St. Joseph, Terror of Demons, Pray For Us!

St. Joseph stands as a stark repudiation of Satan’s disdain for human weakness. No wonder Satan’s slaves fear him so much.

Anton Raphael Mengs, “The Dream of St. Joseph,” ca. 1773-1774
Anton Raphael Mengs, “The Dream of St. Joseph,” ca. 1773-1774 (photo: Public Domain)

Perhaps no man in our world’s history has better exemplified the adage “actions speak louder than words,” than St.  Joseph. The Gospels themselves do not reveal one word Joseph spoke in his lifetime, and we have no record of a single sentence spoken by Our Lord’s adoptive father.

But despite his silence, Joseph is our Church’s greatest male saint. He is the ordinary carpenter tasked with protecting the Immaculate Conception and serving as father to the Word Incarnate. We may not know any words he spoke, but we have ample evidence of the manner in which he lived. In every Gospel scene in which Joseph plays a role, we witness a pious man of action. At every moment he is listening to the will of God and moving forward to carry it out even under the most trying circumstances, as when he flees the murderous wrath of a despot to save his family. Even when he initially hesitates to move forward with his marriage to Mary after her shocking revelation, he reverses course unflinchingly once instructed by an angel to take her as his bride and protect her and her child.

In the two millennia since Joseph lived, the Church has bestowed many titles upon him. But my favorite has always been his unique moniker of “St. Joseph, terror of demons.” This man was not a fiery preacher like St.  Paul, nor did he suffer a martyr’s death. To our knowledge he performed no great miracles. He was a husband and a father, albeit one called to live out his vocation utterly differently than any man before or since. So why would demons fear this quiet man?

I believe the answer lies in the single phrase that is repeatedly used in relation to Joseph: “He rose and did as the angel had commanded.” Throughout the Gospels we see angels make incredible demands of this man, who no doubt expected to live a quiet ordinary life in his small town, and we see him meet each challenge without hesitation. Joseph was subject to the same fears, worries and temptations that we all face in our fallen world, but he never allowed the Evil One to prey upon his uncertainties. How puzzling and frustrating he must have been to Satan and his minions. It is in our moments of indecision and fear that we are most vulnerable to the forces of Hell. When we sense the will of God but waver, paralyzed by either the fear that we are not capable of carrying it out, or by the fear of the consequences if we do, these critical moments are when the Devil and his demons strike the hardest, stoking our fears and insecurities, working ceaselessly to obfuscate the voice of Our Lord in our hearts.

One can only imagine then how the demons must have shrieked in fury when faced with Joseph. This man, whose role in salvation history can hardly be overstated, could so easily have fallen short of the great commission with which he was tasked. He had every earthly reason to evade the calling that was placed before him, and indeed by the religious norms of his day quietly divorcing Mary would have been the decent and respectable path. In the brief moments he considered this option how Hell must have rejoiced as it appeared that he would not cooperate with God’s will. But instead the unassuming carpenter listened to the angel, who told him not to be afraid and to accept this almost incomprehensible task before him.

There was no period of weighing pros and cons or calculating the social costs of his obedience. He simply “did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Matthew 1:24) and the matter was settled. I am sure Joseph still had many questions. The Gospels do not need to tell us what he thought however because regardless of any confusion he may still have felt, he never once shirked his duties as a protector, husband and father. He sacrificed the normal family life which he had doubtless expected and instead accepted the monumental role that had been reserved for him from the foundations of time.

Can we be surprised then that it is Joseph who instills such fear in Satan’s slaves? He stands as a stark repudiation of their very hatred and disdain for humanity’s weakness. Through his faith and humility he thwarted their efforts and helped bring God’s glorious plan of resurrection and redemption to fruition.

We do not know how or when Joseph died. Tradition tells us he passed away in the presence of Mary and Jesus sometime shortly before Jesus began his public ministry. One can only imagine the welcome he received when he finally entered the heavenly throne room. Through his intercession may we also lead lives of courage and action in service of God. May we turn to him in moments of crisis and indecision, when doubt and fear threaten to overwhelm and consume us. And may we follow his example to carry out the duties that the Lord has placed before us.

St.  Joseph, terror of demons, pray for us!

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