Thursday, December 18, 2014

Joseph’s Third Day

St. Joseph is honored by two official Catholic feast days, March 19 and May 1. That’s twice what most saints get, though still a fortnight or so short of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

St. Joseph’s first day, March 19, is his official feast, observed traditionally in the Roman Catholic Church for eleven hundred years and officially for nearly 450 years. In 1570, Pope St. Pius V made it standard for all churches celebrating the Roman Rite. It was on this day in 2008, four days before my confirmation as a Catholic, that, hearing the day’s liturgy, I decided to take the name Joseph when I was received into the Church.

From 1870 until 1955, the Church celebrated a feast honoring St. Joseph as Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Patron of the Universal Church, also known as the Solemnity of St. Joseph. In 1955, that observance ended and a new one replaced it: the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. May 1 (May Day) was chosen because it was International Labor Day. This is St. Joseph’s second day. I have chosen it for the start of my pilgrimage to the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal.

Today’s Gospel chronicles St. Joseph’s big moment in salvation history. Thus it marks a sort of third day for the patron saint of the Universal Church. Joseph is also the patron of fathers, carpenters, social justice, and the dying.

St. Joseph doesn’t get more ink anywhere than he does in Matthew 1:18–25:

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, 
and they shall name him Emmanuel, 
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.

Joseph’s name is mentioned four times only, plus he is awarded a few pronouns. That’s all. We learn that he (1) was betrothed to Mary, (2) was a righteous man, (3) was open to the word of God received in a dream, and (4) obeyed the word of God. Finally, we learn that he remained chaste in his marriage while Mary carried their child, and when the boy was born, Joseph named him Jesus.

In all this, Joseph never says a word. He is the original “strong silent type.” If only I could follow his example! I’m still working on strong and don’t even ask me about silent. 

In 1870, St. Joseph was named the patron saint of Canada. This event, when Brother André Bessette was twenty-five years old and still discerning his religious vocation, may have influenced his lifelong devotion to the Foster Father of Our Lord. His mother was also a devotee of the saint.

Brother André’s devotion led to the construction of the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal, the world’s largest shrine to Joseph and the destination of my pilgrimage on foot next spring.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

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