St. Joseph is one of the few saints to have more than one feast day. He also happens to be my patron saint, so when Maureen and I were getting married, she asked which feast day I celebrated. Before I had the chance to answer, she mused out loud, “Definitely not St. Joseph the Worker.” She was right (I celebrate March 19th as my feast day), though I’ve teased her ever since about this apparent commentary on my work habits!
The Church has traditionally honored St. Joseph during the month of March, so it seems appropriate to begin the month by drawing some insights from this great saint.
While St. Joseph wasn’t a priest in the usual sense, this “just man” has much to say in response to today’s crisis of fatherhood–both the spiritual fatherhood of priests and the fatherhood exercised in the home, which the Catechism calls a “domestic Church,” a community of grace and prayer.
St. Joseph was entrusted with the care of the Holy Family, the sanctuary of love where Jesus spent His hidden years. This family was not only a domestic Church but also, in embryonic form, the Universal Church, the Family of God, containing both Christ the Head as well as the mother of the “Body”–all who would come to believe in Christ and keep His commandments (cf. Rev. 12:17). For this reason, St. Joseph, husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, is called the patron of the Universal Church.
I suspect that many modern men think St. Joseph got it all wrong. After all, this is the age of Viagra, no-fault divorce, and the “sexual revolution.” The goal seemingly is sex without responsibility, and here St. Joseph accepts the serious responsibility of marriage and family while foregoing the pleasure of marital intimacy.
Yet, St. Joseph got it exactly right. He is a vitally important witness to modern man that it is possible and necessary–in fact, noble and manly–to live in accordance with the Church’s teachings on sexual morality. Certainly this does not mean that all men, particularly married men, are called to perpetual continence. But all men according to their state in life are called to chastity and at certain times in their lives (e.g., before marriage and possibly at times during marriage) are called to continence.
The marital act is a sacred expression of one’s total gift to one’s spouse and must not degenerate into a merely recreational, selfish act of self-gratification. St. Joseph gives himself totally to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He embodies true love and marital fidelity to his beloved spouse even in the absence of physical intimacy.
Priests act in the person of Christ. Our Blessed Lord is the bridegroom, the Church is His bride. In a very real sense, then, priests are wedded to the Church (cf. Eph. 5:32). Their chaste, faithful betrothal to the Family of God–and their fidelity to the teachings of the Church–renders their priesthood life-giving and fruitful.
The title I most frequently associate with St. Joseph is “Guardian of the Redeemer.” This is at least partially the result of Pope John Paul II’s 1989 apostolic exhortation that bears that name.
A significant element of fatherhood is playing good defense–in other words, protecting the precious treasures that have been entrusted to us. Wolves in many forms pose serious threats to families. Our response as men of faith must not be fear or anxiety in the face of such threats, but rather vigilance and courage. This holds true, too, for priests and bishops with respect to the treasures of our faith. As St. Paul exhorts St. Timothy, “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you” (1 Tim. 6:20).
During this month devoted to the Guardian of the Redeemer, may all of us fathers draw renewed strength from this holy hero. St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church, pray for us!