Devotion to St. Joseph was late in coming in the Church: for many centuries he was largely overlooked, a somewhat functionary figure in the background of Gospel story. More attention was given to more dazzling figures, like the Apostles and St. Paul, great preachers of the Word and to the martyrs, who testified by the public shedding of their blood. But now in naming this year ‘The Year of St. Joseph’ I think the Church wants to shine forth for all something different: the sanctity of ordinariness, and perhaps as well the ordinariness of sanctity. The greatness of our St. Joseph lies precisely IN his littleness, his humility, silence and hidden, unassuming life.
It is not that Joseph lacked great gifts. First of all, we can remember that he is a son of David, not just A son, but we hold, the legitimate heir of the royal line (or he could not have passed it on to Jesus). We can believe that Joseph possessed all the virtues of his famous ancestor: courage, determination, judgement, and above all, tremendous faith & trust in God. Yes, it is not that Joseph did not have the qualities needed to conqueror kingdoms and rule over Israel as David did, but that was not his calling.
For it was to King David, not Joseph, that God was pleased to give ‘a name like that of the great ones of the earth’, meaning those who wield impressive might. For about 500 years the royal House of David was at the center of power and prestige, with such kings as Solomon, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Josiah. Then after the terrible Fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC, the House of David did penance for its sins, continuing on, but in humility and unnoticed, far from the trappings of power, for another 500 years. These are the years with such really UN-famous names that we hear in Matthew’s genealogy, such as Azor and Matthan. For the House of David these humble ‘underground years’ proved to be far more purifying and spiritually beneficial than the days of glory, producing that most ‘quiet, just man’, Joseph.
St. Thomas Aquinas gives the principle that God always gives a person the graces and gifts required for to fulfill that person’s role in the divine plan. If so, we can only wonder at the greatness of Joseph’s graces considering his unique place in the economy of salvation. As head of the Holy Family, he was to exercise the role of father to the Christ-child! St. Joseph was therefore granted sublime and wonderful graces.
Yet, despite these tremendous graces and responsibility given him, Joseph went unnoticed. Why? Wasn’t it because his service was such a quiet one, played out in the ordinariness of life? He was a husband, father and a humble workman in an obscure village. He did his work, protected and provided for his own little family, as so many others have done through the ages and continue to do. Even the dramatic migration into Egypt was not something uncommon in the life of the poor, who have often have had flee from their homelands due to political or financial instability. Joseph’s great virtues were hidden in faithful service. He was not called to do great, impressive things, but to do ordinary things greatly! Infusing them with his spirit of total devotion and submission to God.
In this way, I feel that this is the very reason the Church is now calling attention to St. Joseph, as the model of the Hidden Life for God. When I think of St. Joseph, he is such an inspiration to me! I think of him as a man of deep interior prayer, of his always putting God and others first, his total devotion and fidelity to God, Out of TRUE LOVE. He really loved God, and when Jesus came into his life, he really loved Jesus. He would have laid down his life for Him, and he did, not as the martyrs, but in humble service unto death. He lived this Hidden life of service faithfully for 30 years, without ever seeing the fruit of his work in this world. He did not live to see the public ministry. We don’t know if he ever saw even one great miracle from Jesus. He did not see the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, or the spread of the Gospel through the world. His call was to live intimately with Jesus and Mary, and to serve them in humble daily work. This is our vocation too. The primary goal: being close to Jesus and participating in His Divine Life.
In summary, St. Joseph was overlooked for a long time, a man of exceptional virtues and responsibility but played out in such an ordinary and hidden way. In this obscure service he prepared the way for the redemption of Israel, humanity, the whole creation. Now the Church proclaims him and holds him up as an example and model for all the ordinary unnoticed people of the world, which is most of the human race: that ordinary lives, offered with great faith and devotion are delightful to God and very effective for the work of salvation. Certainly, this is especially true for contemplatives, who like St. Joseph, are called to a humble, hidden life of work and prayer close to Jesus and Mary.