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Father Vincent Hawkswell

St. Joseph, the Holy Family’s neglected member

Voices Dec. 24, 2018

St. Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, but he was far more than a guardian or foster-father, writes Father Hawkswell. (CNS photo)

Holy Family, Year C
First Reading: 1 Sm 1:11, 20-22, 24-28 
Second Reading: 1 Jn 3:1-2, 21-24 
Gospel Reading: Lk 2:41-52

This Sunday the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family. (When there is no Sunday in the week after Christmas, it is moved to Dec. 30, so unless we go to daily Mass, we may miss it.)

The most neglected member of the Holy Family is St. Joseph. Traditionally, we list him last. As a child, I learned that “Jesus Christ had no father on earth: St. Joseph was only his guardian or foster-father.”

Not until I read Pope St. John Paul II’s 1989 encyclical Redemptoris Custos (The Guardian of the Redeemer) did I understand that Joseph participated in the Incarnation “as no other human being did except Mary.”

At the time of Jesus’ conception, Joseph was “wedded” to Mary, the Pope notes. They had not lived together, but they were betrothed; that is, legally married, not just engaged to marry.

In what the Pope calls Joseph’s own “annunciation,” the angel visited him as Mary’s spouse. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said (using a Messianic title given to no one else besides Jesus), “have no fear about taking Mary as your wife ...  She is to have a Son and you are to name him Jesus.”

Now it was the right of a Jewish father to name a child. In exercising this right, as commanded by the angel, Joseph declared his “legal fatherhood over Jesus.” He was not Jesus’ biological father, but he was far more than a guardian or foster-father.

As the Pope said in a prayer at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal Sept. 11, 1984, Joseph gave Jesus “legal paternity in the line of David.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church says God called Joseph to take Mary as his wife so that Jesus “should be born of Joseph’s spouse into the Messianic lineage of David.”

Jesus, then, is “Son of God” by the Holy Spirit, but “Son of David” by Joseph. Accordingly, the Pope says, we must uphold not only Jesus’ virginal conception, but also Joseph’s marriage to Mary, because that is “the juridical basis of his fatherhood.”

By virtue of that marriage, Mary’s Son “is also Joseph’s Son,” the Pope stresses. “Both of them deserve to be called Christ’s parents.” Mary’s words to Jesus – “Your father and I have been searching for you” – are not just “conventional,” but show “the complete reality of the Incarnation” present in the Holy Family.

Joseph was Jesus’ father in the same way that he was Mary’s husband: “in mind, not in the flesh.” Mary remained a virgin, but the spouses realized “all the goods of marriage”: namely “offspring, fidelity, and the sacrament.”

The Pope also spoke of Joseph on numerous other occasions.

“In view of their contribution to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, Joseph and Mary received the grace of living both the charism of virginity and the gift of marriage,” he said.

“The difficulty of accepting the sublime mystery of their spousal communion has led some, since the second century, to think of Joseph as advanced in age and to consider him Mary’s guardian more than her husband. It is instead a case of supposing that he was not an elderly man at the time, but that his interior perfection, the fruit of grace, led him to live his spousal relationship with Mary with virginal affection.”

God the Father called Joseph “to participate in a special way in his eternal fatherhood,” the Pope said. “The Son of God, Son of Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit, lived at Joseph’s side, entrusted to his loving fatherhood,” addressing him as “father.”

As Jesus’ legal father, the Pope notes, Joseph witnessed Jesus’ birth, the shepherds’ adoration, and the Magi’s homage. He “fulfilled for the Child Jesus the significant task of officially inserting the name ‘Jesus, Son of Joseph of Nazareth’ in the registry of the Roman Empire.” He hid Mary and the infant Jesus from Herod in Egypt. He presided over Jesus’ circumcision, his support and education, and his presentation in the temple.

“Joseph guided and supported the boy Jesus, introducing him to the knowledge of the religious and social customs of the Jewish people and getting him started in the carpenter’s trade,” he said. It is Joseph who “linked the Son of God to human work.”

Fittingly, then, Pope Pius IX declared Joseph patron of the universal Church. “The Church is, in fact, Christ’s Body,” Pope John Paul explained. “Is it not logical, then, and necessary, that he to whom the eternal Father entrusted his Son should offer the same protection to the Church?” See 

See St. Joseph: the Canadian Connection.

Father Hawkswell teaches a free course on the Catholic faith from now until Pentecost: every Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre, 4885 Saint John Paul II Way (just off 33rd Avenue between Oak and Cambie) and twice every Monday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at St. Anthony’s Parish, 2347 Inglewood Avenue, West Vancouver, and from 7 to 9 p.m. at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre. Everyone is welcome, Catholic or non-Catholic.