Today is the feast day of a remarkable saint, the stepfather and protector of the most important Child ever to be born: Joseph of Nazareth. Yet few give him much thought, as virtually nothing about his life is included in the New Testament. For a modest taste, one must turn to a “non-canonical” document: the Protoevangelium of Saint James.
The Protoevangelium tells a beautiful tale. It speaks of how Joseph, “an old man with sons,” grudgingly accepted the guardianship of the virgin Mary from the priests who had raised and educated her, of his subsequent discovery that she was with child, and of the tests the priests applied, to him and to her, to test his claim that he had never had coitus with her – indeed, that she was virgo intacta, and thus that hers was a miraculous conception. Yet because it is believed to have been composed in the Second Century, it is regarded by many as apocryphal. At any rate, the Church has deemed it insufficiently well confirmed to be included in the Biblical canon.
The lives of the Holy Family, as recorded in the Gospels, make little mention of Joseph. Yet Mary’s pregnancy posed him a hazard no less than it did her. The authorities of the time, had they not been convinced that he was blameless and that she was still a virgin, could and would have put the two of them to death for adultery, as the Mosaic Law commands.
Joseph supported and protected Mary and Jesus for many years, until that “good and faithful servant” was received into eternity. Yet the Gospels record nothing about him past Jesus’ childhood. He was a “silent witness” to the maturation of the Savior: present, toiling and nurturing, but unspeaking.
This quiet man, faithful steward of an unsought responsibility, exemplifies all the virtues of the responsible husband and father – for a virgin less than half his age, and a Child not of his flesh, whose very existence put Joseph in peril of his life. Today he is deemed the patron saint of fathers, families, married couples, children, pregnant women, workers, craftsmen, against doubt, the dying, and a happy and holy death. He is a model that deserves to be honored and emulated…but seldom is.
Saint Joseph has two feast days: March 19, in commemoration of his protection and support of Mary and the child Jesus; and May 1, dedicated to Saint Joseph the Workman, the model for all men who labor. Indeed, the Church dedicates the entire month of March to the honor of this saint. Yet of the Holy Family, his are the labors and the virtues least remembered and appreciated.
Saint Joseph, laborer, reluctant spouse and steadfast protector of Mary the Mother of God, stepfather to Jesus Christ Our Lord, pray for me.