March 19th is the Solemnity of Saint Joseph the Husband of Mary. This feast dates from the eighth century AD. On this feast we commemorate the spouse of Mary as being the righteous man of God.
Saint Matthew relates in his Gospel that when Saint Joseph discovered Mary was with child, “being a righteous man, and not willing to expose her, decided to divorce her quietly” (Mt. 1:19), at which point the angel of the Lord came and explained God’s plan to Saint Joseph in a dream.
As the righteous man, Saint Joseph sets an example for all Christians, as well as all people of good will (cf. Lk 2:14). Saint Irenaeus, in his Adversus haereses, teaches that the righteous men of old were those who “loved the God who made them and did nothing unjust against their neighbor.” Although Saint Irenaeus was not writing about Saint Joseph, his definition certainly can be applied to the Spouse of Our Lady.
That Saint Joseph possessed a great love for God is seen in his promptness in following the message of the angel to take Mary into his house. The promptness to do the will of God in this extraordinary case implies that Saint Joseph must have striven to follow the commandments of God in the ordinary things of daily life.
The Gospel also relates that Saint Joseph fulfilled the duties of religion, for he takes Jesus to be circumcised and makes pilgrimages to Jerusalem (cf. Lk 2). These acts manifest Saint Joseph’s great love for God. It is not farfetched to think of Saint Joseph spending time in prayer and pondering the Scriptures.
Saint Joseph also loved his neighbor. We get a glimpse of his love for others in how he reacted to the news of Mary’s pregnancy. Not yet knowing that God was the Father of the Child, Saint Joseph’s desire to divorce Mary quietly demonstrates that he did not wish to make her perceived fault known. In this Saint Joseph shows he did not want to bring to light the faults and failings of others, as so often happens by way of gossip. This leads to the conclusion that Saint Joseph must have been patient, kind and generous toward all he met. In this he fulfills the law of love.
In our contemporary society we need the example of Saint Joseph. Our society seems to be slowly deteriorating as it is ripped apart by the hostilities of various groups. In their hostilities toward one another, they each blame the other for the ills our society while claiming to have the healing cure.
Yet there are too few who will state that the root of the problem is the breakdown of the family. What is needed to address this issue are righteous men.
These are men who love God and follow his will, beginning with respecting the order of creation. These are men who treat others with respect, including women. These are men who desire to marry, who treat their wives as equals and with them bring children into the world. These are men who raise their children to know God and to be good neighbors and good citizens. These are the men who help establish a just society, either by being good leaders or by supporting those who are. These are the men who will stand against the evils which tear our society apart. These are the righteous men of whom Saint Irenaeus described as loving God and doing nothing unjust to their neighbor.
Who is to be the model for such men? Saint Joseph, known as the terror of the demons, for he fearlessly did the will of God. The demons, along with many in our day, desire only to cause strife, which destroys society. Only Christian love can overcome the evils which are at work in society today.
Saint Joseph is the model for every man, for as Pius XI taught in Divini Redemptoris, “he won for himself the title of ‘the Just,’ serving thus as a living model of that Christian justice which should reign is social life.” May every Christian man follow the example of Saint Joseph.
Father Jason Rocks is currently in Rome at the Pontifical North American College for Advanced Studies.