Though it receives less recognition in this country than elsewhere, Saint Joseph’s Day is important enough to be celebrated on the days of Lent, liturgically with a Gloria and Creed, and socially with all sorts of good treats. It not important enough to trump a Sunday of Lent, but important enough that it then gets moved to another day. So this year, because March 19 falls on a Sunday, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph will be observed on Monday, March 20. His day is always a welcome respite from the rigors of Lent.
Before being named Patron of the Universal Church, Saint Joseph was long beloved as the Patron Saint of Italy. Even if you are not Italian, you use some of their treats to celebrate the day. Consider a Saint Joseph’s cake, which actually more resembles a cream-filled doughnut when the Neapolitans make it. They call theirs zeppone. The Romans call theirs, which have no cream, beignet. At the North American College, we would receive platters of them for dessert on the big day, instead of the de rigeur fruit.
At a church downtown, while admiring a handsome, German-made stained glass window of Saint Joseph with the youth Jesus, I began to realize what an example of masculine and paternal virtue he is. How great our need for him here and now, when our popular culture mocks and deconstructs masculine virtue, subverting it into some vicious caricature of itself. You know; the unenlightened, bumbling fool on any given television show is most likely the dad.*
Joseph must have taught Jesus how to be a man, as any father should for his son. Think about that: he taught God how to be a man. And he knew at the time that he was doing it. What a responsibility that was! This is why he is patron of all fathers, and in a particular way, of foster fathers and adoptive fathers.
People often assert that we know little of Joseph, and find nothing in Scripture that he said. I think that we know rather a lot more than that, and hear his words all the time.
You know how all sons reflect habits and characteristics of their fathers. Many of the characteristics of Joseph, who is so hidden in the shadows of Scripture, would be revealed in words and actions of his foster Son. Maybe more than once, someone (your mom?) told you that “you sound just like your father;” why not in Jesus’ case, too? For Him, of course, it would never have been an unwelcome comment to hear. I find it hard to shake the conviction that some turns of phrase we know from Jesus’ lips, He often heard from his foster father. Picture him at the dinner table, about to say something important or instructional to his wife Mary and young Jesus: “Amen, amen, I say to you….”
Speaking of Mary, Joseph’s chaste love and respect for his wife is doubtless revealed in Jesus’ own attention to and care for His Mother. Likely, that is also reflected in Jesus’ warm regard for the women who played such a role in His public ministry. No one can tell me that was “just the cultural norm in those days.”
Saint Joseph is also the patron of a happy death – that’s a good one to know. There is plenty in him to celebrate. Shortly after the inauguration of his pontificate four years ago today, Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, added to the three newer Eucharistic Prayers the invocation of Saint Joseph by name.
Take this opportunity to congratulate any Josephs or Josephines of your acquaintance, or at a minimum, pray for them. Keep in your prayers as well all fathers, especially foster fathers, that Saint Joseph help them fulfill their paternal vocation to a constant sacrifice of love.
*For an enjoyable rebuttal of this pernicious fiction, watch this cereal advertisement from a few years back: How to Dad