Yesterday was the Feast of St. Joseph, who is the Foster Father of God, which seems a tremendous statement, but it is the one that St. Bernard uses in one of his sermons, and in a prayer to him that I wrote many years ago, I said the same. However in the prayer to St. Joseph, which I will be posting on the web in the next day or so, you will see that in case of misunderstanding, I have opted for Foster Father of the Son of God.
There is so little these days on St. Joseph, that in many ways Bishop Healey Thomson's book written at the end of the 19th century and entitled "The Glories of St. Joseph" is still a wonderful treasure trove of the writings of saints and theologians who have venerated St. Joseph and lauded him to the heavens. Why is he important today? I think he is important as the Patron and Protector of the Church, but equally important for men and women in their at times tortured relationships with one another in this incredibly over sensitive Western World, in which we inhabit. Because men and women these days are seen as always being associated sexually with each other, and rarely spiritually, and as the media from advertisements to films represent couples invariably not married, but emotionally fragile and rootless, we need to see Joseph's role in bringing both the sexes back to sanity. Joseph is not only "Joseph most Just", he is "Joseph most chaste". It is because he is Just that he is chaste. I think, contrary to some commentators on Joseph, I believe that hewished to live a virignal life. An American woman biographer, thought this hopelessly anachronistic, and said it was, if my memory serves me correctly, rather like having a pistol in the court of King Arthur. Sceptics might with equal validity, using that argument, question whether Arthur existed. I believe that Arthur existed and that St. Joseph intended to be a virgin.
In the West where to live with out sex seems emotional suicide, Joseph and Mary confront us with something we do not care to think of very often, that the love of God becomes before all else. Mary lives for God, as does Joseph. It is his will that is paramount. Neither of them are at all interested in what they need, it is waht God wants that matters. Joseph, like his Patriarchal predecessor, is truly, in the best sense of the word a dreamer. He listens not to his fantasies, but listens to what God tells him, through his angel in his dreams. He is a man, to use the depressing language of counselling, who is truly in touch with his feelings, because his feelings were utterly in tune with what God wanted.
No marriage has been so perfect, so loving, and so true, and there was no sex. As Fulton Sheen said of Mary and Joseph's marriage "Their marriage started where everyone else's finished", there was pure love without passion. The love was all centred on the Father's will, and on their Son, because according to Jewish law an adopted son was as real asa naturally born son. We can only marvel at this family. Joseph was not immaculately conceived and he was not God, but he was the head of the Holy Family, and so ardent feminists should stop and ponder. It is obvious that Joseph is not a male chauvinist, and he did not wish to divorce Mary as the dubious Jerusalem Bible translation asserts. Here we must turn to the Vulgate which takes precedence over the Catholic R.S.V. .."Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately."
It is the the belief of St. Bernard that Joseph suddenly realized that Mary had conceived in her the Messiah, the God Man. it was this amazing realization that caused him to withdraw from so great a mystery. Here we see great modesty and tact; something alien to our casual and gushy society where people on TV programmes kiss strangers as if they were old friends and proceed to unleash on everyone all their most personal details with astounding gusto. Modesty is out of the window.
Over the next few months I would like us to meditate on the titles that Joseph is given in his Litany, and also it would be good to simply think about how Joseph, whose cult took a very long time to develop, emerges from some wonderful and holy darkness becoming ever more real and solid; a true Father in every sense of the word, and who is the shadow of The Father, God The Father. Joseph's name means "Increase", and as times for the Church and the World get worse and worse his strength and love and paternal care increase and become stronger and stronger, so that we can shelter under his cloak as Jesus and Mary did when they fled from the dreadful Herod the Great, a tyrant in every sense of the word. Joseph Most Just pray for us.