Like his holy spouse, St. Joseph is known by many titles. In the Litany of St. Joseph, he is invoked with 24 of them. For his solemnity on March 19, we asked some prominent Catholics to share their favorite title of the Lord’s “foster father” — and what it means to so honor him.
Oblates of St. Joseph Father Larry Toschi, author of Joseph in the New Testament (Guardian of the Redeemer Books, 1991), founder of the Holy Spouses Society and pastor of St. Joachim Church in Madera, Calif., begins with the saint’s three principal titles.
“They go in order,” he says. “The No. 1 title is Husband of Mary, the title given by the Gospel and the Church. From that, the Fathers of the Church reflected and gave the second title: Father of Jesus. Joseph is Jesus’ father in every sense except biological. And the third that comes from these two: Patron of the Church.”
Father Toschi explains that, just as Joseph raised Jesus in his human nature — guarded him, taught him, nourished his body — he continues this role as patron of the Church because it’s the body of Christ. So it’s not for nothing that in the Litany of St. Joseph the last title recited is Protector of the Church.
Terry Barber, founder of St. Joseph Communications (StJoe.com) and St. Joseph Radio, favors a personal title. “We [invoke] St. Joseph, Protector of Our Children, because of the challenges our children are facing today,” he says. “They’re not being well-protected in our culture. A father is a protector, and I can’t think of a better father than St. Joseph. I want St. Joseph to protect my four children.”
“We had a great devotion to St. Joseph, even before I started St. Joseph Communications,” adds Barber. The devotion in his family dates to 100 years ago in Lebanon. His great-grandfather was praying in church when a nearby mine caved in. People rushed to tell him his eight sons were trapped in the wreckage. “He said St. Joseph will take care of my children,” recounts Barber. Joseph did. All eight boys were found and brought to safety.
Decades later, Barber’s mother and grandmother were miraculously uninjured in an auto accident as they invoked their patron. Says a grateful Barber, “St. Joseph is a good protector of our family.”
Ethicist and moral theologian Pia de Solenni speaks and writes nationally on religious, cultural and moral issues. (She’s online at PiadeSolenni.com.) She thinks of St. Joseph as the Young Father.
So many images picture him as an old man, she finds, “but I think he was a young, virile man. I like the concept of St. Joseph as a young man taking on this incredible mission.”
She has a favorite old prayer that has stuck with her since she worked at the Vatican. It goes, in part, O happy man, Blessed Joseph, to whom God was given, whom many kings wished to see … not only did you see him and hear him, but you were privileged to kiss God and carry God.
“This prayer shows how affectionate he was with Our Lord, and we don’t normally think about that,” says de Solenni. “Unpacking who St. Joseph was can do so much for our understanding of marriage and of the role of men.”
Jerry Coniker, cofounder of the Apostolate for Family Consecration (Familyland.org), is naturally drawn to St. Joseph, Head of the Holy Family.
Although very few people realize it, he explains, Joseph appeared on Oct. 13, 1917, in Fatima during the Miracle of the Sun in a vision of the Holy Family. “This is the first time St. Joseph is depicted not just as the protector but as the leader of the family,” Coniker points out. Sister Lucy described in great detail that Our Lady was standing next to Joseph, who was holding the Child Jesus. Both Jesus and he were blessing the world.
“This is very significant,” says Coniker, “because it shows Joseph in the leadership role of the family.” The apostolate commissioned a portrait of the Fatima vision and, with permission from then-Cardinal Ratzinger, showed it to Sister Lucia in 2001. “She said it was the best a human being could do” to portray what she saw, recalls Coniker.
Servants of Charity Father Joseph Rinaldo, U.S. administrator of the Pious Union of St. Joseph (PiousUnionofStJoseph.org), in Grass Lake, Mich., admits a soft spot for the title connected to his congregation’s charism — St. Joseph, Patron of the Suffering and Dying.
He came to an appreciation for this title while growing up in Sicily. “We grew up with the ‘table’ of St. Joseph,” he says. “For us it was like a catechism.” Elders performed stories in a little theater to teach the Catholic faith. At the end, “St. Joseph” would appear onstage and explain the lesson, telling of God’s love. At that point, attention turned to the table, in honor of St. Joseph’s concern for the poor, who then ate from it.
As a youngster, Father Rinaldo also admired the works of a priestly congregation dedicated to the elderly, the handicapped — and St. Joseph. “I put the two things together,” he says, “and saw St. Joseph as patron of the suffering and dying.” That devotion was promoted by his order’s founder, Blessed Louis Guanella. Today, the Pious Union has more than 4 million members praying daily for the suffering and dying.
Strong, Silent, Sanctified
Greg and Jennifer Willits, hosts of the Catholic Channel’s satellite-radio show “The Catholics Next Door” (TheCatholicsNextDoor.com) and founders of RosaryArmy.com, look more to certain qualities than particular titles in St. Joseph.
“The week before our baby was born I found myself asking for his help a lot,” says Greg. “St. Joseph had to do crazy things, like get up in the middle of the night and say, ‘We’re moving.’ He was able to deal with that level of stress.” He asked St. Joseph for special graces while waiting for their fifth child to join the family. The Willits have four young boys.
They named their baby daughter, born in January, Lily, after Greg’s great-aunt, a Christian writer and artist. This name also has a tie-in to St. Joseph. “We looked for a saint connection,” explains Jennifer. “There’s a correlation between St. Joseph and the lily. A verse applied to St. Joseph in the liturgy is: ‘The just man shall blossom like the lily’ (Isaiah 35:1-2), and the lily is used as an emblem of St. Joseph.”
Says Greg, “The just man applied to St. Joseph is a good reminder for me that I need to raise our boys to be strong men and good men — to be an example to their sister of the kind of good man she should eventually look for in marriage.”
Msgr. Christopher Walsh, author of The Untapped Power of the Sacrament of Penance (Servant, 2005), adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., and pastor of St. Joseph Church in Shelton, Conn., has a favorite title of his own: Joseph, Strong and Silent.
“There are no recorded words of his in the Scriptures,” explains Msgr. Walsh. “In that sense, he seems to be in the background. But you have the sense of this strong, guiding figure in the Holy Family. For us as Christians, especially Christian men, Joseph is a very good role model for a father, husband, priest, pastor and any young man.
“He’s strong and silent, neither of which is praised today, in the sense of St. Joseph. He was strong in chastity, obedience, humility and trusting when it’s hard to trust. Being strong and silent is countercultural and exciting.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.