Feast Day – March 19
As it was Mary of Nazareth who gave birth to Jesus, it was Joseph, the foster father, descendent of Jewish Kings, and builder-carpenter of Nazareth who gave name and identity to the Son of God on earth. We hear the astounded men of Nazareth, hearing Jesus preach and teach for the first time, exclaim: “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22)
Joseph’s strength of character, his respect in the community, his keen intellect called into play so often in moments of peril facing the Holy Family, his extraordinary kindness and profound intuitions – all of these characteristics pour out of the few passages in the New Testament which tells of this holy and awesome man, who was at once so very ordinary.
St. Joseph was long honored in the Eastern Church; and by the ninth century, he was honored as far away as Ireland. Then by the 15th century, Joseph became a popular saint in the western Church, with his feast introduced in the Western Liturgical calendar in 1479. St. Bernard, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Francis de Sales were among his admirers.
Particularly in the last century and a half, however, the Popes have called on Joseph and honored him as model in very specific ways.
In 1870, Pius IX named St. Joseph patron of the Universal Church.
In 1889, Leo XIII cited Joseph as model for fathers of families, placing Joseph next to the Virgin Mary among the saints in his encyclical, “On Devotion to St. Joseph.”
In 1920, Benedict XV named Joseph patron of workingmen.
In 1937, Pius XI placed the campaign against atheistic communism “Under the standard of St. Joseph” who “belonged to the working class and bore the burden of poverty for himself and the Holy Family.”
In 1955, Pius XII established the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker (May 1).
And it was the beloved Pope John XXIII who added St. Joseph’s name to the Canon of the Mass.
As to St. Joseph’s patronage of work, particularly the work of the Church on earth, one need but look to the hundreds of religious communities claiming Joseph as patron and inspiration, especially to the many Josephite communities of religious women founded in his honor.
In Lent and throughout the 50 days of Easter, we are asked to look to our own role, in the work of God’s Church on earth. Like Joseph, who often carried the young Jesus as he went to the village gates or to visit family members, we too need to carry Jesus with us in our work in this world. And we can surely pray for St. Joseph’s intercession as we pray for people in our nation and throughout the world who seek honest work each day.
What better companion for Lent, then, and guide for our work in the world than this Holy Man of the First Century, St. Joseph.