Bethlehem of Judea (Holy Land), I Century A.C.
He is believed to have died in Nazareth, Galilee, (Holy Land) in I Century A.C.
Patron Saint of the Catholic Church
On December 8, 1870, Pope Pius IX declared Saint Joseph the “Patron Saint of the Catholic Church.”
The few sure facts we have about Saint Joseph come from the evangelists Mathew and Luke.
Saint Joseph, descendent of king David, was from Bethlehem, the city of David. Later we know that he must have moved to Nazareth, possibly for work reasons, because the Gospels speak of him as being there. He worked in Nazareth as a “tekton.” ‘Tekton’ is a Greek term used for someone who works as a carpenter, ironworker, and in construction.
The only explicit reference that explains to us a little about Saint Joseph’s personality is that he was a “just” man; ‘just’ is an adjective that at the time referred to a person who is honest, humble, discreet, pious, and faithful to the law.
As the Gospels tell us, Joseph was espoused to Mary. The custom in those days was to marry at a young age; Mary may have been 15 years old and Joseph between 18 and 20 years old. It was a virginal marriage, as can be deduced from the Gospels, and for this reason Saint Joseph was perplexed upon learning that his spouse was expecting a child. Before such a situation, Joseph had to make a very difficult decision, keeping in mind, especially, Mary’s good. The Gospels tell us, “her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly.” (Mt. 1:19) Saint Joseph knew his spouse’s purity and he found himself immersed in an incomprehensible mystery. The Lord came to his aid through a dream in which an angel told him, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt. 1:20) And, immediately, the Gospels say, Saint Joseph “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife…” with a ready disposition and complete respect for God’s plans. St. Joseph gave his “fiat” to the divine will in an attitude of obedience in the faith, just as Mary did.
As the time to give birth drew near, Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem with his wife for the census. His faith was again put to the test, having to face a difficult journey in these circumstances. And not only this, but he also suffered, with Mary, from the fact that the Son of God had to be born in a cave, in complete poverty.
Joseph, knowing that he was chosen by God to be the adoptive father of Jesus, fulfilled all his duties, ensuring Jesus’ human and religious formation. In first place, eight days after his birth, Joseph took him to be circumcised and to name him. The angel had said, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt.1:21) Joseph also fulfilled the duty of presenting the first-born son in the Temple of Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 years old.
Another of the difficult situations which St. Joseph had to face was the flight into Egypt. After the visit of the Wise Men, the angel of the Lord warned Joseph in a dream, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Mt. 2:13) The Holy Family had to take refuge in Egypt until the death of Herod.
When the angel told him, Saint Joseph took his wife and his son and they wen to live in Nazareth. In Nazareth, Joseph continued as a parent with his wife, Mary. Jesus “was obedient to them,” (Lk. 2:51) and “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Lk. 2:52)
The Gospels don’t tell us anything more about Joseph, so biblical exegetes suppose that he died before Jesus began his public life. Neither are any of his words conserved, which is why he’s called the “silent saint.”
The saints of all times have found a perfect model of virtue in him and entrusted themselves to him. Having a special devotion to St. Jospeh is part of the Carmelite spirituality because of his profound relationship with Mary.
In the history of the Church, especially from the 14th century on, the popes have contemplated the example of this great saint and have propagated the devotion to him. Two feast are celebrated in his honor: the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of Mary (March 19), and the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, Patron of Workers (May 1). On December 8, 1870, Pius IX declared St. Joseph the “Patron Saint of the Catholic Church.”
In St. Joseph’s time, Jesus had not yet instituted the Eucharist. However, his relation with this sacrament is very profound; it’s enough to think about how he was Jesus’ guardian, and, therefore, guardian of the Eucharist. In addition, St. Joseph is present in the Eucharistic celebration, when he is invoked as the spouse of Mary.
In the Apostolic Exortation, “Redemptoris Custos,” Pope John Paul II, taking up the words of Pope Pius IX, affirms that “In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Church venerates the memory of Mary the ever Virgin Mother of God and the memory of St. Joseph, because ‘he fed him whom the faithful must eat as the bread of eternal life.’” (Redemptoris Custos, n. 16)
During the II Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII declared that St. Joseph’s name was to be included in the Roman Canon. On May 1, 2013 the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published the decree “Paternas Vices,” in which Saint Joseph was included in the other Eucharistic Prayers (II, III, and IV) of the Roman Missal.
Saint Joseph had the privilege of being chosen by God as the guardian of Mary’s virginity. He is the first and most important defender of her perpetual virginity. St. Augustine, in his “Treatise on Virginity,” explains how Mary and Joseph, by divine inspiration, agreed before their marriage to live it in virginity and that Joseph would respect the purity of his wife with the utmost care.
John Paul II affirms that Joseph received Mary as his wife with a spirit of faith, acknowledging that he was immersed in a great mystery, “He took her in all the mystery of her motherhood. He took her together with the Son who had come into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this way he showed a readiness of will like Mary's with regard to what God asked of him through the angel. […] the faith of Mary meets the faith of Joseph. If Elizabeth said of the Redeemer's Mother, ‘blessed is she who believed,’ in a certain sense this blessedness can be referred to Joseph as well, since he responded positively to the word of God when it was communicated to him at the decisive moment. While it is true that Joseph did not respond to the angel's ‘announcement’ in the same way as Mary, he ‘did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took his wife.’ What he did is the clearest ‘obedience of faith.’” (Apostolic Exhortation, “Redemptoris Custos”, n. 3-4).
Joseph’s love for Mary was a true spousal love and, at the same time, virginal. Pope Leo XII affirmed that God did not give the Blessed Virgin to Joseph as his spouse just to be his “life companion, the witness of her virginity, the protector of her honour, but also, by virtue of the conjugal tie, a participator in her sublime dignity.” (Encyclical Letter “Quamquam Pluries, n.3)
In the Holy Land, there are two important places related to Saint Joseph:
- The Basilica of St. Joseph, where the Holy Family’s house is venerated, is found next to the Basilica of the Incarnation in Nazareth (Galilee). St. Joseph had his workshop there and lived there with Mary and Jesus.
- In the Basilica of the Nativity of Jesus, in Bethlehem of Judea, you can also visit the grotto where Jesus was born. Joseph was there with Mary and Jesus until the flight into Egypt and the shepherds and the Wise Men adored there.
From the popes:
There are so many references about St. Joseph from the popes that it would be impossible to list them all here, so we just reference a few of the most important documents and some others from the most recent popes.
- Encyclical Letter “Quamquam Pluries” about devotion to St.Joseph, by Pope Leo XIII (August 15, 1889).
- Apostolic Exhortation “Redemptoris Custos” about the role and mission of Sain Joseph in the life of Crist and of the Church, by Pope John Paul II (August 15, 1989).
- Pope Benedict XVI’s Angelus on March 19, 2006.
- Pope Benedict XVI’s homily on March 19, 2009, during the apostolic trip to Cameroon and Angola.
- Homily of the Holy Mass of initiation of the pontificate of Pope, March 19, 2013.
The following were found online only in Spanish and/or Italian:
- Motu Proprio “Bonum sane et salutare” about solemnities, given during the 50th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as Patron Saint of the Catholic Church. Written by Pope Benedict (June 25, 1920).
- Apostolic Letter “Le Vocis” about the devotion to St. Joseph, by Pope John XXIII (March 19, 1961).
- Homily by Pope Paul VI on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, March 19, 1969.
- Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on March 19, 1980.
From other authors:
There are many books about St. Joseph, here we list only a few:
- “The Shadow of the Father,” by Jan Dobraczynski.
- “Life of Saint Joseph, Spouse of Mary and Foster Father of Jesus, told by accredited authors with the novena to prepare for the feast day of the Saint,” by Saint John Bosco.
- “In Saint Joseph's Workshop,” chapter 5 of the book “Christ is Passing By,” by St. Josemaria Escrivá de Balaguer. You can find the text here.