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By Fr. Anthony J. Rice, S.J.C.

St. Joseph plays a prominent role in the first few chapters of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. The seasons of Advent and Christmas are an excellent time to meditate on St. Joseph. The Church wants us to know more about St. Joseph and his role in the great plan of Redemption. Of all men, Joseph was chosen to be the husband of Mary, the Foster Father of Christ, the Guardian of the Redeemer, and the Head of the Holy Family. Therefore, we can rightly say that he is blessed among all men.

The Gospel of St. Matthew emphasizes the effect of the Incarnation on Joseph, the just man. It is a grave error to think that at the time of the Annunciation, Mary and Joseph were not yet married and that Mary would have been a young unwed mother. This is simply not true and this is not the teaching of the Church. Mary was betrothed or espoused to Joseph. In the Jewish custom when a man and woman were betrothed, they were legally married and recognized as such by society, law, and religion. But during the betrothal the couple did not live together. So, Mary and Joseph were truly married, they were husband and wife. God created marriage and the family as a good and He gave them sanctity. He would not permit His Son to be conceived out of marriage or to be denied the opportunity to be part of a family with a mother and an earthly father. In the eyes of others, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were a typical, ordinary family in Nazareth.

St. Matthew tells us that Joseph is perplexed and confused about Mary’s pregnancy; he does not understand. There are some who think that Joseph felt unworthy to be married to the woman who was soon to become the mother of the Messiah, for he knew of the great sanctity of his spouse and he realized that she could nothing sinful. So there was never any thought in Joseph’s mind of Mary having been unfaithful.

The Gospel of Matthew tells us of another Annunciation: the Annunciation to St. Joseph. While Joseph is pondering over what he should do, the angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and explains how Mary conceived and who the Child is: He is Christ the Redeemer. Scripture does not tell us the name of the angel who appeared to Joseph in his dream, but some Church Fathers and Doctors believe that this was the angel Gabriel who also announced to Mary that she would be the Mother of God. How fitting and appropriate this would be for Gabriel to be sent to Mary and Joseph to announce the coming of Christ and to announce God’s plan for them: Mary to be the mother and Joseph to be the earthly father of the Son of God. These two people would have the most important role of any people on earth because they would be the ones responsible to nurture, teach, and raise Christ, the Son of God.

One similarity between the two Annunciations is that both Mary and Joseph are deeply troubled and the angel tells both of them: “Do not be afraid”. Both have found favor with God because He chose them from among all people in the world for this moment and for their mission. Joseph, like Mary, submitted his will to God and he responded with his own fiat. He, too, said “Be it done unto me according to Thy word” for when he awoke he did as God had commanded him which was made known through the message of the angel. With the explanation from the angel, all the doubts and fears of St. Joseph are alleviated. Joseph was made more aware of his spouse’s great sanctity and that she was chosen to be the Mother of the Redeemer. This confirmed that he would have an important role in God’s plan of salvation. Joseph truly is that most faithful helper in the great plan of Redemption.

Joseph, the just man, obeys God. He asks no questions. He simply believes and trusts in God. Because of his belief he was obedient and humble. Joseph accepted his role as husband and father. He provided a home for Jesus and Mary, he supported and protected them. What joy and humility must have filled the pure and loving heart of St. Joseph. It is difficult to fathom the sanctity of Joseph. Everyday he looked into the face of Jesus who is both God and man. He held Jesus in his arms; he taught Him how to speak, how to pray, and how to be a carpenter; he listened to Him and spoke with Him everyday. Venerable Louis of Granada, a Dominican priest from the 1500’s, writes the following:

“Joseph realized how great was the blessing which God had bestowed upon him, a poor carpenter, in decreeing that from his house and family should come the hope and salvation and remedy of all generations and that he should be guardian and putative father of the Savior and the spouse of His blessed Mother. When a heart so pure and holy sees itself enclosed and inundated by such mysteries, what must it feel? How astonished and enraptured it must be amidst such marvels and blessings, especially since the Holy Spirit usually gives to the just an experience or taste proportionate to the knowledge which He gives them. What must have been the state of Joseph’s will when his intellect was enlightened concerning the great marvels and mysteries?”

During Advent and Christmas we have the opportunity to increase our love and devotion to St. Joseph by meditating on his 7 Sorrows and Joys. The first sorrow and joy: The doubt of St. Joseph/The message of the angel. The second sorrow and joy: The poverty of Jesus’ birth/The birth of the Savior. The third sorrow and joy: The Circumcision/The Holy Name of Jesus. The fourth sorrow and joy: The prophecy of Simeon/The effects of the Redemption. The fifth sorrow and joy: The flight into Egypt/The overthrow of the idols of Egypt. The sixth sorrow and joy: The return from Egypt/Life with Jesus and Mary at Nazareth. The seventh sorrow and joy: The loss of the Child Jesus/The finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple. Reading the Gospel accounts from St. Matthew and St. Luke will show the important and essential role of St. Joseph in the events of the early life of Christ. As the Head of the Holy Family, Joseph fulfilled his duties and was present at all of these events. What kind of father would he have been if he were not present and if he would not have done what a father is supposed to do? God would not have chosen a man to be the Head of the Holy Family who would neglect or evade his responsibilities and duties.

In these days of Advent, let us be more like Joseph by imitating his humility and by our submission to and acceptance of God’s most holy will. In doing so we will have true peace and joy. As the Nativity of Our Lord approaches, St. Joseph asks us to be simple and humble in our contemplation of Mary and Christ. And if we stay close to St. Joseph he will help us to contemplate this tremendous, marvelous mystery of which he was a silent witness and to gaze lovingly at Mary as she holds in her arms the Son of God made man. In whatever need we have, the Holy Patriarch Joseph, will hear our prayers. Let us ask him to make us simple and pure of heart so that we will know how to show our love for Christ as he did.