St. Joseph: The Earthly Shadow of the Heavenly Father


The month of March is so special as it is dedicated to St. Joseph and on this occasion, we would like to reflect upon the fatherhood of St. Joseph. I think there are a lot of similarities between the life of priests and consecrated people and that of St. Joseph. Though Mother Mary is the perfect model for consecrated life, for priests and religious men, a more appropriate life to compare with is that of St. Joseph.

People normally say that there are only a very few times that the name of Joseph is mentioned in the gospels and so some people conclude that he may not have an important role in the history of salvation. But the truth is, since the revealed data on Joseph is rare, it must be treated with great attention. They are a bit like diamonds that need to be worked with great care and skill to find their beauty and brilliance. Joseph’s vocation and, consequently, the role played by him in the salvific drama are unique, exactly like the role of Abraham, Moses and Mary.

Pope Francis and his predecessors reflected on the message contained in the limited information handed down by the Gospels on St. Joseph to appreciate more fully his central role in the history of salvation. Blessed Pius IX declared him “Patron of the Universal Church”, Venerable Pius XII proposed him as “Patron of Workers” and Saint John Paul II wrote an apostolic exhortation “Redemptoris Custos” meaning “Guardian of the Redeemer” and Saint Joseph is universally invoked as the “patron of a happy death”. Two years ago Pope Francis wrote an apostolic letter “Patris corde” and proclaimed a year of St. Joseph in the church.

Just like the Eternal Father, Joseph, a father by grace, did not speak in the first person but “has spoken to us through the Son” (Hb 1, 2). Indeed, there is no word at all in the gospels pronounced by Joseph. So, the eloquence of Joseph is not in speaking but in preparing Jesus, his son in the house of Nazareth for his future mission. As we say in English actions speak louder than words. Joseph’s actions speak louder than words.

Jesus is known as “Jesus of Nazareth”, this title not only informs us about the geographical origins but also teaches what kind of fertile soil on which the seed of the incarnate Word fell. In the light of the holy scripture, we can say that in this soil, the Word has not been trodden on, nor withered by the sun, nor suffocated by thorns; rather in the soil of Joseph and Mary, it has grown, grown first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain to later become the living Bread that brings salvation to the world (Cf. Mark 4, 26-34). Joseph is a person who does not talk about himself, who does not show himself, but who leads such an ordinary life and moves unnoticed.

Exactly as St. Paul gives a beautiful definition of love in the letter to the Corinthians, we can talk of Joseph: Joseph is not envious, he is not boastful, he never seeks his interest, he is not filled with pride… He puts up with everything, believes everything, hopes for everything, bears everything” (cf. 1Cor 13, 4-7). Joseph’s life is a life of love, he presents himself as a person whose approach is simple, he does not use words, and he leads an insignificant life in the eyes of the world.

I would like to continue this reflection with the words of the late Pope Benedict XVI who spoke on St. Joseph while visiting Cameroon in the year 2009 and he was there in March. During the evening prayer session just before the Solemnity of St. Joseph on the 19th of March, he gave a reflection on St. Joseph while he was talking to the priests and religious gathered there.

I so much love the words spoken by Pope Benedict XVII on that very day. Pope Said: “St. Joseph shows us that it is possible to love without possessing”. Very simple words but with profound meanings. St. Joseph indeed loved Mary his wife and Jesus his son, without possessing them. If you ask the question: Is Mary Joseph’s wife? The answer is, of course, she is, they got married according to the Jewish tradition but she was not like any other wife in this world. She had a peculiar vocation and was called to be the mother of Jesus, son of God. Joseph her husband does not possess his wife, Mary. Husbands normally feel: Oh, this is my wife and so she is mine and does not belong to anyone else. Here the vocation of Joseph is to protect her, take care of her and above all love her as his wife. He was the breadwinner of the family of Nazareth. Joseph indeed lives happily protecting Mary, assisting her to be the mother of Jesus and he was an extraordinary husband with love and dedication. He would do anything for Mary. The same thing occurs with Jesus. Jesus is his son but he is not his biological son, Joseph did not generate him but he is the father of Jesus here on earth and Jesus is known as the son of the carpenter Joseph. So, Joseph loves without possessing. With this special vocation, what Joseph renounces, above all, is his right to generate, and all those pleasures connected to generating children. So, what he offers to God is the biggest gift a man can have

In our parishes and areas of the apostolate, there are many men and women working with priests and religious, but none of them belongs to these consecrated people, and they are called to love all of them without possessing. How is it possible? Priests and religious are called to learn that from Joseph. Here they need that gift of generosity and sacrificial love.

There is a famous Latin dictum that says: Ite ad Joseph, meaning, go to Joseph. We get this from the book of Genesis where we see another Joseph. The two Josephs have a lot in common, they both communicated with God through dreams. Normally people have dreams at night and when they get up that is the end. Pope Francis would say St. Joseph was not a dreamer. While many dreams are just the dreamer’s subconscious speaking, some other dreams can be a way of communication with God.

As you know, Joseph in the Old Testament was the eleventh son of Jacob and was a boy of 12 years. The book of Genesis 37 talks of that paternal favouritism towards him which provoked the envy of his brothers. And at first, they thought of killing him, but in the end, they decided to make him fall into a well as a trap and leave him to his fate. But later they reflected and sold him for twenty pieces of silver to a caravan of merchants heading to Egypt and he was sold as a slave to Potiphar, an officer in Pharaoh’s guard (Gen. 37).

Joseph went through many difficult moments, such as his imprisonment due to the malice of Potifár’s wife, who failed to seduce him (Genesis 39) until reaching the level of interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh’s servant and baker in jail, which came true. For this reason, he was called by Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. Joseph interprets them and says in Genesis 41, 29: “Seven years of great abundance are going to come throughout Egypt. But then another seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, for the famine will ravage the land.” Joseph suggested to Pharaoh that they collect all the eatables from those seven good years and that they store and keep the grain, and this was done, until the seven years of famine began to arrive as he had predicted. Pharaoh, knowing the qualities and talents of Joseph, appointed him as his second in command. Genesis 41,39: Pharaoh said to Joseph: Since God made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.

Later we see that people cried to Pharaoh for food and Pharaoh told them: “Go to Joseph, and do what he tells you.”

Saint Bernard of Siena writes: “Joseph of the Old Testament did not keep the grain for himself, but for all the people, he is a man who feeds” and St. Joseph in the New Testament, also feeds us, because he received living bread from heaven (Jesus) for the world”. Saint Bernard summarises in the analogy of the “TWO JOSEPHS”, affirming the great importance of the father of Jesus, he says: St. Joseph has not only provided the Egyptians with the bread of bodily life but has provided the bread from heaven which sustains heavenly life to all the elect.

“Pope Pius XII says: “Saint Joseph fed whom the faithful must eat as Bread of eternal life.” It is true that it was Saint Joseph who fed, educated and cared for Jesus as his Father.

We can also see how St. Joseph is connected to the Eucharist, taking into account the role he played in a major way on two occasions in the life of Jesus according to the Gospel of Luke; that is to say, during the circumcision (Lc. 2, 21) and during the presentation of Jesus in the temple (Lc. 2, 22-27). Although he was not a priest, he exercised the offices of a priest towards the sacred body of the baby Jesus during the presentation of Jesus in the temple.

Every time we celebrate or participate in the mass when the priest raises the consecrated host, we should remember that the first person who raised this host (Jesus) was Saint Joseph.

If we approach Saint Joseph daily, we will learn a lot from him, and we will be able to put into practice his virtues of humility, love for silence, hard work, and trust in Divine Providence. Cardinal Tisserant gives a piece of advice to priests: “When Joseph takes the Holy Child in his hands with respect and affection at the same time, he leads us priests to long for the same feelings when we take the sacramental body of Jesus on the altar with our hands.”.

“Saint Joseph speaks little, but lives intensely without misappropriating any responsibility, which the will of the Lord gives him. He is almost hidden but very visible to Jesus. He offers an example of availability before the divine call with calm and with full confidence because those who have faith do not tremble and are not discouraged by events.”

Father Tarcisio Stramare, Oblate of Saint Joseph and a biblical scholar

Pope Francis likes St. Joseph so much and, in a homily, he mentioned the powerful intercession of a sleeping St. Joseph. He said that when he has to solve an issue as head of the Catholic Church, he would write on a piece of paper his intention and keep it under the statue of Sleeping St. Joseph. He is so confident that St. Joseph would solve his problems. As the intentions increase and the amount of the piece of paper increases the statue will rise and as he removes the paper when a problem is being solved, the statue will come down. We can also practice this good method whenever we encounter a problem in our life.

Pope Francis wrote an exhortation two years ago while introducing the year of St. Joseph with the title “Patris Corde” meaning WITH A FATHER’S HEART. Pope wants us to understand that Joseph loved Jesus with a Father’s heart. Actually, the year 2020 was a special year to know more and to spread the devotion to St. Joseph in the Church

In this Apostolic letter “Patris Corde” Pope Francis says: A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child. The Pope says: “Whenever a man accepts responsibility for the life of another, in some way he becomes a father to that person”. This is the way the priests too become fathers when they take responsibility for others, it can be in our parishes, schools, missions, and communities, priests and religious become fathers like St. Joseph.

In Patris Corde Pope Francis presents seven characteristics of St. Joseph and I would like to share them with you here briefly. Priests are called Fathers without being fathers in the biological sense but being in the same manner as St. Joseph with spiritual fatherhood. The first title that the Pope gives to Joseph is Beloved Father.

  1. A beloved father

Joseph employed his legal authority over the Holy Family to devote himself completely to them in his life and work. He turned his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of himself with his heart and all his abilities. He placed all his life at the service of the Messiah who was growing to maturity in his home”. He loved Jesus as a beloved father.

  1. A tender and loving father

Tenderness is normally connected to women but the Pope wanted to give this characteristic to St. Joseph. Joseph saw Jesus grow daily “in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favour” (Lk 2:52). he taught Jesus to walk, taking him by the hand; he was for him like a father who raises an infant to his cheeks, bending down to him and feeding him (cf. With 11:3-4). “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

  1. An obedient father

There are four important dreams in the life of St. Joseph. When Joseph was deeply troubled by Mary’s mysterious pregnancy, he did not want to “expose her to public disgrace” so he decided to “dismiss her quietly” (Mt 1:19). In the first dream, an angel helps him resolve his grave dilemma: “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (Mt 1:20-21). Joseph’s response was immediate: “When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Mt 1:24). Obedience made it possible for him to surmount his difficulties and spare Mary.

In the second dream, the angel tells Joseph: “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; Joseph did not hesitate to obey, regardless of the hardship involved: “He got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod” (Mt 2:14-15).

What would be our case, if we are asked to go to a new place if we do not get time, we will complain to our superiors: Ehi you did not give me enough time. Imagine Joseph here, he had no time to sell his property, take his tools, no farewell party, he wouldn’t know what he is going to encounter in Egypt. How is he going to feed his family, will he get a job, and can he find a house? All uncertainties!

In Egypt, Joseph awaited with patient trust the angel’s notice that he could safely return home. In a third dream, the angel told him that those who sought to kill the child were dead and ordered him to rise, take the child and his mother, and return to the land of Israel (cf. Mt 2:19-20). Once again, Joseph promptly obeyed. “He got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel” (Mt 2:21).

Fourth Dream: During the return journey, “when Joseph heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. After being warned in a dream he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth” (Mt 2:22-23).

In every situation, Joseph declared his own “fiat”, like those of Mary at the Annunciation and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In his role as the head of a family, Joseph taught Jesus to be obedient to his parents (cf. Lk 2:51), in accordance with God’s command (cf. Ex 20:12). During the hidden years in Nazareth, Jesus learned at the school of Joseph to do the will of the Father.

  1. An accepting father

Joseph accepted Mary unconditionally. He trusted in the angel’s words. The spiritual path that Joseph traces for us is not one that explains but accepts. Only the Lord can give us the strength needed to accept life as it is, with all its contradictions, frustrations and disappointments. Just as God told Joseph: “Son of David, do not be afraid!” (Mt 1:20), so he seems to tell us: “Do not be afraid!” The Apostle Paul can say: “We know that all things work together for good, for those who love God” (Rom 8:28).

Do you remember what Jesus says when he sends his disciples in pairs for a mission? In Luke 10, 8 we read: “whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is put before you”. Some biblical scholars give a beautiful interpretation to this exhortation. It does not connect just to food, but all that is connected to a new place. Whether we are priests, consecrated people or lay faithful, “Eat what is put before you” means accept the people who are around you, accept their culture, their language, the apostolate, circumstances, climate, food, everything… Joseph accepted everything he encountered as God’s will whether he was in Judea, Galilee, Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth or Jerusalem.

I thank my superiors who sent me on a mission from one continent to other, and I thank God finally I am here in this Archdiocese of Guwahati enjoying fraternity.

  1. A creatively courageous father

If at times God seems not to help us, surely this does not mean that we have been abandoned, but instead we are being trusted to plan, to be creative, and to find solutions ourselves.

The angel says to Joseph: you go to Egypt and that’s all. But he takes his initiative, he is being creative and he does his role faithfully and diligently. We too need to have this spirit of creativity. Our Superior may keep transferring us from one place to the other and it is up to us to take initiative when are in a new place.

The Gospel does not tell us how long Mary, Joseph and the child remained in Egypt. Yet they certainly needed to eat, to find a home and employment. It does not take much imagination to fill in those details. The Holy Family had to face concrete problems like every other family and like so many of our migrant brothers and sisters

  1. A working father

An aspect of Saint Joseph that has been emphasised from the time of the first social Encyclical, Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII is his relation to work. We already mentioned that Joseph was proclaimed as the patron of workers. He is working as a carpenter who earned an honest living to provide for his family. St. Joseph was a poor man but not a beggar. From him, Jesus learned the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labour.

Work is a means of participating in the work of salvation; it is an opportunity to develop our talents and abilities, and to put them at the service of society and fraternal communion.

  1. A father in the shadows

The Polish writer Jan Dobraczyński, in his book The Shadow of the Father, tells the story of Saint Joseph’s life in the form of a novel. We can get it on Amazon. It is really a very beautiful novel. He uses the evocative image of a shadow to define Joseph. In his relationship with Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father.

Joseph is traditionally called a “most chaste” father. That title is not simply a sign of affection, but the summary of an attitude that is the opposite of possessiveness. Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life. Only when love is chaste, is it true love. A possessive love ultimately becomes dangerous: it imprisons people, restricts people and makes life miserable.

In every exercise of our fatherhood, we should always keep in mind that it has nothing to do with possession, but is rather a “sign” pointing to a greater fatherhood. In a way, we are all like Joseph: a shadow of the heavenly Father.

I would like to conclude this reflection with an invocation taking it up in the prayer “over the offering” of the Mass in the Missal on March 19 before the liturgical reform: “O God, who gave us the royal priesthood, grant us, we pray, that, as Blessed Joseph deserved to treat reverently with his hands, make us priests serve your sacred altars with the purity of heart and innocence of action, to receive today with dignity the Sacred Body and Blood of your Son. Amen.

Fr. Sunil Kallarakal, OSJ