My novena to St. Joseph is nearing the end. His Feast Day crowns the week, on Friday. The devotion for today brings me to the heart of my love for St. Joseph—as the Patron of Families. “St. Joseph,” it begins, “I venerate you as the gentle head of the Holy Family. The Holy Family was the scene of your life’s work in its origin, in its guidance, in its protection, in your labor for Jesus and Mary, and even in your death in their arms.”
I am twice blessed in my family: first in the family of my parents, Dave and Nan Bull, and their six children; and second in the smaller family Katie and I have led, with our daughters, Martha and Marian. Every family falls short of the ideal of the Holy Family, of course, and my families have been 100 percent “fallen” people. I can give you details. I mean, the story about . . .
But this is the important thing: Bonded together as a family, we have added up to more than our sum. My parents and Katie’s parents both believed fully in the family—in the traditional family, yes, in a family led by a man and a woman—and they embodied the ideal well enough that, despite their many failings, something of their faith in family was transmitted through us to our children. No doubt, with the help of the Holy Family and its silent father, Joseph.
While St. Teresa of Avila and St. Francis de Sales were increasing devotion to St. Joseph in the Old World, explorers of and missionaries to the New World brought this devotion with them. Spiritually, in New Spain and New France, whole communities were founded on the love of St. Joseph and a devotion to the Holy Family. According to an essay on the Holy Family Devotion by Joseph F. Chorpenning, OSFS, which I have been citing, the First Provincial Council of Mexico (New Spain), declared St. Joseph patron of the ecclesiastical Province of Mexico in 1555. His feast day immediately became a holy day of obligation for New Spain, 66 years before Pope Gregory XV designated it for the Universal Church.
The Flemish lay brother Fray Pedro de Gante (1486–1572) especially spread the cult of St. Joseph in Mexico. He had been educated by the Brethren of the Common Life, who esteemed the writings of Jean Gerson (1363–1429), one of the first to foster devotion to St. Joseph. In the late 1520s, Fray Pedro placed the first school founded to instruct native children of New Spain under the saint’s protection. By the end of that decade, only the second or third church ever dedicated to the saint, St. Joseph of Bethlehem of the Natives, was dedicated in Mexico City.
And so it went, from one community, chapel, or city named for San José to another. Meanwhile, in modern-day Canada (New France). Chorpenning writes: “History repeated itself when New France followed New Spain’s example and chose St. Joseph as its patron in 1624. Moreover, the cult of the Holy Family which is implicit in the devotion to St. Joseph that flourished in New Spain becomes explicit in New France.” Ancestors of present-day Canadians celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family two full centuries before it was recognized by the Universal Church.
Here in New France a French Ursuline nun, Blessed Marie of the Incarnation (1599–1672), was the first woman missionary to the New World. According to her own writing, God commanded her “to build a house in Canada in which He would be adored and praised in company with Jesus and Mary—with with St. Joseph who should never be separated from them.” A tradition of devotion to St. Joseph extends through Canadian history toward our time, reaching its high point with the life of Blessed (soon to be Saint) André Bessette (1845–1937) (left), whom I have written about previously and with affection.
To continue the homily for the Feast of St. Joseph by Karl Rahner, SJ:
[St. Joseph’s] loyalty to duty and impartial righteousness, which is a manly form of love,also lived in him with respect to God his Father. He was a devout man and he was manly in his devotion. For him the service of God was not a matter of pious feelings that come and go, but a matter of humble loyalty that really served God and not his own pious ego. As Luke says: “Every year he went to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, according to the custom.” Now we can tell what was the most important element in the life of this man whose everyday life was a life of duty, righteousness, and of manly devotion: this life was given the charge of protecting in a fatherly way the savior of the world.
Blessed St. Joseph, Patron of Families, pray for our families. May they be modeled after your own at Nazareth!