Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (Gen 15:1-6, 21:1-3; Lk 2:22-40) “The Fatherhood of St. Joseph” PDF Version
The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (2017)
This year, The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the Solemnity of Mary, The Mother of God, take place over two consecutive days. Since every Sunday is dedicated to speaking of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, these two feasts allow us to shift the focus away from Our Lord to speak of His Most Holy Mother and the man who was privileged to be known as the father of Jesus of Nazareth.
We can be confident that because our Lord has an everlasting love for Mary and Joseph, that to speak of them is to take no glory away from Him and speaks of the manifold ways His grace reigned in His parents and transformed them into the greatest saints of the heavenly court.
Today, I will speak of the Fatherhood of St. Joseph and tomorrow the Motherhood of Holy Mary.
In the early days of Christianity, there was a reluctance to speak of the Fatherhood of St. Joseph. To make clear that Jesus Christ was the only-begotten Son of God, Christians avoided speaking of St Joseph as Jesus’ father, out of concern that doing so would allow the opponents of Christian teaching to claim that Jesus was not divine but rather the son of a carpenter who rose to fame through his prophetic teaching and ability to work miracles (or simply to deceive gullible people through tricks and incantations).
There were also many disputes among the first Christians about the identity of Jesus Christ, how He was both God and Man, and that to speak of the fatherhood of St Joseph would only add greater confusion and allow those who desired to strip Jesus of His divinity to say He was the natural offspring of one, Joseph of Nazareth.
As the Christian faith spread throughout the world and settled the major disputes about the identity of Jesus and His relationship with God the Father, the Church developed a stronger confidence and assurance in encouraging devotion to St. Joseph and to see in him a model and example of true fatherhood. Even though the Church was absolutely clear that St Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus, and that he had no other children with the Blessed Virgin Mary, honouring her vocation to be a perpetual virgin before, during and after the birth of Jesus Christ, St. Joseph nonetheless can be called the father of Jesus of Nazareth in the truest sense of the word.
Many have called him the foster father of Jesus, while others have spoken of him as the virginal father of Jesus, a man who himself embraced the call to live as a chaste virgin, forgoing the joys of sexual love and procreative fatherhood to live a life of celibacy in deference and humility to honour the greatest vocation that had ever been given to a man: To be the most chaste spouse of the Holy Mother of God and virginal father to the Only-Begotten Son of the Eternal Father, which meant he would be father to the Word of God who was at the same time his Creator and his son!
There are three aspects of the Fatherhood of St Joseph that I would like to share today. The first is how his fatherhood was rooted in faith. The great patriarchs or fathers of the Old Testament were all revered as men of faith. We hear today of Abraham being promised to have descendents that would rival the number of the stars of heaven, and that he must trust and have faith that God would allow this to take place even if his wife Sarah was said to be barren.
But the children of Abraham should not be considered only those who would be biologically related to the great patriarch of Israel. Rather, this multitude of descendents would speak of all the spiritual children that were born of Abraham’s faith, a faith that would in time spread to the four corners of the world when Jesus Christ would command his Apostles to baptize all nations, bestowing on them the gift of faith in the Son of God and the joy of becoming one of God’s children.
Likewise, St Joseph was asked in faith to take Mary for his wife and care for a child that was not his own according to the flesh. He was asked to forgo having children of his own with his beautiful bride to be, and was asked in faith to be the father to the Messiah, to keep him safe and to love him as his own. In faith, he said yes to the will of God, and in saying yes became the father not only of Jesus Christ, but also the spiritual father to all those who would be baptized into the death and resurrection of his son.
This is why many Catholic Christians speak of St Joseph as their father and lord, for God wills that we go to St Joseph for fatherly intercession and strength, learning from him what it was like to be among the first disciples of Jesus and how he watched in wonder as the Son of God lived hidden in the forgotten sanctuary we call Nazareth.
A second quality of St Joseph’s fatherhood was his willingness to sacrifice his life for his family and for the good of others. Much of this sacrifice would have been found in his life of daily work. While many artists have depicted St Joseph and the child Jesus working side by side in a tranquil and tidy workshop, crafting tables and other household furnishings, we must appreciate that the life of a carpenter in 1st century AD Palestine would also compel them to undertake daunting tasks like digging trenches and foundations for homes by hand.
It was also not uncommon for the Roman Legions to exercise their right to enslave the men and women they had conquered to undertake tasks for the needs of the Empire, meaning it is not impossible to imagine St Joseph at times being conscripted into such slave like labour, perhaps even hewing wood for crosses that would be used to execute to his brethren. If he ever did so, we can imagine him praying for those who would suffer and maybe even visiting them in their agony to give them some word or gesture of comfort…
We can be certain St Joseph was not afraid of hard work and of sacrificing his own wants and desires to provide for his family and his community, asking a fair price for his work but also showing mercy to those who could not pay in full. He poured out his life as an oblation for those he loved, and those who go to him for assistance will find a man who showed his fatherly love through sacrifice not only to his wife and son, but all those who seek him out as a father in times of desperation.
Finally, we can speak of the fatherhood of St. Joseph in terms of perseverance. We know nothing of when St Joseph died, but many have suspected that because he is not mentioned in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ public ministry, that he passed away before our Lord revealed himself to be the Messiah. There are many depictions of the death of St. Joseph, with both Mary and Jesus enfolding him in their embraces, staying close to him until he breathed his last and went to be with his ancestors in Sheol, awaiting the day his son would break open the gates of the underworld and take him by hand into his heavenly reward.
St Joseph persevered in maintaining his faith in his son to the very end. He persevered in remaining faithful to his wife and son despite whatever challenges they would face. He did not abandon those he loved and did not forsake his faith in God, not even when they had to flee to Egypt or undergo the agony of hearing that Jesus would one day suffer for his people or when he was lost for 3 days in the temple.
Because he was a father of faith and sacrificial love, he was also a father who knew how to persevere, no matter what would come to pass. Let us go to St. Joseph to help us to persevere, especially for all those called to be fathers; that they stay true to their families, that they never abandon those they promised to love and protect, that they push away all sins that cause them to be unfaithful to their family in thought, word and deed, and that all of us, when our final hour comes, will be able to call upon St. Joseph to help us in our final perseverance, beseeching him to help us confess our sins, to make our peace with God and prepare ourselves to meet the One who in this life rejoiced to be known as Jesus, the son of Joseph.