In the Apostolic Letter Patris Corde, Pope Francis affirms that “Everyone can find in Saint Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, the man with a discreet and hidden daily presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of difficulty. Saint Joseph reminds us that all those who are apparently hidden or in the background have an unparalleled role in the history of salvation”. In defining the profile of the Holy Patriarch in this apostolic letter, Francis presents seven titles which have illuminated the life of this saint and which become references for all Christians.
The first title attributed to St. Joseph is that of a beloved father; this prerogative means that no other saint after Mary occupies such great importance in the magisterium of the Church. His greatness lies in the fact that he was the husband of Mary and the father of Jesus. As the father of Jesus, he put his whole life at his service and this total disposition of himself for the realization of God’s saving plan has never been left out of consideration in Josephology and in the hearts of the faithful.
These expressions of consideration and love for his paternal mission, indispensable in God’s plan, resulted in the first place in the theological reflection which has always affirmed that God appointed him father of his Son and entrusted him with the mission of minister of salvation. St. Joseph thus became a beloved father; loved by God in a special way, loved by the Church, loved by the faithful. In fact, the place of St. Joseph in God’s plan enters completely into the historical reality of the humanity of Jesus, which needed his fatherhood.
For such a mission entrusted to him by God, Joseph is the father loved by God, as Saint Bernard affirmed in one of his homilies: “God found Joseph according to his heart and confidently entrusted him with the most mysterious and sacred secret of his heart. He revealed to him the shadows and the secrets of his wisdom, making him know the mystery unknown to all the princes of this world “. We can say that his place in the loving heart of God lies in the fact that he has been entrusted with the mystery whose fulfilment all generations have hoped for from the house of Israel and, as St. John Paul II said, “He has been entrusted with everything that depends on the fulfilment of this mystery in the history of the people of God “.
Joseph is a father loved by God because God entrusted his Son to him so that, through the exercise of his fatherhood, he would be the only creature on this earth, with the exception of Mary, who dedicated all the affectionate care of his paternal heart to Jesus, and in such a way that his fatherly love had an influence on the filial love of Jesus, thus experiencing a very deep relationship with the Savior. In fact, St. Paul VI categorically states that “Saint Joseph is the kind of gospel that Jesus, after leaving the small laboratory of Nazareth and having begun the mission of prophet and teacher, will proclaim as a program for the redemption of humanity”, that is, this beloved father deeply influenced the life of Jesus and humanly influenced his missionary work as a preacher of the good news.
St. Joseph is a beloved father because God granted him the grace that “what many prophets wanted to hear and did not hear; and he not only saw and listened to him, but carried him in his arms, guided him in his first steps, embraced him, kissed him, fed him and took care of him”. St. Joseph is a beloved father because he was deeply united with Jesus and Mary and therefore participated in a special way in the redemption of humanity.
St. Joseph is a beloved father because, as Pope Leo XIII teaches us, God chose him “as the spouse of the Virgin Mary, gave him to be not only a life partner, a witness of her virginity, a keeper of her honesty, but also to share, through the marital bond, in his great dignity”. St. Joseph is a beloved father because in the company of his bride, but under her, he surpassed all the saints and the angels in grace and glory being the most loved by God above any other saint. He is the most loved because he was the closest and most united to our Savior and to Mary, his wife, and participated more than all the saints in his holiness. St. Joseph is a beloved father because there is no one else who in the company of Mary was destined to care for, protect, nourish, educate the humanity of Christ.
Pope Francis affirms that St. Joseph is a beloved father because he has always been loved by the Christian people, as evidenced by the fact that numerous churches throughout the world are dedicated to him; many religious institutes, brotherhoods and ecclesial groups were born that were inspired by his spirituality and adopted his name, and for centuries there have been various sacred representations in honor of him. “Many saints, men and women, were his passionate devotees, including Teresa of Avila who adopted him as an advocate and intercessor, immediately recommending herself to him and receiving all the graces requested from him. Encouraged by her own experience, this saint convinced others to be equally devoted to him”. The reason mentioned by Francis leads us to affirm that St. Joseph had a profound influence on popular devotion, on preaching, on the interpretation of the Fathers and ecclesiastical writers or on artistic expressions and on the liturgy.
Devotion to St. Joseph has developed greatly over the centuries and culminated in his proclamation as Patron of the Catholic Church; he has received a particular attention from the Magisterium of the Church with various documents that have distinguished themselves, in particular John Paul II’s Redemptoris Custos and recently with this Apostolic Letter Patris Corde of Pope Francis; but even today, as Pope John Paul II said, “we have constant reasons to recommend every single man to Saint Joseph”. Therefore, the relevance of the devotion to St. Joseph is revealed in an invitation to love Jesus with all the affection of the heart and, above all, with an unconditional love for God’s will.
It becomes impossible to summarize in a few words the considerations of writers such as Caetano, Suarez, Francis de Sales, Alápide, Isolani, Gerson, Cartagena, Lépcier, Gauthier, of the Fathers of the Church and above all of our brother Stramare, just to name a few. Over the centuries, St. Joseph was a father loved by the hearts of the faithful and continues to be so, also in the effort to know him better and more, especially in the last sixty years with initiatives for the creation of Josephite Study Centers, Symposia, Congresses, etc. on St. Joseph.
This consideration for our beloved father has spread throughout the world with a large number of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life bearing his name, which exceed the number of two hundred, and have spread throughout the world dedicating themselves to various activities such as the religious education of young people, including us the Oblates of St. Joseph, or the Josephites of Murialdo in working with young workers. In addition to these female and male Congregations, there are many Confraternities, Associations and Institutes with the name of our Saint, which shows that he is a beloved father. You may add to that a large number of nations, cities, dioceses, places, people, etc. dedicated to our Saint.
Saint Joseph is a father loved by an infinite number of saints, like Francis de Sales who declared Saint Joseph “the saint of my heart, the father of my life and of my love”. St. Leonard of Porto Maurizio, a great devotee of St. Joseph, advised Christians: “Rejoice, pious servants of St. Joseph, because heaven is close to you; the staircase that leads you has only three steps: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It is so that you go up and down this staircase: while you go up, the supplications are first placed in the hands of St. Joseph; Joseph hands them over to Mary and Mary gives them to Jesus. Going down, the answers come from Jesus; Jesus gives them to Mary, and Mary gives them to Joseph. Jesus does everything for Mary, because he is her son; Mary obtains everything in her capacity as a mother, and Joseph can do everything in his condition as a just man, husband and father”.
We cannot fail to recall how St. Joseph is a father loved by us Oblates on the initiative of our St. Joseph Marello who wanted his Congregation to have him as patron and model and consequently that his members be called “Oblates of St. Joseph”, who as Oblates must commit themselves to honor him, loving him as a father and imitating his virtues, as well as committing themselves to spreading his devotion. Marello wanted every member of his Congregation to take inspiration from his model St. Joseph, who was the first on earth to look after the interests of Jesus. He taught that his members were called to follow the Divine Master with the observance of the evangelical counsels and they were meant to remain hidden and silently active in imitating this great model of poor and obscure life. He endeavored to make his Oblates try to produce in their lives the characteristic virtues of St. Joseph, that is, union with God, humility, hiddenness, hard work and dedication to the interests of Jesus.
The same veneration for the beloved father St. Joseph was expressed by Saint Paul VI who marvelled at the humility of the guardian of the Redeemer when he said: “What is more humble, simpler, more silent, more hidden that the Gospel could offer us putting Joseph next to Mary and Jesus? Looking at the Gospel account, Joseph presents himself to us with the most salient features of extreme humility; a modest, poor, obscure and small native worker who has nothing special and who leaves no real accent of his voice in the Gospel itself “.
Finally, Pope Francis recalls in her letter that Teresa of Avila adopted St. Joseph as her advocate and intercessor and encouraged everyone to be devoted to our Saint. Teresa was one of the saints most in love with St. Joseph. Still young, she entered Carmel at 21 and was given up for dead at 23 when she fell seriously ill due to excesses of austerity. Saved by a miracle, she attributed her healing to St. Joseph, and since then she has entrusted him with her whole life. She would say, “I saw very clearly that it was he, my father and protector, who healed me from this disease and delivered me from very great dangers when it came to my honor and the health of my soul. His help has provided me with more goods than I could ask for”. For her, St. Joseph was her teacher of prayer and advised people saying that” Whoever does not have a teacher of prayer, take this glorious saint as a guide and will not run the risk of getting lost”.
The beloved father St. Joseph is in fact this saint of the “discreet and hidden daily presence”; the great saint privileged to be the merciful mediator before God, as Pius IX defined him in one of his documents. To him all our praise, him, our beloved father.
Fr. José Antonio Bertolin, OSJ