In the two thousand year history of the Church, the feast day for St. Joseph has been knocked around quite a bit. The feast itself was not celebrated until the tenth century, almost 1,000 years after the founding of the Church. It was not celebrated in Rome until 1479, and then the feast was not celebrated in the universal Church until 1570. Between 1570 and 1917, the rank of the feast was lowered and raised several times until the calendar was firmly established in the 19th century. Though we traditionally celebrate this feast on March 19, for many years the feast was celebrated on the third Sunday of Easter. The Eastern churches celebrate St. Joseph on the Sunday after Christmas. Perhaps because the Scriptures have very little to say about the man and because he is one character who is silent throughout the Gospels, he simply did not fold a place of prominence in Catholic culture until quite late in our history.
Despite the fact that we know very little about him, he does teach us profound lessons about obedience to God’s will, about faith, and about humility. He is now known as the patron of the Universal Church, of carpenters, of the dying, of emigrants, and of many different countries throughout the world including Canada, Croatia, China, Korea, Italy and Poland. In Spain, March 19 is Father’s Day. In the Philippines, the feast is celebrated by choosing a homeless man, woman and child and inviting them to a banquet in honor of St. Joseph. Red and white bunting, the colors of the Polish flag have become synonymous with the feast. In our own country, the custom of providing meatless meal for the poor is observed in many communities.
We know that the culture of the Middle East values honor more than any other quality. This is reflected in the life of St. Joseph by his initial reluctance to take Mary as his wife after it was learned that she was with child. It would have been considered shameful for him to claim as his own the child of another man. However, when the angel brought him the news that the child had been conceived by the Holy Spirit, he set aside his own sense of honor and accepted God’s will as his own. When at the age of twelve the child Jesus claimed that he had to be in his Father’s house, Joseph displays great humility by not taking offense at his words.
At a time when we truly need role models in our world, Saint Joseph stands as one of our greatest heroes. There is a comfortable goodness about him that we respect and revere. There is much to learn from him about how we should live our life in Christ.
As we prepare to receive Christ in the Eucharist, as Joseph received Jesus into his home, may we have the grace and virtue to live as obedient, faithful and humble servants of the Lord.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator