Editor’s note: This begins a monthly series on St. Joseph by Grace Small, during this year of St. Joseph.
St. Joseph — Head of the Holy Family, Pray For Us!
On Dec. 8, 2020 Pope Francis wrote an apostolic letter, “Patris Corde,” which means “With a Father’s Heart,” to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pope Pius IX’s proclamation of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. His apostolic letter celebrates this anniversary with a special “Year of St. Joseph,” beginning on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception this past December to the same Solemnity on Dec. 8, 2021.
To honor St. Joseph, these monthly articles will focus on one aspect of St. Joseph with the same purpose in which Pope Francis expressed in his apostolic letter: “To increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal.” The theme for each month will be drawn from one of the verses in the Litany of St. Joseph and this month we will reflect on St. Joseph as “Head of the Holy Family.” Since we just celebrated Advent and Christmas it will be easy to recall the mysteries in which St. Joseph partook in order for us to draw fruit to increase our love for him, to trust in his power of intercession and to imitate his virtue and zeal.
Let us recall that Sacred Scripture first mentions St. Joseph at the Annunciation. “And in the sixth month, the Angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary”(Lk 1:26-27). Joseph is already the Head of the Holy Family at the moment of Christ’s Incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. He was a most virginal spouse wed to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Joseph was prepared by God for his vocation as head of the Holy Family. The Virgin Mary was truly his spouse as they lived a virginal married life in full mutual consent through the power and grace of God. It is important to note, especially in our times, that it is the consent that makes the Marriage real and binding, and not mere physical union. Joseph is the “Guardian of the Redeemer” in taking Mary as his wife and guardian of both her and the Fruit of her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. He undertakes his virginal fatherhood not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit, which is more perfect than a carnal union.
Joseph is also the Messianic Father with full legal rights over the Person of Jesus Christ. St. Joseph is of the House of David and thereby makes Jesus a descendant of David the King. The Angel Gabriel tells Mary, “Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son; and thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father; and He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever” (Lk 1: 31-32). While the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that she “shalt call His name Jesus,” it is Joseph who will give Him His name as his legal father.
St. Joseph took the leadership role as Head of the Holy Family when he heard the Word of God spoken to him by the angel who tells him, “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a Son: and thou shalt call His name Jesus. For He shall save His people from their sins. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: ‘Behold a virgin shall be with Child, and bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.’ And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife” (Mt 1:18-25). Speaking of St. Joseph’s faith, St. Josemaria Escriva wrote, “He kept the Commandments of God without wavering, even though the meaning of those Commandments was sometimes obscure or their relation to the rest of the Divine plan hidden from him, Joseph’s faith does not falter, he obeys quickly and to the letter. To understand this lesson better, we should remember that Joseph’s faith is active, that his docility is not a passive submission to the course of events. For the Christian’s faith has nothing whatever to do with conformity, inertia or lack of initiative” (“Christ is Passing By,” no. 42).
In the context of these difficult times we need to be faithful to God’s law and not conform ourselves to the practices of the world which may endanger our faith and separate us from God. We can recall how Joseph once again protected the Holy Family by obedience to the voice of the angel and escaped to Egypt. Joseph obeyed the command of the Lord through the angel who, “appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the Child and His mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the Child to destroy Him. He arose, and took the Child and His mother by night, and retired into Egypt: and he was there until the death of Herod: That it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: ‘Out of Egypt have I called My Son’” (Mt 2: 13-15).
Having lived in Egypt for a time the Holy Family did not assimilate or conform themselves to the pagan practices of the world around them. Rather, they lived more securely their faith in the plan God had for their family. By their prayers and good example they showed service and charity to their neighbors. By their just and upright lives of holiness they witnessed to their faith in the Living God. And by their fidelity to each other: husband to wife, wife to husband, parents to children and children to parents they gave witness to the fidelity of God. There out of the land of idolatry God drew His Son Jesus to the promised land of the Redemption and with Him, His Immaculate Mother and Foster Father St. Joseph. We, the Mystical Body of Christ, must follow them to the land of the Redemption. Only anchored in our Catholic faith, can we follow where they have preceded up while we as pilgrims witness to the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15).
What can we take from Joseph’s example as Head of the Holy Family? God wills to restore the family by means of a family, the Holy Family. The first mission of God was to establish the human family in the Garden of Eden and then in the fullness of time restore it by the Holy Family. That is where civilization and its renewal begins. Within the family of one man and one woman bound by the Sacrament of Matrimony, united by mutual consent, as modeled by the Holy Family, we see the way to restore both Church and society. In the Holy Family we witness the virtues of fidelity and chastity which we are all called to practice according to our state of life. We witness the fulfillment of the law of God and the precepts of the Church. Through prayer, we can imitate St. Joseph’s interior life, keeping silence so as to hear His Word at times spoken through the Angel of the Lord, at other times spoken by Our Lord Himself or the Immaculate Virgin, his spouse. Through the leadership of St. Joseph men find a perfect model to imitate, even as Jesus Himself obeyed and imitated. With these reflection’s let us “Go to Joseph” in thankfulness for his protection of the Holy Family, the Church and our very lives and find in him a loving father for all our temporal and Spiritual needs.
Anchor guest columnist Grace Small and her husband Bill are parishioners of St. Mary Church in Providence, RI and have made their solemn profession as Third Order Franciscans of the Immaculate, through the Franciscans of the Immaculate in New Bedford, MA. They have both earned a Certificate in Catechetical Studies through TINE, The Institute for the New Evangelization of the Archdiocese of Boston.