St. Joseph, Foster Father of Jesus

By Father John A. Hardon, SJ

(The Catholic Faith, March/April 1999)

Jesuit Father John A. Hardon, executive editor of Catholic Faith magazine, writes: “It is remarkable, how little the Holy Spirit says about famous people in the Bible. The classic example of this is Saint Joseph. He is the most prominent saint in the Catholic liturgy after the Blessed Virgin Mary. Yet there is not a single word in the Scriptures quoting Saint Joseph.

“Humility, we know, is the truth. It is the virtue that enables us to recognize and act on the recognition of our true relationship to God first, and to other persons.

“By this standard, Saint Joseph was a very humble man.

“He recognized his place with respect to Mary and Jesus. He knew that he was inferior to them both in the order of grace. Yet he accepted his role as spouse of Mary and guardian of the Son of God.

“The lesson for us is that genuine humility prevents us from claiming to be better or more than we really are. … Humility is the moral virtue that keeps a person from reaching beyond himself. It is the virtue that restrains the unruly desire for personal greatness and leads people to an orderly love of themselves based on a true appreciation of their position with respect to God and their neighbor. Religious humility recognizes one's total dependence on God. Moral humility recognizes one's creaturely equality with other human beings.

“The Church's constant tradition holds that Saint Joseph lived a life of consecrated chastity. Some of the apocryphal gospels picture him as an old man, even a widower. This is not the Church's teaching.

“We are rather to believe that he was a virgin, who entered into a virginal marriage with Mary. This was to protect Mary's reputation and safeguard the dignity of her Son.

“What is the lesson for us? That chastity has an apostolic purpose. It is meant to help us win souls.

“Joseph's obedience covers every aspect of his life.

“He was obedient in entering into a marriage with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“He was obedient in his willingness to put her away when, though he knew she was innocent, he found her with child.

“He was obedient when he went to Bethlehem to be registered with Mary, and accepted the humiliation of having Jesus born in a stable cave.

“He was obedient in taking the Child and His Mother by night and fleeing to Egypt.

“What are the lessons for us? Obedience is the test of our love of God. His laws are God's way of enabling us to prove our love for Him.

“There is not a single recorded word of Saint Joseph which he spoke during his years of caring for Jesus and Mary. … We may say that Joseph obeyed not because he was told to but because his mind was always conformed to the mind of God.

“The prudence of Saint Joseph is part of our Catholic faith. It is especially shown in his remarkable practice of silence. Of course, Joseph talked. Yet … we practice charity by our self-control. … For some people talk and more talk is an excuse for doing God's will, but speech is no substitute for actions.

“Prudence is the intellectual virtue by which a human being recognizes in any matter at hand what is good and what is evil. … As an act of virtue, prudence involves three stages of mental cooperation: to take counsel carefully with oneself and from others; to judge correctly on the basis of the evidence at hand; and to direct the rest of one's activity according to the norms determined after a prudent judgment has been made.

“Joseph deserves our admiration for his other virtues, but he is to be especially imitated in his love for Jesus and Mary.”

Ellen Wilson Fielding writes from Davidson, Maryland.