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Forty days before the Triduum, the Lenten season disposes Catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery through prayer and penitential practices.
Joseph, Husband of Mary, First Century
Most of our reliable information on Joseph is contained in the first two chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Here we find that Joseph was of royal descent from David, that his family came from Bethlehem in Judea, and that Joseph, who was a builder, had moved from Bethlehem to Nazareth in Galilee.
Joseph was engaged to Mary. Upon learning that she was pregnant, he resolved to divorce her. Described in Matthew as a righteous man, Joseph did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace; therefore, he intended to dismiss her quietly. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to tell him, "do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." (Mt 1:20).
Shortly after the birth of Jesus, Herod ordered the death of all children in Bethlehem under the age of two. An angel again appeared to Joseph to tell him to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt. After Herod's death, an angel came to Joseph for the third time instructing him to return to Israel with his family. While this is all that we know definitively about Joseph, we can surmise more from the few brief references to this saint found in Scripture.
Luke may have interviewed Mary as he was writing his Gospel. He notes that Mary, upon finding the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple after three days of searching, says to the boy, "your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." (Lk 2:48). Luke then tells us that Jesus went down to Nazareth with his parents and was obedient to them. This reference suggests that Mary and Joseph, like any other parents, loved and cared for their child.
Charged with supporting his family and raising the boy, Jesus, Joseph worked as a carpenter. We know that he taught his trade to Jesus, as was the custom of the times. We can also assume that Jesus, like most boys, picked up the mannerisms and speech of Joseph. Finally, we can surmise that this holiest of families was like most any other family with the same joys, sorrows, love, and concern for each other.
Devotions to St. Joseph began to grow in the Middle Ages, but only became widespread in the fifteenth century when his feast day was added to the Church calendar in 1479. St. Teresa and St. Frances de Sales particularly popularized devotion to the foster father of our Lord. Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph Patron of the Universal Church in 1870 and later popes pronounced St. Joseph the patron of workers and of social justice, with Pope Pius XII establishing May 1 as the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. He is also honored by a Solemnity on March 19.
Joseph’s message today: In a time when families are breaking up, often with fathers abandoning their wives and children, Joseph provides a model for fathers who love their families.