It was fifteen or twenty years ago when I was first really struck by the profound significance of St. Joseph of Nazareth, whom the Angel Gabriel addresses as “son of David” (St. Matthew 1:20). He is important to the infancy narratives, of course, and he serves an essential role in the Lord’s providential care for St. Mary and the Christ Child in the ensuing years, in all the mundane and practical ways that belong to the vocation of husband and father. In this respect, he is already a good example of faith and love within his own proper callings and stations in life.
For all of the “ordinariness” of St. Joseph’s duties and responsibilities, it is no less remarkable that this man was given to be a Dad to the Lord Jesus than it was for the Blessed Virgin Mary to become the Mother of God. Granted, the conception and birth of the Son of God is a singular miracle, but the Mystery of His Incarnation includes the fact that, as true Man, the Lord Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (St. Luke 2:52). And the fact is that St. Joseph was given the task, not only of naming the Child (St. Matthew 1:21-25), of guarding and protecting “the Child and His Mother” (St. Matthew 2:13-15, 19-21), of providing for Him and making a home for Him throughout His childhood, but also of teaching Him how to be a man, how to work with His hands and serve His neighbors, and how to care for women and children. What is more, we know that St. Joseph took his family to church (St Luke 2:22, 41); and, in keeping with the Word of the Lord, it would also have been his responsibility to catechize the little Lord Jesus in the Commandments of God and the Holy Scriptures (Deut. 6:1-9, 20-25).
St. Joseph was a sinner, to be sure, like all the rest of us. Yet, the Holy Scriptures do not set before us the faults and weaknesses of this man, whatever they may have been, but rather his quiet and steady obedience, the righteousness of his faith in the Word and promises of God, manifest in his labors of love on behalf of his family. Remarkably, we are given not a single word from St. Joseph in the Holy Gospels; he rather hears and immediately obeys the Word that is spoken to him by the Angel of the Lord. His actions in every case echo what he has been told, despite all the dangers and difficulties involved in doing so.
It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that, in his care for the holy family, St. Joseph is also a kind or type of pastor. In some respects, every husband and father is a “little pastor” to his wife and children, to his home and family, just as Christ is the Head of His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:22-30). St. Paul also points to the parallels between a man’s household and God’s Church (1 Timothy 3:4-5). How much clearer is the comparison and connection in the case of the holy family, in which St. Joseph is given to care for St. Mary and the Christ Child. Here we have a little picture – a living icon, if you will – of what it means and what it looks like for a pastor to be and to live as a spiritual father to the Church and the children of God.
As St. Joseph is an example of faith and love in his calling and station as a husband and father, so is he also a beautiful example of faithfulness and obedience for those of us who are called and ordained to the Office of the Holy Ministry. Of course, we are given to speak – to preach and to teach, confessing what we have heard from the Lord – in contrast to St. Joseph’s silence in the Holy Scriptures. But let us by all means emulate his hearing and heeding of the Word of God, and be ready at all times to rise and act in accordance with that Word. Let us likewise be content to find our place and our significance in caring for the Bride of Christ and for her dear children. And with that, whatever our own faults and weaknesses may be, whatever our sins and failings, let us take heart that the Lord is accomplishing His purposes in us, through us, and for us, to the praise and glory of His Holy Name. For He is “Jesus,” our Savior from sin (St. Matthew 1:21).