During the month of September, we traditionally honor the Seven Sorrows of Mary. We recall the seven swords of sorrow in which Our Blessed Mother was pierced, from the prophecy of Simeon in the Temple to the laying of Jesus in the sepulcher. Just as St. Joseph was associated with Mary in her joyous and glorious privileges, so too, he also had deep sorrow and was afflicted in his chaste heart over the sorrowful events he endured in union with Jesus and Mary during his lifetime. Like Mary, St. Joseph suffered continually in his heart, however at these seven events his suffering became more acute but with heroic constancy he proved his love for God by his trustful abandonment to the Divine will. By meditating on the sorrows of St. Joseph we can find in him a compassionate fatherly heart to strengthen and encourage us through the difficulties and trials we encounter in this vale of tears.
The first sorrow of St. Joseph was the anguish he suffered when he understood that the Virgin Mary, his betrothed, was with Child before they had lived together. Without doubting the holiness or purity of Mary he was simply confronted with the law of God and decided to put her away quietly. He did not want to see Mary stoned to death or left in disgrace and yet he was prepared to obey God’s law rather than be unfaithful to God. This was an anguish for a devoted heart like St. Joseph’s who loved Mary more than we can understand. Like Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his own son Isaac in obedience to the God’s command until the Angel of the Lord restrained him, Joseph, too, was willing to “put away quietly” the woman he loved and be separated from her rather than be unfaithful to God’s law. Like Abraham, Joseph’s justice and faith in God was rewarded. Even as Abraham kept his son and sacrificed a ram instead, Joseph, too, was rewarded by keeping Mary. Scripture tell us “on his thinking of these things, behold, a messenger of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which was begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit’” (Mt 1:20). However, the words spoken by Abraham in reply to his son Isaac would be fulfilled by the son of the carpenter and Son of God, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, My Son” (Gn 22:8). Indeed, Joseph protected the giver of the New Covenant, Christ the Lord, the Lamb of God, Who would sacrifice Himself for the many who would believe in Him.
The second sorrow was the deep hurt and rejection St. Joseph suffered in the town of Bethlehem in search for a place for the Mother of God to give birth to Our Lord Jesus. St. Joseph’s sorrow was not for himself but for the privations of young Mother Mary, the Queen of the Angels, and her Infant God to be born in a stable because there was no room in the inns. The hearts and homes of the multitude in Bethlehem were closed to this poor Holy Family. They wandered from place to place only to be rejected by the lovers of this world. With great uncertainly and sorrow Joseph prepared the only stable he could find, where animals feed, for the Virgin Mary to miraculously give birth to the Son of God. Joseph waited patiently on God the Father to lead him like a blind man completely dependent upon His will.
The third sorrow was the circumcision of Jesus. While God did not permit Abraham to draw his son’s blood, Joseph was called to present the Infant-God to suffer the first shedding of His Precious Blood. What sorrow St. Joseph suffered at the sight of the wound, the Precious Blood shed and the tears of the Divine Mother. This was an anticipation of the Passion Jesus would suffer on Calvary in which St. Joseph would not be present but mystically understood in this first shedding of Blood.
The fourth sorrow occurred at the prophecy of the aged Simeon when St. Joseph learned that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary’s soul. St. Joseph, who was learned in the Scriptures, understood that Jesus was the Messiah prophesized as the suffering servant of Isaiah whose humiliations and sufferings would deliver God’s people. From that moment on the sorrows of Jesus and Mary became his own and he carried these sorrows in his heart his whole life long.
The fifth sorrow was the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt to escape the persecution of Herod who was seeking the Infant King. This event filled St. Joseph with dread as he heard the exhortation of the angel, “Rise, take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the Child, to destroy Him.” This terror made St. Joseph depend completely on God to lead the Holy Family safely into exile. The fears suffered by the tender heart of St. Joseph cannot be measured. So great was his responsibility that he overwhelmingly depended even more strongly on the arm of the Lord to deliver them from evil.
The sixth sorrow was the hard trip back from Egypt. At the appointed time, the Angel of the Lord once again spoke to Joseph and made him aware that Herod was dead. “This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: ‘I called my Son out of Egypt’” (Mt. 2:16). Just as the Lord had drawn His people and made a covenant with them at the Passover leaving the cruel slavery of Egypt to the promised land under the Commandments of God, Joseph would protect the Son of God Who would make a New Covenant in His Blood the source of the Sacramental life of the Church, calling us by Baptism and the Eucharist to a Divine life in Christ as children of God.
The seventh sorrow was the loss of Jesus for three days on their journey from visiting the Temple in Jerusalem. Joseph’s sorrow was the responsibility felt as head of the Holy Family for the loss of His Son as well as the anguish of Mary. Although no one can understand the designs of God, this can be understood as a sharing in the sorrows of Mary where she would alone be separated from Jesus for three days from His death on the cross to His Rising on Easter Sunday morning. As Joseph would not live to share in these events God in His mercy and love fulfilled St. Joseph’s desire to share in the compassion of Jesus and Mary, His Lord and Son in union with His Mother and spouse.
If God so willed to have St. Joseph share in these sorrows, it is clear that He wants us also to honor his sufferings. We can grow to honor St. Joseph and endure our own crosses by meditating upon the patience, compassion, and long-suffering of St. Joseph throughout these sorrows.
May we find in the heart of St. Joseph a compassionate heart to accompany us along the way of the Cross.
Small and her husband Bill have made their solemn profession as Third Order Franciscans of the Immaculate, through the Franciscans of the Immaculate in New Bedford.