Francesco Conti (1682–1760), “St. Joseph with the Child” (Public Domain)
Based on the nature of happiness and the way he lived his life, Saint Joseph may have been one of the happiest men to ever live.
Saint Joseph, husband to Mary and foster father to Jesus, is the patron saint of a happy death. Perhaps especially for Catholic husbands and fathers, St. Joseph should also be our model for a happy life.
The Gospels tell us very little about Saint Joseph, leaving many of the specifics of his life to speculation. But I’m willing to guess that Saint Joseph was one of happiest men to ever live. We can conclude this based on the nature of happiness and the way that Saint Joseph lived his life.
Regarding happiness, we should recognize the relationship between happiness and fulfillment. As Saint Thomas Aquinas explains: “For since happiness is a ‘perfect and sufficient good,’ it excludes every evil and fulfils every desire. But in this life every evil cannot be excluded…” Thomas explains that perfect happiness “consists in seeing God,” or “the vision of the Divine Essence.” Because we do not have the Beatific vision of God in this life, we cannot be perfectly happy.
The fact that perfect happiness is impossible in this life might seem a bit depressing. But here is the good news. As St. Thomas explains, “a certain participation of Happiness can be had in this life.” And, since perfect happiness consists in seeing God, it follows that the greatest happiness—the greatest fulfillment—that we can achieve in this life is closeness with God.
What man in history was closer to God than Saint Joseph? Saint Joseph had the unique privilege of raising and protecting Jesus from His infancy to manhood, of watching Jesus grow up, of spending time with God. That unique blessing borders on the incomprehensible, as does the happiness and fulfillment that Joseph certainly found in that blessing. As St. Alphonsus Liguori writes: “St. Joseph was more honored by God than all the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and bishops: for all these have the name of servant, but Joseph alone that of father.”
When pondering the happiness of Saint Joseph, we can certainly look to his relationship with Jesus. We can ponder his relationship with Mary as well. It is difficult to fathom the happiness of Saint Joseph when considering the fact that Mary loved him so much. As Edward Healy Thompson, author of The Life and Glories of Saint Joseph, poetically explains, Saint Joseph enjoyed the virginal “love of her who with a single glance of her eye could enhance the joy of the angels of Paradise.”
By the Scriptural accounts, it is clear that Saint Joseph was also a good provider for Jesus and Mary; we can reasonably conclude that he was joyful in his work. Saint Joseph was a carpenter, which is a physically-demanding profession under any circumstances, but much more difficult prior to the advent of electricity and modern tools. Saint Joseph surely was a wonderful and talented carpenter; he no doubt saw the value in his work and realized that his work had dignity and value.
Saint Joseph likely experienced sorrows, and he certainly experienced difficulties; but in so many ways, these did not negate his fulfillment or his happiness. Even in death, as the Church has proclaimed, Saint Joseph was happy. Saint Joseph knew that he was going to be with Jesus and Mary again in a place where there are no good-byes. Saint Joseph died happy. Saint Joseph lived happy.
What lesson, then, does Saint Joseph have for us husbands and fathers? What can we learn from his happiness and fulfillment? Perhaps the lesson is that we should look for happiness in the right places, beginning with holiness. Saint Joseph’s relationships with Jesus and Mary inspired him to be holy. We can be like that, too. We cannot have the relationship that Saint Joseph has with Jesus, but because happiness is directly linked to union with God, we would be wise to unite ourselves with Him more often through Holy Communion. Though we cannot have the relationship that Saint Joseph has with Mary, we can still spend time with Mary—even speak with Mary—through the Rosary.
In our relationships with our wives, we can emulate Saint Joseph. While we are not called to virginity like Saint Joseph, we are nevertheless called to the friendship that marriage craves and the fidelity that marriage demands: a fidelity of body, soul, mind, heart, vision, strength, and memory. In our relationship with our children, we need to prioritize our time with them. Though our absence from our children can be the inevitable consequence of our jobs, we need to recognize the difference between avoidable and unavoidable absence. It is a temptation of modern men to work more and more hours in order to “get ahead” financially, yet they often lose their most precious and meaningful relationships in the process. Wealth and fame might be valid barometers of temporal success, but they are impostors of happiness. We can guess that Saint Joseph found some fulfillment in his work, but we can also guess that Saint Joseph couldn’t wait to finish his work and go home every night to Jesus and Mary.
Fulfillment is about happiness; fulfillment and happiness are about God. Saint Joseph understood that. Saint Augustine famously wrote: “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.” No doubt, but it’s also true that our hearts are unhappy and unfulfilled until they find happiness and fulfillment in God. Pondering the life of Saint Joseph should help us understand that.
St. Joseph, patron saint of the universal church, pray for us.
This article originally appeared at the Register on April 3, 2017.