Why do I love St. Joseph? I’ll give you four titles of Joseph, four moments from my life, and four reasons why.
Joseph, Foster Father of Jesus
My devotion to St. Joseph started when our family began providing foster care to newborn babies awaiting adoption. One by one, these infants changed my life. They taught me to love, to care for another’s needs, and to form deep bonds even in the face of separation’s pain. These newborns also taught me about God’s love for us, what it means to call God “Abba, Father,” how He hears our cries, He delights in us, and He holds us through our crankiest fits.
In a deeper way, the Christ Child changed Joseph’s life, not only teaching him to love, but being Love itself, placed right into his arms. What was it like to care for Jesus: to carry the Creator, to bathe the Savior, to teach the Eternal Word? Such details of Jesus’ youth remain swaddled in Joseph’s silence, the delight of mystics. Yet this mystery lies open to us all. Jesus continues to hunger and thirst in the least of his brethren. Joseph is our patron as we continue to care for each other in the Body of Christ.
Joseph, Husband of Mary
My first personal prayer as an adult was the rosary. It was my freshman year at Notre Dame, and within a month I found myself kneeling at the Grotto with a simple cord rosary, fumbling through a how-to pamphlet, and relearning those prayers I had forgotten since grade school. I can’t explain what first drew me to begin praying, but I kept returning, every day. Within the rhythm of the rosary, I found the warmth of intimacy. I was holding Mary’s hand and listening to her stories about her son, Jesus.
As I grew closer to Mary, so, too, I grew closer to Joseph. Was he not the first to receive Mary’s hand and talk about their child? John Paul II puts it beautifully: “Joseph is the first to share in the faith of the Mother of God and… in so doing he supports his spouse in the faith of the divine annunciation” (Redemptoris Custos, 5). Just imagine how Mary and Joseph conversed during the Flight into Egypt or even just over the dinner table in Nazareth. In a way, the rosary continues this conversation, inviting the kids to the parents’ table. Mary shares with her children the treasures stored in her heart, and Joseph helps us to receive and cherish such intimacies.
Joseph, Model of Discernment
Throughout history, God calls people and they make excuses. Moses informs God that he is slow of speech, Jeremiah excuses himself on account of his youth, and Zechariah doubts that his barren wife, Elizabeth, can bear a son. But when the angel tells the slumbering Joseph in a dream to get up and take Mary as his wife, what does he do? He gets up and does it. No questions. No excuses. This makes Joseph a powerful intercessor and model for those discerning.
When God finally opened up my heart to the idea of maybe becoming a priest some day, I began praying to St. Joseph every day, asking him to tell me what God wants and to help me do it without any fuss. A few weeks into saying this prayer, I met the Dominican Province of St. Joseph. That was enough for me.
Joseph, Head of the Holy Family
Now as I begin studies for the priesthood, I often meditate on Joseph’s role in the Holy Family. God entrusted Jesus and Mary to the care of Joseph—that’s no small task. In fact, it seems backwards. Joseph is a mere man, a simple carpenter. Jesus is the Incarnate God and Mary is the Immaculate Virgin, yet God sets Joseph as the Head of the Holy Family.
So, too, God entrusts the sacraments and the Church to the care of priests. This is no small task either, and like Joseph, priests did not earn this position. Instead, God calls them to serve and gives them the grace to fulfill the task he entrusts to them.
One year ago today, Pope Francis began his pontificate, and in his first homily as pope, he reflected on Joseph’s role in the Holy Family. The pope asked: “How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand.” Francis went on to give this exhortation:
In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!
Amen, Pope Francis—that’s the kind of priest I want to be! But Francis is not just talking to priests and seminarians, he is exhorting all the faithful. We are all called to take Joseph as a model and an intercessor. Wherever God calls us, let us ask Joseph for the courage to say “yes” and the tenderness to love.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
Image: Philippe de Champaigne, The Marriage of the Virgin