The Sorrows, and Joys, of St. Joseph for Today

There was sorrow as well as joy in St. Joseph’s life — and his reponse can aid our own Christian journeys.

A statue depicts St. Joseph holding Baby Jesus.
A statue depicts St. Joseph holding Baby Jesus. (photo: Shutterstock)

As the Solemnity of St. Joseph falls every year during Lent, both Lent and his feast day are excellent reminders that there was sorrow as well as joy in St. Joseph’s life — and his reponse can aid our own Christian journeys. 

“When Mother Angelica built the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, she had two great bronze doors constructed for the entrance to the church. One depicts the Seven Joys of Our Lady and one the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady. Some of the joys and sorrows of St. Joseph are the same as those of Our Lady,” Father Joseph Mary Wolfe of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word and EWTN chaplain, told the Register. 

Father Wolfe further explained, “One of the reasons for having these joys and sorrows depicted on the doors is to convey the message that joys and sorrows are a part of all of our lives, just as they were for Mary and Joseph, but having ‘passed through’ the joys and sorrows of this life — symbolized in the great bronze doors — we enter into the beauty of heaven.”

Let’s consider some lessons.

“Joseph’s Doubt” is the initial sorrow. Devin Schadt, cofounder of the Fathers of St. Joseph and author of books on St. Joseph, the latest being Custos: Total Consecration Through St. Joseph, points out that Jewish marriage consisted of two parts: the betrothal, during which they were actually married, and the solemnization, which was usually a year later. During that period, Joseph learned Mary was expecting a child.

“The trial that St. Joseph encountered in Mary’s pregnancy cannot be overstated,” Schadt told the Register. “Joseph knew Mary’s holiness, her purity, her interior and external beauty, and her love for God. It was for these reasons that he loved Mary and desired to be her husband. Yet the woman whom he loved was now pregnant. St. Joseph could not believe that Mary was guilty of adultery, nor could he prove to the Jewish authorities that Mary was innocent of committing adultery.”

Schadt said the Greek words of the Scripture tell us, “Joseph did not simply ponder or think about the potential loss of Mary. He passionately grieved in an anxious state. However, St. Joseph did not respond by allowing his passions and emotions to control him, but, rather, he mastered his emotions by surrendering his passions to God.”

He took his dilemma to God, trusting that God would provide. 

And indeed he did, in the joy of “The Message of the Angel.”   

Schadt saw this sorrow-joy connection reflected in the lives of friends he calls Tom and Eileen, whose baby daughter had anencephaly, meaning she was born without parts of her brain or skull.

Before they married, Tom and Eileen prayed weekly outside their local abortion facility, hoping mothers seeking abortion would have a change of heart and choose life. They “offered their trial of Mary Karol to God,” he explained, hoping and praying mothers would choose life.

Mary Karol was born, and Tom told visitors, Schadt recalled, “with joy and a broad, sincere smile to match: ‘Look at our beautiful baby girl. She’s perfect,’ And he meant what he said.” The baby died two days later. “On that day, there was only one pregnant mother who came to the abortion mill. But after meeting some of the people praying outside, she repented and decided to keep her baby. Tom and Eileen’s prayers were answered.”

Schadt added, “Sometime later, a young, pregnant mother, intent on having an abortion, after meeting the people praying outside of the same abortion clinic, decided that she would not abort her child, but asked the people praying if they knew of anyone who would want to adopt her child. Tom and Eileen adopted her child, Meredith, who is now 18 years old. Tom, like St. Joseph, has taught me that those who wait on the Lord will never be put to shame. God indeed will provide.” 

Next comes “The Poverty of Jesus’ Birth.” Imagine how St. Joseph must have felt knowing Mary was going to give birth to the Son of God in such winter cold and, with its stench, in a stable meant for animals, the only shelter available. 

“Huddled close in the manger scene … rooted in God, affords them the joy and hope that conquers the dark, bitter night of this world,” Schadt explained. And that led to celebrating the joy of “The Birth of the Savior.” 

Schadt saw this second sorrow and joy reflected in a friend he calls Stephen, “an incredibly talented and published composer. After the birth of their fifth child, Stephen’s wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.”  

Through the “dark night of his wife’s MS remains, she is overcoming the condition miraculously, and is now symptom free — no doubt in large part because of Stephen’s sacrifices and love for her,” Schadt related, outlining the husband's care to look after the familial needs, from rising early, readying the children for Mass and school, and weekly grocery shopping. “Stephen’s family, like St. Joseph’s family, remind me that, despite the sufferings that continue to persist, a family led by a sacrificial father becomes a furnace of God’s self-giving love.”

The third and fourth sorrows revolve around “The Circumcision of Christ” and “Simeon’s Prophecy”; those difficult moments are joyfully countered by “the Holy Name of Jesus” and “The Effects of the Redemption.”

“As much as we do not want to see Our Lord suffer, he died on the cross for each and every one of us,” Father of Mercy Joseph Aytona, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin, told the Register. “Even when Our Lord was still an infant, he experienced pain in atonement for our sins. St. Joseph, being the legal guardian and father of our Lord, was there to console him in his pain.”

Turning to the next sorrow, he explained, “St. Joseph would have felt the sorrow of Our Lady, too.” Likewise, he added, “In our own lives, since the cross is necessary for discipleship, we should share in the sorrows of others.”

Father Wolfe believes that two of the sorrows of St. Joseph “are especially relevant for parents” — “The Flight Into Egypt” and “The Loss of the Child Jesus.”

“Parents often struggle to provide for their children and have to grow in their trust in divine Providence, in God who has entrusted their children to them,” Father Wolfe explained, following the example of “Mary and Joseph [who] had to go into a strange land ... [trusting] God’s providence.” The Flight was countered with the “Overthrow of the Idols in Egypt.” 

“In the Loss of the Child Jesus, I think of so many parents who grieve deeply over their children ‘being lost,” Father Wolfe said. “Of course, the Child Jesus did not go astray, but many parents experience, in some way, what Mary and Joseph experienced: ‘Your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.’ Parents of wayward children can find compassionate help in asking Mary and Joseph for their intercession.” 

Overall, explained Schadt, “The Perilous Return From Exile” illustrates the overall virtue of St. Joseph as he joyfully lived “Life With Jesus and Mary in Nazareth.” 

He said that “God established a fatherly paradigm in St. Joseph: A father is called by God to lead by loving and love by leading. Mary, most humble, allowed Joseph to lead, to protect, to provide and to be the priest of their family.” 

Schadt knows a family who does just this.

Years ago, he invited Ben to a Fathers of St. Joseph meeting. After experiencing familial conflict, brought about by extended family, Ben stepped up. “St. Joseph protected his family, and I am called to protect mine,” he told Schadt.

At dinner with this family, Schadt recalled, “Ben’s wife said that St. Joseph and his spirituality had not only made her husband a great man, but gave her a longing to support him in his role to lead their family to holiness.”