I can’t imagine living without the saints—real men and women who have proved the Christian claim for 2000 years—and yet that’s just what I did as a Protestant for the first 56 years of my life. I didn’t pay them any attention. How could I have lived without St. Joseph alone? On what grounds? He is the model of fatherhood (I have two daughters whom I adore), of what it means to be a husband (and a wife I double adore), of working hard (don’t we all?), and of a happy death (in the arms of Jesus and Mary). Why would I not be interested in St. Joseph? Why would anyone not?
Continuing my running account of how the devotion to St. Joseph developed from the late middle ages through the time of St. Teresa of Avila, we come to St. Francis de Sales (1567–1622). According to Joseph F. Chorpenning, OSFS, St. Francis de Sales’s Introduction to the Devout Life (1609) “develops a positive and practical spirituality for married people and families” by focusing on the Holy Family and, by extension, on the centrality of St. Joseph. “Who can doubt,” he wrote, “that when this holy father came to the end of his years, he in turn was carried by his divine foster Child on his journey from this world into the next, into Abraham’s bosom, from there to be translated into the Son’s own bosom, into glory, on the day of His Ascension?” Just 300 years before St. Francis de Sales, no one in Christendom would have placed St. Joseph, the “silent man” of the Gospels, so close to the center of Salvation history.
Three times the scripture says of Joseph: “He rose up.” He rose up to carry out God’s will as he perceived it in his conscience, a conscience that was so alert that it perceived the message of the angel even in sleep, although that message called him to a path of duty that he himself neither devised nor expected.
According to the witness of the Bible, this insignificant man’s humble routine concealed a further object of value: righteousness. Joseph was a just man, the Bible says, a man who regulated his life according to the word and law of God. Not only when this law suited his desires, but always and at all times, even when it was hard, and when the law judged to his disadvantage that his neighbor was right. He was righteous in that he was impartial, tactful, and respectful of Mary’s individuality and even of that which he could not understand in her.
[To be continued tomorrow]
St. Joseph, most blessed of all male saints, model for fathers and husbands and workers everywhere, pray for us!