In order to understand the person of St. Joseph in the life and spirituality of the Oblates of St. Joseph, it is necessary to first understand how St. Joseph Marello, our founder, was devoted to St. Joseph. It is through the spirituality of St. Joseph Marello that we can in turn understand more about the spirituality of the Oblates of St. Joseph.
St. Joseph in the Spirituality of St. Joseph Marello
While Jesus is certainly the primary person at the heart of St. Joseph Marello’s spirituality, it would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of St. Joseph in the life and spirituality of Marello, and it is the person of Joseph who in many ways becomes the underlying leitmotif of Marello’s whole spirituality. Both in Marello’s writings and in those of the first Oblates, St. Joseph is the model and foundation for many of the themes they explore.
Marello always situates Joseph in relation to Jesus, and it becomes clear in reading Marello’s writings that he understands all of Joseph’s greatness in light of his relationship to Jesus. “Saint Joseph, you who are so humble and had the fortune to live in the company of Jesus and to observe all that he did, speak to my heart and make me learn everything from the life of Jesus, which was so holy and which you imitated so well.” To imitate Joseph is to imitate Jesus. Indeed, Marello’s own desire to imitate Joseph led to the formation of some of his most beautiful prayers to St. Joseph:
O glorious patriarch St. Joseph…next to the Blessed Virgin you were the first to enfold in your arms the Redeemer. Be our exemplar in our ministry, which, like your own, is a ministry of intimate relationship with the Divine Word. May you teach us, may you assist us, may you make us worthy members of the Holy Family.
The most important aspect of Marello’s devotion to Joseph is that it leads us into a deeper relationship with Jesus and Mary.
Just as Francis de Sales readily expounded on the virtues of Joseph, so too Marello often associates Joseph with all good virtues. He is just, humble, calm, and peaceful. And because Joseph is such a man of virtue, we in turn can learn from him how to be virtuous people. As Marello writes, “Let us ask St. Joseph for tranquility and equanimity of spirit…. If [he] did not grant favors, he would cease to be St. Joseph.”
Because of the virtues and greatness of the person of Joseph, Marello often recommends him as a model in whose footsteps we can follow: “Let us take as an example the great Saint Joseph…. Let us model ourselves after this sublime example, learning to remain calm and tranquil in all circumstances of life.” And in addition to being a model, Marello frequently encourages others to approach Joseph as an intercessor: “Let us go together to Joseph and pray for one another. And may our Holy Patriarch obtain for us from God every grace we need.” But again, it is primarily in relation to Jesus that Marello recommends St. Joseph’s intercession: “Let us ask St. Joseph for familiarity and intimate union with Jesus.”
Finally, Marello sees in Joseph of Nazareth not only a most virtuous man, not only a great man to be imitated, but a man with an incredibly deep interior life. Marello once more speaks of Joseph’s patronage in the categories of his formative years of the seminary: “Let us ask St. Joseph to be our spiritual director,” and, “St. Joseph, protector of the interior life, be my Master.” Fr. John Baptist Cortona certainly takes up this theme in one of his instructions to the first Oblates with this thought: “We who profess the imitation of St. Joseph are implicitly professing dedication to the interior life, which is what we admire most in St. Joseph.”
St. Joseph in the Spirituality of the Oblates of St. Joseph
It is in Marello’s own devotion to St. Joseph that the Oblates find their great love for St. Joseph. Just as Marello saw “next to the Blessed Virgin,” Joseph was the first embrace Jesus, The Oblate of St. Joseph sees in St. Joseph a path to grow closer to Jesus and his mother Mary. Since Joseph always leads us to know Mary and Jesus better, the Oblates see their devotion to Joseph as leading them to a special love for and relationship with Jesus and Mary.
We also see in St. Joseph an example of those human virtues so needed in our own time. As men trying to live upright lives for the Lord, we see that Joseph’s simple, humble, hardworking life can be the perfect paradigm for our own service to Jesus. So we as Oblates of St. Joseph strive to live simple, humble, and hardworking lives, just a Joseph did. As Joseph was faithful in following the law of God, we strive to be faithful to the law of God found in his Catholic Church.
But even more than the external virtues which should be manifested to those around us, we see in St. Joseph a model for a rich interior life in God. If Joseph was able to contemplate the face of Jesus day by day, the Oblates of St. Joseph must also contemplate the person of Jesus in their lives, being led always to a greater love for Jesus and Mary.