Motives for Devotion to St. Joseph
Fr. Anthony A. Patrigani, S.J.
With Eccles. Appr.

Principal Motive for Devotion to St. Joseph---The Example of Jesus Christ Himself.

When Jesus Christ, while hanging on the Cross, said to His blessed Mother, pointing at the same time towards St. John the Apostle, "Women, behold thy Son!" He doubtless intended to place all the human race under her protection in the person of the beloved disciple, who then, says St. Bernardine of Sienna, represented all the elect. In like manner, we may believe that the Eternal Father, in appointing St. Joseph, in his capacity of Head of the Holy Family, to guide and protect Jesus and Mary during the flight into Egypt, to watch over and provide for them, designed to place all men under his fatherly care, and to inspire them with veneration for a Saint to whom He confided the most precious trust---the Saviour of the World, the Incarnate Word, the Source of all Delights, and the Center of all the Riches of Paradise. This motive alone suffices to inspire us with a tender devotion to St. Joseph; but a still more powerful one is the example which the Son of the Most High has given us.

The whole life of the Saviour is a perfect, or to speak more properly, a Divine model proposed to our imitation. "For I have given you an example," said He, "that as I have done to you, so you do also." (St. John, xiii. 15.) Now let us consider the example that He has left us regarding the honor we should pay to St. Joseph. Jesus was the first among men to honor him; He saw in this holy patriarch the representative of the Eternal Father, Who had made him His guardian upon earth; therefore He always considered him as a father; and had He really been his son, He could not have shown him greater respect.

Already, Christian reader, I imagine that I see in your heart a pious and eager desire, urging you to inquire more particularly into the manner in which Jesus honored St. Joseph; but how can I satisfy you when you ask me to reveal to you actions with which the Holy Ghost has not seen fit to acquaint us? St. Luke, the depository of the secrets of the Incarnate Word, and the privileged historian of the mysteries of His Divine infancy, includes all that the Man-God did from his twelfth to his thirtieth year in these three words: Erat subditus illis. He was subject to them. What! has the Son of God, during the space of eighteen years, done nothing great or mysterious to serve us as a lesson? To say so would be impious. Or, had the Evangelist no circumstantial information concerning the private life of Jesus during the many years He passed at Nazareth? Was it not at the school of the Blessed Virgin, so to speak, that the sacred writer learned all that he had to recount? Was it not from the lips of Mary herself that he drew the smallest details concerning the birth of the Saviour in a stable, the adoration of the shepherds, the canticle of the Angelic Host, and a thousand other particulars relative to the mystery of the Incarnation, on which account many authors have not hesitated to call him the Secretary of the Blessed Virgin? Since, therefore, St. Luke, the faithful historian, sums up all that our Saviour did during the greater part of His life in these three words, He was subject to them, it follows thence that Jesus obeyed Mary and Joseph so perfectly that, although he performed an infinity of heroic acts of piety, humility, patience, zeal, and all other virtues, yet He seems, nevertheless, to have had no other occupation than to do the will of His parents; for which reason, doubtless, He wished that His obedience alone should be chronicled in the Gospel, regarding it as an act at once the most noble, most glorious, and most worthy of the Incarnate Word.

But the obedience of Jesus presupposes a right in the person who commands Him: therefore, in the words just cited, we find both the abridgment of the life of the Son of God, and also that of St. Joseph. What, then, were the acts of Joseph during the eighteen years he lived with Jesus at Nazareth? All is comprised in three words: He commanded Jesus. He had a perfect right to do so, since, being the head of the family, it was his duty to govern it. Mary, doubtless, ruled over Him in her character of Mother, but the husband having the principal authority over the children, Jesus, who saw Joseph invested with that authority, practised special obedience to him. This is the opinion of two great theologians, St. Thomas and Peter d'Ailly. Let us here address ourselves to the heavenly hosts, and ask them if they were not often filled with admiration at the sight of the Infant-God, during His sojourn at Nazareth? whether, speaking or acting, eating or reposing, He was ever submissive to the will of St. Joseph? But tell us, blessed spirits, which most excited your wonder and admiration---the humility of Jesus in obeying St. Joseph, or the dignity of St. Joseph in commanding Jesus? When the just Noah saw the ark resting on the top of Mt. Ararat, in Armenia, he needed no further measure to enable him to estimate the prodigious height of the waters of the deluge. In like manner Gerson, that devout servant of St. Joseph, finds in the profound abasement of Jesus obeying the holy patriarch, the measure of our Saint's true dignity. The latter rises in proportion as the former humbles Himself, so that if the submission of Jesus attests His incomparable humility, it also proves the eminent dignity of St. Joseph.

Thus all the acts of submission practised by the Son of God, in His obedience to St. Joseph, were so many steps of glory for the latter. According to this rule, who can understand the dignity of a Saint who saw himself obeyed, respected, and served, during so many years, by his Creator and Sovereign Lord? Joshua has been admired by all ages, because he once arrested the course of the sun at the moment when that luminary was about to set. Yet what is the power of that famous captain compared to that of Joseph, who not once, but many thousand times, could, at his will, control all the actions of his God, the Maker of the sun? Great, truly, was the power exercised in Egypt by that Joseph to whom Pharaoh confided the government of his kingdom. Moses also could have possessed no more glorious nor wonderful title than that bestowed upon him by the God of armies, namely, "the God of Pharaoh;" but all these titles, great as they are, vanish before the dignity of a saint to whom the King of kings submits Himself as to a father and lord.

Hence it is as impossible to find amid all the inhabitants of heaven, if we except Mary, a greater saint than St. Joseph, as it is to conceive of an authority more extended than his, which allowed him to command the Son of God. Let us suppose that God created ten thousand worlds, that He gave to each one a separate king upon condition that all these monarchs should recognize and submit to one among their number as sovereign lord over all the others. Imagine the dignity of the monarch who should be selected to receive the homage of ten thousand powerful princes! the glory of the throne thus raised above all the rest! However, that mighty sovereign could not receive so much honor from the submission of so many powerful kings as that experienced by St. Joseph from the perfect obedience of the Son of God. When Iphicrates said to his soldiers, that he considered his own position as commander of those who commanded others, to be far more glorious than that of an emperor, he merely uttered a vain boast; but St. Joseph could truly say: "To me alone belongs the glory of commanding that God upon Whom all creatures depend, to Whom all princes must submit, and under Whom they stoop that bear up the world." (Job, ix. 13.)

But if the glory of those in authority consists less in the power of commanding than in receiving prompt obedience and respectful submission, we must allow that the dignity of Joseph consisted less in commanding Jesus than in being punctually obeyed by Him. In order to satisfy the devout servants of St. Joseph, we will here give some detailed account, and mention some of the acts of obedience which the Son of God practised in the house of Nazareth, with as much submission as if He had been incapable of self-government. As we have stated above, St. Luke has comprised eighteen years of the life of Jesus Christ in the few words, "He was subject to them," still we will permit ourselves, with the aid of the Holy Fathers, to develop these words, or at least their sense. St. Basil, in the fortieth chapter of his Monastic Constitutions, writes that the Saviour daily labored unceasingly to obey Mary and Joseph. St. Justin Martyr assures us, in his Dialogue with Tryphon, that the Incarnate Word assisted St. Joseph in his labors, and shared in them as far as His strength permitted. St. Jerome and St. Bonaventure say the same thing; but the most undeniable proof of the continual obedience of Jesus towards St. Joseph, is found in the words of the Blessed Virgin speaking to St. Bridget, her favored servant. She says: "My Son was so obedient, that when Joseph said to Him, Do this or that, He did it immediately." (Rev. of St. Bridget, b. iv., c. 58.)
We may figure to ourselves Joseph and Jesus, the former exercising parental authority in the orders he gives, and the latter acquitting Himself of his duties with filial obedience. Joseph, who, to supply the wants of a God reduced to indigence, followed the laborious trade of a carpenter, said, with a respectful voice, to his adopted Son: "Jesus, help me to saw this plank, to shape this block. ...Jesus, take the hammer and drive in this nail. Jesus, come and pick up these shavings, put away these boards which we have just planed. ..Jesus, carry some chips and coals to your mother, and help her to make a fire."
Light came not forth more quickly from darkness at the voice of the Creator than did Jesus hasten to execute the orders of the holy patriarch. Therefore it is not to be wondered at that the inhabitants of Nazareth looked upon Him as the true son of Joseph. They fell into this, then innocent error, from seeing Him constantly assisting the humble artisan in his labors. "Is not this the carpenter's son?" was their cry.

I Again contemplate, with Gerson, this King of glory, this God of majesty, Whom millions of Angels serve and honor; see Him act, not only as companion to Joseph in his workshop, but also as servant to Mary in the little house of Nazareth; see Him put wood on the fire, go to the fountain to draw water, lay the table, and even debase Himself so far as to perform the most menial offices. How was it that St. Joseph was not overcome by joy and confusion at the sight of such humility?

Tobias prostrated himself with his face to the ground, filled with fear and astonishment at the moment when the Angel Raphael, who had, under a human form, served him so long as guide, suddenly revealed the secret of his greatness. How much greater must have been the confusion of Joseph, understanding as he did the greatness of the God made flesh, and clothed with a servile form, when he received from Him all the services one generally expects from a son, or even from a servant! Happy Saint! how often, penetrated with the most lively sentiments of respect and humility, have you not said to that blessed child, seeing Him out of breath and exhausted by fatigue: "O Jesus! O my son! You know how much more I would prefer obedience to authority, but, obliged as I am to follow the orders of Your Divine Father, it is necessary for me to command You. I adore Your obedience, and my superiority only pleases me inasmuch as it has pleased You to give to the world the glorious example of the Creator subject to His creature. Ah, if You would suffer me to change places with You, and You take that of master!" But Jesus, to console Joseph, would doubtless reply thus: "Dear guardian of My infancy, be resigned to the honors which I pay to you; it is My will that you should exercise the authority of a father in My behalf, and that I show you the submission due from a son: by this means We shall give the world an example of justice and propriety."

In this marvellous subjection of Jesus to Joseph, Origen sees a striking example of the respect and obedience children owe to their parents. We have a right to add, that our Divine Saviour, in thus honoring Joseph as His father, wished doubtless to leave to His great family, the Church, a striking example, which should teach her to pay Joseph special homage as the head of the Holy Family; had Jesus Christ submitted but for one hour only to the directions and orders of Joseph, it would have been sufficient to render that holy patriarch venerable among all the Saints; but how much more should he not be honored after Jesus has consented to be subject to him during so many years! Brought up, fed, and protected by St. Joseph for more than twenty-five years, could the Divine Saviour wish otherwise than that all Christians should endeavor to acknowledge by particular homage the long and faithful services which that good father rendered to His adorable person?

Jesus Christ made known His wishes on this point to St. Margaret of Cortona, by appearing to her one day and telling her, among other things, to cultivate a special devotion to St. Joseph, who had performed the part of father towards Him with so much zeal and affection. It would be an act of inexcusable ingratitude for Christians to refuse to pay St. Joseph, through love of the God-Saviour, a tribute of honor and gratitude. As for me, O my Jesus, I will follow Thy example; I will serve him whom Thou has served; I will honor him whom Thou hast honored; I will love him whom Thou has loved with the tenderness of a son. Finally, O my sweet Jesus! by that profound humility which rendered Thy adorable person obedient to the least motion of St. Joseph, I beseech Thee to grant that Thy unworthy servant may be devoted from this moment and forever to the service of this great Saint for the sole purpose of pleasing Thee, since Thou wast the first to give an example. of affection towards him.




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