“Almighty God, from the house of Your servant David You raised up Joseph to be the guardian of Your incarnate Son and the husband of His mother, Mary. Grant us grace to follow the example of this faithful workman in heeding Your counsel and obeying Your commands; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”
[Collect for St. Joseph]
March 19 is set aside by the Church to commemorate St. Joseph, the Guardian of Our Lord. Often Joseph is the “forgotten man” in the recounting of Our Lord’s Nativity. Think on the usual festivities of Christmas. We speak of Joseph taking Mary to Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David. But other than that, Joseph does not have much play in the Christmas pageants, carols, or narratives. The Scriptures give this craftsman from Nazareth no speaking lines, no grand soliloquies. We know his reaction to learning of Mary’s pregnancy, but no statements of his are recorded. Pageant writers have to put “Is there room for us in this inn?” in his mouth. Medieval carolers would be left to create dialogue between Joseph and Mary.
But the Scriptures do provide us with a description of Joseph’s character and faith. And these are much more important than having many quotations. Joseph is described as a “just man.” His character, his sense of righteousness and of mercy, drove his thoughts: “When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”(Mt 1:18-19) Joseph knew what was right, but also what was compassionate. That knowledge removed the thoughts of vengeance, replacing them with the desire to care, even for his apparently unfaithful betrothed.
Yet in that episode of the Christmas Narrative, the faithfulness of Joseph is also displayed. Instructed by an angel of the Lord to still take Mary as his wife, Joseph acts: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called His name Jesus.”(Mt 1:24-25) Here the obedient faith of Joseph is put on display. The Lord instructs and His faithful one acts accordingly. Yet even more amazingly, Joseph’s obedience is given not to benefit him, but to serve the Son of Mary that is not his own. He obeys, giving sacrificially of himself for the welfare of the Infant Christ.
Joseph’s service is as a true Guardian of Our Lord. He takes that task seriously, ensuring that the Infant Jesus undergoes the required rites of circumcision and presentation. His obedience extends to foreign travel to protect the life of his ward, as the Gospel Reading for his festival day records: “Now when [the wise men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy Him.’ And he rose and took the Child and His mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. . . . But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Rise, take the Child and His mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.’ And he rose and took the Child and His mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.”(Mt 2:13-15a, 19-22)
In these actions, Joseph displays his character and faith. Through them, he stands as an example to imitate, especially for those who hold similar positions in life. Joseph displays the qualities that all fathers and guardians should strive to have. And yet, these are truly traits given by the Lord Himself. Only faith in the Lord will lead to such obedience. In fact, that point is driven home in the first verse of the Psalm prayed on St. Joseph’s Day: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”(Ps 127:1a) The foundation that the Lord establishes provides the motivation and direction for faithful actions. Without this, the work will be in vain. But with it, the results will be as He desires.
That truth is repeated in the Old Testament Reading for March 19, where the Lord speaks to David about his idea of building a temple: “Go and tell My servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build Me a house to dwell in? . . . When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.’”(2Sm 7:5, 12-13) Acting according to the Lord’s will is the character of faith. It is the character that Joseph showed.
Trust in the Lord’s words and acting according to His desires, even when difficult and seemingly impossible, will be blessed. They are the works established on the foundation of faith in Him. That is what the Epistle Reading for St. Joseph’s Day also confirms: “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written: ‘I have made you the father of many nations’—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told: ‘So shall your offspring be.’”(Rm 4:16-18)
So Joseph stands as an example for Christians nearly two millennia after his earthly life ended. You may follow his example by acting in faith and righteousness, even when called to do what is arduous or not for your own benefit. Such are the actions based in the character and faith that have been given to you. You are the house that the Lord has built for Himself, temples in which His Spirit dwells. So you may pray: “Grant us grace to follow the example of this faithful workman in heeding Your counsel and obeying Your commands.” Heeding the Lord’s counsel and obeying His commands, your work will not be in vain. Instead, they will be acknowledged now and for eternity, just as it is for St. Joseph, the Guardian of Our Lord.