St. Joseph does not draw attention to himself. He listens, and he acts, exemplifying what a disciple is: the one who hears “the word of God and acts on it” (Lk 8:21). Whenever we turn our attention to Joseph, we are led, by him and through him, to discover the God whom he heeded and the divine mission he served.
The Litany of St. Joseph takes us down a path of contemplation. We are led to contemplate the titles and honors of Joseph, husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus. Encountering Joseph, name by name, is to allow him to draw us toward the mysteries of our salvation.
Setting our attention to just two of these names of Joseph will, hopefully, inspire us to pray with this great saint, who never failed to hear the word of God and act on it.
Guardian of the Virgin
By the strength of his own virtue, Joseph guarded the virtue of his wife. There are no shortcuts to integrity. Only the regular and consistent exercise of both respect and reverence yields it. Joseph not only respected and revered his wife’s virginity, he also respected and revered his own. And this is because he is a man who has given his whole heart to the Lord.
He is first among all to confess what the centurion later declared: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof” (Mt 8:8). Joseph’s was the roof under which both the Divine Child and the Blessed Virgin came to dwell. He knows best of all that this was an honor and duty for which he was not worthy. He required virtue exceeding what he possessed if he was to make a dwelling place befitting such precious company.
Joseph looked nowhere else to receive what he lacked than to the Lord, to whom he always responded quickly, ready to do his will. Joseph did not overestimate himself nor did he underestimate the Lord. In humility, he confessed what he lacked and received what he needed. Loving his servant’s humility, the Lord provided his servant with what was required to respond to this sacred calling.
This is how the house of Joseph was built. It was built through humility and gracious acceptance. It was the house of virtue and of grace. He did not glance around to see what advantage he could gain from following the designs of others. He did not take his eyes off the family entrusted to him so as to flatter himself with other possibilities. He remained humble, confessing his limitations and his faults, ready to receive what the Lord gave and do what the Lord commanded.
Joseph did not seek kingdoms, but the Lord made his household into a dwelling place for the King. Joseph called his King “son,” and the blessed reign of God was first expressed in the respect and reverence with which Joseph held the King’s Blessed Mother. This respect — this reverence — was itself rooted in the respect and reverence with which Joseph held his own standing before the Lord, as both servant and protector. Joseph was meek enough to serve and yet bold enough to command the first earthly kingdom of the everlasting King.
The household of Joseph created the conditions in which a singular devotion to God was fostered. These conditions surrounded and guarded the Virgin. These conditions pleased the blessed and most royal fruit of her womb. These conditions redound to the magnificence of Joseph, whose humility the Lord exalts, whose simplicity the Lord regales, and whose stability the Lord cherishes as a reflection of his own divine manner.
“Model of Faith: Reflecting on the Litany of Saint Joseph”
St. Joseph alone was called to be a father to the Son of God, and his fidelity and courage show each of us how to respond to our vocation as a disciple of Jesus and friend of God. In his wisdom, the Lord empowers Joseph to open his fatherly care to all Christians, to show us how to hear the word of God and act on it, and to shine in every age as a model of faith.
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Faithful Guardian of Christ
God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. But the world does not love God. Christ is the light yet “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Jn 3:19, RSV). Jesus was vulnerable from the start.
In a nighttime church, the small and quiet flame of a sanctuary lamp illumines the darkness. That flame, though powerful, must also be guarded lest the wind extinguish it and the darkness spreads unchecked. So it was with the Son of God, who though possessing the power over heaven and earth, submitted himself to infancy and childhood and poverty and the fickle winds of men’s hearts. His saving mission was not to overwhelm power with power; it was to suffer the consequences of the misuse of power by those who do not love God, who loves the world. In the fullness of time, Christ would allow himself to be extinguished so as to enter into the final darkness of the grave, where he would rekindle his light for all time.
While he was in the world and in his most vulnerable state — as an infant, as a child — Jesus the Christ required the custodianship of one who would not hate God but rather serve God in faith. Joseph was that guardian, who tended the sanctuary lamp of the babe born to Mary.
Joseph shielded the child Jesus from the winds of malice with his own body and protected the sacred flame that would set the world ablaze. The winds of malice came swiftly for Jesus. No sooner did Herod hear of his birth than the tempest of jealousy roared within. Humble though he tried to make his words sound to the Magi searching for the newborn King, he could not quiet the fury beneath his words. The Magi knew not to return to Herod, and no sooner did they leave Joseph and Mary than Joseph determined to take flight with his young family to Egypt. Must not the sense of Herod’s malice reached Joseph through the visit of the Magi? From them, he must have learned the sacred flame was in danger. And so when the angel whispered in his ear while he slept, Joseph was ready to listen and to act.
The trepidation of the Magi was a sign of the times; the clarion command of the angel was the appeal to faith. Joseph did not dither and he did not dally. He arose immediately and, with singular devotion, began to shelter the Light of the World from the encroaching darkness. With haste, he fled and the malice of Herod could not keep pace with Joseph’s fidelity.
This faithful guardian of Christ was a buffer against the darkness. Under his protection, God’s gift to the world grew. Night in and night out, Joseph kept watch, so that, when this little flame was full grown, he would burst through the doors of the sanctuary and become the everlasting dawn.
Leonard J. DeLorenzo, Ph.D., works in the McGrath Institute for Church Life and teaches theology at the University of Notre Dame.