Are We Overlooking the Head of the Holy Family?
Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.

How much do we know about and appreciate the man who was the husband of the Mother of the Redeemer and the father to her Son? How much do we honor him?

For many of us this might be embarrassing. St. Joseph is often forgotten. And Scripture says little of him. We give him scant attention. Seldom do we promote devotion to him.

Joseph is often the forgotten member of the Holy Family. Do you remember as children when we wrote "J.M.J." at the top of our papers in parochial school? That was to remind us to have the intention of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in doing our work. We pictured the members of the Holy Family side by side.

Remember that Mary and Joseph are a couple. While honoring the perpetual virginity of Mary, we cannot overlook Joseph's privilege and happiness of being Mary's husband. In the past centuries many works of art depicted Joseph as an old man. Most likely this was done to disallow any threat to Mary's virginity. This tended to undervalue the loving relationship of Mary and Joseph as husband and wife. Despite the tendencies of her times, St. Teresa of Avila insisted that Joseph was a young man. Today we find the positive approach in the preface for Masses in honor of St. Joseph: "With a husband's love he cherished Mary, the virgin Mother of God."

[Holy Family]
Holy Family
Luberoff

 Luberoff

In 1962, even before the Vatican II liturgical renewal, Pope John XXIII added to the Roman Canon of the Mass (now Eucharistic Prayer I) the name of Joseph immediately after that of Mary. Someday the Church may link the name of Joseph with that of his wife in every Eucharistic Prayer.

Since Joseph was husband of Mary, he was also father to Jesus. We know that he was not the physical father of Jesus. But in his gospel account about Jesus being lost in the temple Luke has Mary saying to Jesus: Son, your father and I have been searching for you in sorrow. (Lk 2:48) The Mass preface in honor of St. Joseph states: "With fatherly care he watched over Jesus Christ your Son, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit."

If one might think that Joseph's fatherhood was not quite real or effective because he did not physically procreate Jesus, let that person speak with adoptive parents, especially those who have both conceived a child and adopted others. They will let you know how real Joseph's fatherhood is.

Joseph played a very important role as Jesus "grew in wisdom and age and grace before God and men." In the Jewish tradition children were, until the age of five or so, in the special care and tutelage of their mothers. But beyond that age children came under the special guidance of their fathers. Joseph by duty and privilege was the rabbi of the Holy Family to teach Jesus the Jewish faith and practices. Joseph led his family in the worship of God in their home at Nazareth.

At meal times both Mary and Jesus looked to Joseph at the head of the table to offer the prayer of blessing. Each year when the great evening of the Passover was celebrated, the youngster Jesus played his role and addressed the ritual question to Joseph: Father, why is this night different from every other night? Then he listened with Mary to Joseph's narration of the glorious events of the Exodus and explanation of the meaning of the paschal lamb. Later Jesus would hear John the Baptist proclaim him, the Son of Joseph and Mary, the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.

[Holy Family]

Holy Family

When Jesus was of age, Joseph introduced him to synagogue worship. Jesus was faithful to the synagogue rituals throughout his life. Joseph also taught Jesus the work skills of a carpenter. Through the practice of this trade, Jesus supported himself and his mother after Joseph's death.

Jesus' human experience of fatherhood was drawn from his relationship with Joseph. When Jesus said, "What father would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf, or a poisonous snake when he asks for a fish," surely he had in mind how kind and gentle Joseph was to him as he was growing.

When Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son, Joseph may have been the model of that loving father. As Jesus described how the father hugged and kissed the son who had been lost, perhaps he was recalling how Joseph hugged and kissed him after he had been lost in the temple for three days.

When Jesus taught us how to pray, he began with the same loving title with which he addressed Joseph all his life, abba. His deep affection for Joseph is evident in the many circumstances of the gospel. Joseph had made a profound impression on Jesus.

But do we think of St. Joseph on Father's Day? Hymns in his honor are few in number and rarely sung.

In Catholic tradition a number of laudatory titles have been accorded St. Joseph. He is patron of workers, patron of families, patron of the dying, and patron of the Universal Church. These are the more important in the list.

However only two days are dedicated to him in the liturgical calendar: the solemnity on March 19 (which always occurs in Lent and is never observed on a Sunday) and the memorial of Joseph the Worker on May 1. While part of the Holy Family feast. on the Sunday after Christmas, he is largely overshadowed by Jesus and Mary.

Many think it would be appropriate to offer St. Joseph special honor on Father's Day. Certainly he is deserving.


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This page, maintained by The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute, Dayton, Ohio 45469-1390, and created by Elizabeth A. Boomershine , was last modified Tuesday, 08/04/2009 15:16:07 EDT by Stephen Malone Jr. . Please send any comments to jroten1@udayton.edu.