Let’s talk for a moment about today. Today is the Solemnity of St. Joseph. A Solemnity is a special type of feast day, typically reserved to events revolving around Jesus’ life or for members of His family. They are holy days essentially equivalent in rank to Sundays (which are miniature Easters). This, just by the way, means you can rest from your Lenten fasting today guilt free!
St. Joseph is a Saint of particular importance, one could say almost for the opposite reason as his wife, Mary. What is Mary’s great claim to fame? Her fiat, which was her free and even cheerful assent to being the Theotokos (the God-bearer) for Christ. On this one moment the whole plan of salvation hung, on this great yes is based all the wonders of Christmas, the sorrows of the Passion, and the glories of the Resurrection. From this yes flow all the wonderful things we call Mary – Mother of God, Spouse of the Spirit, Ark of the New Covenant, Queen of Heaven, New Eve. On this terrible moment the whole of human existence poised on the brink of a second Fall – for Mary like Eve could have said, “No,” to God. And had she done so, no mind among us can imagine the depths to which we might have fallen since, nor comprehend the means by which God would ultimately come to redeem us. Redeem us He certainly would, all we know is that.
As I said, Joseph is really the opposite to Mary. Mary speaks and declares her, “yes” to God. Though perhaps spoken quietly, it is a word heard throughout the heavens and across the Earth, indeed it blazes across Creation like a shooting star, and resounds like a trumpet blast. Joseph never speaks at all. He is the great, silent Saint. Instead, Joseph is like Adam in the account of the Fall – but he is an Adam who fulfills the original purpose of Adam: Adam’s role was to protect Eve and the Garden which contained the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. From who or what only becomes clear when the Serpent appears to tempt Eve. From that story we know that Eve speaks with Evil and chooses to eat from the forbidden fruit. But we also know that it says she gave some to her husband, “who was with her” (Gen 3:6). Adam stood silently by as the Devil tempted his wife, and then chose to Fall with her, rather than remain obedient to God that she might be saved through him. Adam is silent when the world most needed him to speak. St. Joseph, too, is silent. But St. Joseph, “a righteous man, but unwilling to expose [Mary] to shame” is silent in the opposite manner (Mt. 1:19). Deeply pious, St. Joseph doesn’t plan on taking in Mary once she is found to be pregnant before they have consummated their marriage (the only reasonable conclusion being adultery on her part) – but he is also unwilling to publicly expose her, the punishment for adultery being stoning to death. Joseph is not a self-righteous man, but a righteous one. His love of God makes him seek purity and holiness, his love of Mary ensures that he will protect her. He thinks he has found the way to do both in quietly divorcing her – but God has other plans. In a dream, the angel Gabriel tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary into his home, and explains the origins of the child to him. Unlike Mary, Joseph says nothing – but he takes Mary into his home, giving her the full mantle of legal and familial protection which a husband provided his wife at that time. Before, Joseph was willing to protect Mary from shame, but remember an unmarried woman had no legal rights or protections – Joseph was called by God to give a greater protection to Mary and her child, Mary the new Eve, and in her womb, the Fruit of the Tree of Life, a new Eden as well.
This protection was soon exercised, as Herod plots the death of the infant Christ almost immediately after his birth. The joy of Christmas gives way to darkness and terror as those first gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh are sold to finance the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt. Again warned in a dream, Joseph gathers his family in the dark of night, and departs for Egypt – a bare step ahead of the soldiers who murder innocents all throughout Bethlehem. “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation,” but the voice was not St. Joseph’s (Mt. 2:18). Then, once more, Joseph is summoned via dream to return from Egypt to Israel, but instead of returning to Bethlehem, the city of his people, the city of David, the dreams move him to a self-imposed exile in Nazareth of Galilee, a place half-civilized, and of hard-living, in a region that was looked down upon by the Jews of Jerusalem – remember the mockery of Nathaniel, “can anything good come from Nazareth?” – that the prophecies about Jesus might be fulfilled (Jn 1:46).
At this point we should have been reminded of another Joseph of Scripture, another great Father or Patriarch, and yet one also not famous for his own children. The three great Patriarchs of Israel are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – yet it is Joseph alone among the twelve sons of Israel who is sometimes referred to as the Fourth Patriarch for it is through him that God saves Jacob’s people during the great famine. This Joseph, too, was a man of dreams, given to understand their meaning and act upon them accordingly. This Joseph, too, was a man whose life was sought by his people, his own brothers, and who escaped death by only the narrowest of margins. This Joseph, too, escaped to Egypt, to prepare there a place for Israel and provide for God’s people, setting the stage also for the Exodus, the Passover, and the covenant; St. Joseph in providing for Mary and the Child provided for the new Israel, the new Moses, and the new Covenant.
St. Joseph, the silent Saint, gives us the picture of a man who fulfills the duties of Adam even after the Fall, preparing the way for the New Adam who is Christ. He is also the new Joseph, a new Patriarch for a new Israel, and thus the Patron of the Universal Church which is now the “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of [God’s] own” (1 Peter 2:9). Most of all he provides the portrait of a man who loves his family, who was so good a father that alone out of all humanity God Himself chose to call him, “Father.”
Celebrate St. Joseph today. Be not silent in praise of this great Saint.