19 March: St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary
2 Sam 7:4ff. It is not king David who will build a house for the glory of God’s name. But God will build the house of David’s descendants, among them Joseph, foster-father of Jesus.
Rom 4:13ff. The “Faith,” “Righteousness” and (spiritual) “Descendants” that are linked with Abraham in this reading might also be applied to St. Joseph.
Mt 1:16-21; 24. Jesus’ antecedents from Abraham down to Joseph, who, accepting the mystery of Jesus’ conception, gives him his name and adopts him as his own.
A Just and Humble Man
From a homily by Pope Paul VI, on March 19, 1969
Today’s feast invites us to meditate on Saint Joseph, Our Lord Jesus’ legal and foster father. Because of that function which he performed in regard to Christ during His childhood and youth, he has been declared Patron or Protector of the Church, which continues Christ’s image and mission in time and reflects them in history.
At first sight there seems to be no material for a meditation on Joseph, for what do we know of him, apart from his name and a few events that occurred in Our Lord’s childhood? The Gospel does not record a single word from him; his language is silence. It was his attention to the angelic voices which spoke in his sleep; it was that prompt and generous obedience which was demanded from him; it was manual labour, in the most modest and fatiguing of forms, which earned Jesus the reputation of being “the son of the carpenter” (Mt. 13:55). There is nothing else known of him, and it might well be said that he lived an unknown life, the life of a simple artisan, with no sign of personal greatness.
But that humble figure which was so near to Jesus and Mary, Christ’s Virgin Mother, he who was so intimately connected with their life and so closely linked with the genealogy of the Messiah as to be the promised and final representative of the descendants of David (Mt. 1, 20), is revealed as being full of significance if we look at him attentively. He is seen truly to possess those qualities which the Church attributes to him in her liturgy, which the devotion of the faithful also attributes to him, and which gave rise to a series of invocations that have taken the form of a litany.
If we look carefully into this life that was apparently so unremarkable, we shall find that it was greater and more adventurous, more full of exciting events, than we are accustomed to assume in our hasty perusal of the Gospel story. The Gospel describes Joseph as a Just Man (Mt. 1:19). No greater praise of virtue and no higher tributes to merit could be applied to a man of humble social condition who was apparently far from being equipped to perform great deeds. He was a poor, honest, hard-working, perhaps even timorous man, but one with an unfathomable interior life, from which very singular directions and consolations came, bringing him also the logic and strength that belong to simple and clear souls, and giving him the power of making great decisions, such as that decision to put his liberty at once at the disposition of the divine designs to make over to them also his legitimate human calling his conjugal happiness.
He accepted the conditions, the responsibility and the burden of a family, but through an incomparable virginal love he renounced that natural conjugal love that is the foundation and the nourishment of the family. In this way he offered the whole of his existence in a total sacrifice to the imponderable demands raised by the extraordinary coming of the Messiah, to whom he was to give the everlasting blessed name of Jesus (Mt. 1:21), whom he was to acknowledge as the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and his own son only in a juridical and domestic way.
So St. Joseph was a “committed” man, as we might say nowadays. And what commitment! Total commitment to Mary, the elect of all the women of the earth and of history, always his virgin spouse, never his wife physically, and total commitment to Jesus, who was his offspring only by legal descent, not by the flesh. His were the burdens, responsibilities, risks and the labours surrounding the Holy Family. His were the service, the work, the sacrifice, that Christians so admire in him; and make him such a fine patron for family life.
First Reading: Second Book of Samuel 7:4-6, 12-14, 16
But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.
I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.
Second Reading: Epistle to the Romans 4:13, 16-18, 20-22
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)-in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.”
No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
Gospel: Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24
Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.