Go to Joseph


On March 19, the Church observes the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s one of the few times we get a foretaste of the liturgy’s more palpable delights during an otherwise arid Lent. We will sing the Gloria and hear the organ accompanying our songs of praise. We might even indulge in a zeppola or two after Mass. Traditions like these provide a glimpse into what awaits us after our forty days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Like the divine wonders enacted on Mt. Tabor during the Transfiguration, every solemnity – a sort of “little Easter” – points to the Resurrection, in which Christ promises us a share. But the glory Saint Joseph now enjoys – the same glory to which we are called – doesn’t impede our own memory of how the foster father of Our Lord got there. In a word, Saint Joseph had to undergo his own “Lent,” too.
Remember that Saint Joseph bore the burden of several trials on this earth. Fear did not escape him. We read in Matthew’s Gospel, “When Joseph heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there” (Mt 2:22). What was the saint’s response in the face of such trials? He could have abandoned God’s project all together. Instead, the evangelist tells us Joseph “got up.” That is, he did something—his fatherly duty. He said yes to God. In his apostolic letter, Patris Corde, Pope Francis reminds us about Joseph’s great virtues, writing, “Joseph teaches us that faith in God includes believing that he can work even through our fears, our frailties and our weaknesses. He also teaches us that amidst the tempests of life, we must never be afraid to let the Lord steer our course. At times, we want to be in complete control, yet God always sees the bigger picture.”
Pope Francis puts Joseph’s mission in context. Joseph fought his fears by trusting completely in God, and obeying the divine command. He did so with fortitude, that virtue given to us in our Baptism and strengthened anew in Confirmation. For St. Thomas Aquinas, fortitude is a certain firmness. A person of fortitude does not forsake the good on account of difficulties—whether in accomplishing an arduous work or in enduring grievous evil. Saint Joseph illustrated fortitude both by enduring the evil of Herod; but also, by not abandoning his task of protecting the Holy Family, even though it was arduous, difficult, and challenging. His frailty did not cede to a “false humility,” a trap of the devil to convince us to avoid God’s work. Pope Francis writes, “The evil one makes us see and condemn our frailty, whereas the Spirit brings it to light with tender love.” When seen in the light of truth, frailty permits us to rely entirely on God instead of ourselves. Joseph did so, and teaches us how to follow in his example. Perhaps this is why the Church identifies Joseph as the “terror of demons,” because he convinces us that despite our own frailty, with God, all things are possible. This March, remember to go to Joseph—he won’t let you down.