The Catholic Church has long-venerated Joseph for this single, powerful idea: it was into Joseph's hands that God entrusted his most precious treasures—his Son Jesus, and Mary, his holy mother. As Mary and Jesus are entrusted to Joseph, so too, does the Church, entrust itself to Joseph's active patronage and paternal protection, as Patron of the Universal Church.
John Paul II's 1989 Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos ("Guardian of the Redeemer") renews our understanding of this heroic patron saint.
God Entrusts Mary to Joseph
Matthew 1:19 describes Joseph of Nazareth as "a just man." This upright and devout man was destined to love and protect the future Mother of God.
According to Jewish custom, Mary's betrothal to Joseph was the first stage of their marriage, before Joseph took Mary into his home. As Luke 1:26-38 describes, it was during this betrothal that the angel Gabriel made his annunciation to Mary, and Mary gave her loving fiat—her "yes"—to being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit to miraculously receive Jesus into her womb.
Alongside Mary, Joseph, like no other person in history, shared the mystery of the Incarnation, up close.
In Redemptoris Custos, John Paul II notes a parallel "annunciation" story—that of Joseph being visited by an angel as he searched to reconcile the news of Mary's stunning maternity. It was the defining moment in Joseph's life.
When . . . Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband . . . a righteous man . . . unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph . . . do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
. . . When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home (Mt. 1:18-24).
God entrusts Joseph with Mary, and all the mystery of her motherhood. In this message God affirms Joseph as Mary's spouse who will, by law, be responsible for Mary's son, whom he will name.
Note Joseph's immediate obedience of faith, fully submitting his own will to the will of God. We see such obedience over and over again in Joseph's life.
Joseph responds to this annunciation as Mary did, giving a positive fiat of action at a decisive moment. Joseph's action says "yes" again to his marriage and "yes" to the new mission God ordains for his life.
The marriage between Joseph and Mary is a true union of souls, unique in light of salvation history. Whereas Adam and Eve were the source of an unleashing of evil on the world, Joseph and Mary are the summit from which holiness spreads over the earth. The Savior began the work of salvation by this virginal and holy union . . . to purify and sanctify the family (Redemptoris Custos, par. 7).
The mission of the Holy Family is, therefore, the mission for all Christian families: to guard, reveal, and communicate God's love!
God Entrusts Jesus to Joseph
The "hidden life" of Jesus' childhood is also entrusted to Joseph. He is eyewitness to the birth of Jesus. He greets the shepherds who come to adore the Infant Jesus. And he marvels at the coming of the Magi.
Joseph, in his religious role as father, brings Jesus to the temple for the rite of circumcision, and names him. The name of Jesus denotes his mission: "God saves."
But before Jesus can one day save, Joseph must first save Jesus from the malevolent Herod seeking to kill Jewish infants in order to wipe out any kingly rival being born among them (Cf. Mt. 2: 13-14). Again, God's angel speaks to Joseph in a dream. He promptly obeys, departing for Egypt with the Holy Family until danger has passed.
Joseph's fatherhood is one of affection as well as protection. His love is shown by service: teaching Jesus the Law and providing food, clothing, and shelter through the gift of his daily work. In time, Joseph shares his carpentry trade with Jesus, and they work side by side.
Along with the humanity of the Son of God, the sanctity of human work is also highlighted in the pope's text, teaching that through Jesus, the carpenter's son, work has been redeemed in a special way. At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of the Redemption (Redemptoris Custos, par. 22).