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Joseph, Husband of Mary, Key to the Holy Family
Published: Monday, March 19, 2012
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St. Joseph of Nazareth sometimes has been taken for granted. Still, we know how important his role was as the spouse of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and as the foster father of Jesus.

Once we say that, we wonder how we could forget about him. In fact, for many centuries it seemed the Church did just that. In the early centuries the Church was struggling with heresies and false doctrines about Jesus. It faced major theological struggles and was in the process of growing in its own self-understanding. No wonder Joseph got lost in history.

Count the number of words about Joseph in the New Testament. There aren’t many. But what is said is extremely important. You can’t think about Mary and Jesus without Joseph’s presence. In fact, their very safety depended upon him. This is shown when Joseph took his family into Egypt to avoid the massacre of male babies ordered by King Herod.

Joseph is referred to as the “father of Jesus” (Jn 1:45; Lk 4:22). Matthew and Luke tell us that Joseph was of Davidic descent (Mt 1:2-16; Lk 1:27). He is described as a carpenter or an artisan (Mt 13:55) and trains Jesus in that same work (6:3). When Mary becomes pregnant with Jesus, Joseph is upset, not knowing what to do, and yet thoughtful enough not to expose Mary publicly. He learns in a dream that Mary’s child is from God and that he should indeed take her to his home, which he does.

Artists in the past, in an attempt to reinforce the Church’s tradition of Mary’s perpetual virginity, have pictured Joseph as an old man. Actually, there is no reason to think that Joseph was not young and that his family was not like any other normal family. The holy family lived like all other families of the same time and culture, and, as Luke tells us, Jesus “grew in age and wisdom before God and man” (Lk 2:52).

Joseph’s final appearance in the Bible is when he and Mary look for Jesus when he remained in the Temple, eager to be about his Father’s business. Tradition has always held that Joseph died prior to Jesus’ entrance into his public ministry.

It is important for us to understand the love Joseph and Mary had for each other as husband and wife. The title of Joseph’s March 19 feast day is “Husband of Mary.” Mary’s virginity would never lessen her love for him as her spouse, protector and provider.

As the history of the Church and its doctrine grew through early crises, the awareness and veneration of Joseph began particularly in the Eastern Church. In the West, the feast of St. Joseph was introduced into the calendar in the late 15th century. Saints such as Bernardine of Siena and Teresa of Avila, along with Ignatius of Loyola and Francis de Sales, actively promoted devotion to Joseph.

Finally, in 1870 at the end of the First Vatican Council, Pope Pius IX declared Joseph to be the patron saint of the Universal Church. Joseph is also the patron of workers, fathers and happy death, given that he died in the presence of Jesus and Mary.

Pius XII declared May 1 to be the feast of Joseph the Worker to counteract the Communist holiday. Finally, Joseph’s name was added to the first Eucharistic Prayer by Pope John XXIII in 1962.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

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