St. Joseph, a unique father
By Father Stanley Plutz SVD
The writer would like to share an insight about St. Joseph to help all appreciate the true dignity of St. Joseph. While he is not the father of Jesus by physical generation, he is more than the foster father of Jesus. He truly is the father of Jesus by being the husband of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The marriage customs of the Jews at the time of Mary and Joseph had two parts. The first part was the drawing up and the signing of the covenant between the man and woman who wanted to get married. This contract, or covenant, signed by the couple to be married and by two witnesses constituted a true marriage.
The married couple gave the first year of marriage to God. The wife remained in her parents’ home, and the husband refrained from having any intimate relations with his wife.
The second part of the marriage ceremony was performed a year later. In this ceremony, the husband took his wife into their new home, and they would live together.
The Archangel Gabriel sent by God appeared to Mary during that year after Joseph and Mary had contracted marriage but before they lived together. The angel announced to Mary that God had chosen her to be the mother of the promised Messiah. God, however, wanted Mary’s free consent since being the mother of the suffering servant of Yahweh meant that she would have to suffer with him.
Mary asked the angel how she would conceive since she was a virgin and had no sexual relation with a man. The angel explained to her that the Holy Spirit would work the incarnation in her. She consented to God’s plan and will by saying: "I am the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done to me as you have said." At that moment, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, the Divine Word, the Son of God entered the chaste womb of the Virgin Mary. "And the Word was made flesh."
Note that the incarnation happened within the marriage of Mary and Joseph, that is, when Mary was already married to Joseph.
In a true marriage, husband and wife share in each other’s goods. Joseph, as the husband of Mary thus shared in her most precious possession—her child. Thus, Joseph became the father of Jesus though his marriage to Mary.
In legal adoption, a man becomes a foster father by accepting a child conceived not by him but by another man. In the case of Jesus, there was no other man. There was the Holy Spirit, who used his divine power to accomplish the conception of Jesus in Mary. Thus, Joseph is not the foster father of Jesus. He has a much closer relation with Jesus than being his foster father.
Neither was Joseph the biological father of Jesus, for Mary, the mother of Jesus was always a virgin—before, during, and after the conception of Jesus. Joseph also was a virgin.
Joseph is a true father of Jesus, not by physical generation but by his being the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. His is a unique fatherhood. He is more closely related with Jesus than he would be as a foster father.
What then should his relationship with Jesus be called? He cannot be called simply "father." Calling him foster father of Jesus, however, does not give him due honor. May he be called the unique father of Jesus or special father of Jesus
And Joseph showed himself a father to Jesus in every way possible, except by physical generation. He proved himself a father to Jesus.
For instance, he protected Mary and her reputation. The Bible characterizes Joseph as a just man. This statement is made in regard to Joseph finding Mary pregnant with the Messiah by the power and working of the Holy Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit had entered into the life of Mary, Joseph was deciding to step out of Mary’s life. Archangel Gabriel, however, appeared to Joseph and confirmed the truth that Mary had truly conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and instructed Joseph to complete their marriage ceremony by taking Mary into their new home.
He protected the name of Mary, the mother of Jesus, by not reporting her pregnancy to the authorities. He had planned to step out of the marriage privately. He, thus, saved her from almost certain death. And he saved Mary from distress which may have caused harm to the child growing in her.
God likewise enlightened and made known to Joseph that he did have a place in God’s plan for the Messiah—for he was to give the child his Davidic ancestry, which was traced through the father.
Also in God’s plan, with Joseph included, the redeemer could be born into a human family in which he would have a virgin mother and a virgin father. Joseph was to take the place on earth of the redeemer’s father in heaven. As soon as Joseph learned of God’s plan, he complied with it immediately by completing the marriage ceremony and taking Mary into his home.
Joseph had a difficult assignment: namely, to be the chaste husband of Mary, unique father of Jesus and head of the holy family. A saint who meditated on the life of Joseph explained that God gives one the necessary graces to fulfill one’s vocation. God gave Joseph all the graces that he needed to be the virgin husband of Mary, unique father of Jesus, and head of the holy family.
Although there was no room in the inn or in a relative’s home in Bethlehem, Joseph found a place for Mary to give birth, a cave in a field. He cleaned up the inside of this shelter, meant and used animals, and built a fire to make it a cozy room where Jesus could be born.
He provided food and drink not only for himself but also for Mary and the child. This was a constant task and not always easy to do, especially when the three of them were away from Nazareth, where Joseph had his shop.
By obeying the angel’s command to promptly flee into Egypt, Joseph saved the life of Jesus from Herod, who planned to kill the child.
Joseph helped Mary educate Jesus. He taught Jesus the carpentry trade. In those days—even as today in countries such as the Philippines—to be a carpenter meant having skills not only with wood but also brick, stone and metals, such as iron.
Was anyone closer to Jesus and Mary than Joseph? He continually contemplated their well-being. He frequently talked with them. Talking with Jesus and Mary can be called a kind of prayer. He is thus a model of prayer. In our conversations with Jesus and Mary, we can include Joseph. Persons may rightly pray, as many do, "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph."
Joseph was not only the husband of Mary and unique father of Jesus but likewise head of the holy family. When danger threatened, Archangel Gabriel appeared to Joseph, as the head of the holy family, in a dream and warned him of the plan of wicked Herod and directed him to take the mother and child and flee into Egypt. Joseph immediately obeyed him. Mary cooperated closely with him, a fact that is well illustrated in the account of the flight into Egypt.
St. Joseph has been declared patron of the universal Church. Catholics can go to Joseph for the aid of his intercession with the Lord in the struggle with the forces of evil. Joseph has several important titles entitling him to be heard by God. He is the husband of Mary, who is Queen of Angels and people, of heaven and earth. He is the unique father of Jesus, who on earth obeyed him. From his powerful intercession, the Church will surely receive help.
Devotees rightly pray to Joseph for a happy death, for Mary and Jesus were surely with him as he lay dying. Their presence, words, and actions helped him endure the separation of his soul from his body.
St. Arnold Janssen was an ardent devotee of St. Joseph and an example for us. One way St. Arnold showed his devotion to St. Joseph was that he entrusted all his financial matters to St. Joseph, who had provided for the needs of the holy family. As founder of the Society of the Divine Word, St. Arnold had a number of building projects constantly going on to house the increasing number of priests, sisters, brothers, and seminarians, who wanted to be missionaries and had joined him. And the missionaries in the constantly increasing number of missions taken over and administered by St. Arnold Janssen and his council had to be supported. St. Joseph always provided the money need for any project inspired by God for St. Arnold to undertake. St. Joseph provided the money needed but nothing extra.
Brother Lidwinus Middendorf, a Divine Word brother at Steyl in the time of St. Arnold, wrote of his trust in St. Joseph and of St. Joseph providing the needed help:
"While the north wing (of the mission house in Steyl) was under construction, the necessary funds were lacking. The workers had already issued an ultimatum: If they were not paid by Saturday, they would go on strike. Saturday morning came and still there was no money. Father Arnold went to the church and knelt down before the statue of St. Joseph and remained there in prayer for two solid hours without getting off of his knees. After two hours, he was called to the parlor where an unknown gentleman handed him a substantial sum of money."
The workers were paid and construction could go on. Was the gentleman St. Joseph himself or did he send some other generous benefactor?
St. Joseph, pray for us!