Motives for Devotion to St. Joseph
Fr. Anthony A. Patrigani, S.J.
With Eccles. Appr.
Third Motive of Devotion to St. Joseph---The Example of the Holy Angels.
When the holy patriarch Jacob saw with his own eyes the glory of his well-beloved son, forgetting his position of father, he prostrated himself before the sceptre of Joseph, and rendered him the most respectful homage. What sentiments of veneration and respect must the example of this old man have excited in the hearts of his other children towards a brother become so honorable and exalted! After having contemplated the Son of God and His Mother at the feet of Joseph, you will, perhaps, judge it superfluous, dear reader, that we should point out to you the homage and veneration paid to him by the Angels. It is not astonishing, you will say, that the lords of a court, those even of the highest rank, should honor a person to whom their sovereign himself has rendered the homage due to a king. I agree with you, however, if what I have to say does not appear to you to contribute to our Saint's glory. Your devotion, at least, will have cause to rejoice as well as your love for St. Joseph, at the sight of the homage which he receives from the Angels, those humble servants of Jesus and Mary. The blessed spirits honored St. Joseph, as they had two powerful motives to do: firstly, because he was their equal by his purity and his other virtues; secondly, because he surpassed them by his eminent dignity.
Our Divine Master greatly praises virginity. Virgins, though captives in this miry prison which is called the flesh, know, however, how to preserve, in all its purity, a flower which one would think could only bud and blossom in its own climate---that is to say, in Heaven; so that, although a stranger upon earth, it shines with a lustre as pure as it is unalterable, and exhales a perfume which rises even to the throne of God. For this reason, virgins have frequently been honored by the same title as the celestial spirits: thus, the name of Angel was given to St. Aloysius, to Stanislas Kostka, to an Alexis, a Casimir, an Elzear, and to thousands of others; but how much more justly still is St. Joseph the equal of the Angels, he who in purity excelled all the other Saints, as the lily exceeds the other flowers in majesty!
The virginity of Joseph was, it must be confessed, a marvel without example at the time, since he was the first who practised it in the married state. Thus grace, in uniting two virgins in the persons of Mary and Joseph, added in their hearts a new lustre to that more than angelic purity which constituted their glory and their merit.
Blessed spirits! you will permit me to say that the purity of Joseph far surpassed your own. At the sight of the Angel Gabriel appearing under a human form, at the words which he pronounced, the Queen of Virgins was troubled, said St. Ambrose (Lib. de off.) Never was she thus alarmed at the aspect or the words of her spouse: she did not fear to live nor to converse with him. I will say boldly, with St. Francis de Sales, Joseph surpassed in purity the Angels of the highest hierarchy during the twenty to thirty years in which he lived with the Mother of God. The eyes of Mary, says Gerson, distilled a sort of virginal dew, which constantly purified the hearts upon which it fell; and since this heavenly dew fell abundantly each day upon the heart of Joseph, which was perfectly disposed to receive its sweet influence, a new lustre was daily added to the purity of the holy patriarch. Therefore, it is not
astonishing that Joseph should have become, so to speak, a pure spirit, nor that he has merited to be reckoned rather among Angels than among men, according to a celebrated interpreter of the Holy Scriptures. (Cornelius a Lapide, on St. Matthew.)
But if Joseph was not inferior to the Angels in purity, he was still more their equal by the prerogatives merited him by his eminent sanctity. It would be rashness in me to endeavor to paint to you the fullness in which Joseph enjoyed the possession of the power and functions of each of the celestial hierarchies; other writers have undertaken it before me, and penetrating even into Heaven, they show us Joseph equal to the Guardian Angels of the first order by the vigilance he exercised over the Son of God confided to his care; equal to the Archangels, by his transmitting to Mary the commands of God; equal to the Powers, because he manifested to the Egyptians the power of the Word Incarnate, whose presence overthrew their idols; equal to the Virtues, because he governed the Holy Family; equal to the Principalities and Dominations, because he commanded the King and Queen of Heaven; equal to the Thrones, being himself the throne of Jesus when he carried Him in his arms; equal to the Cherubim, since he penetrated into the most profound mysteries of the Wisdom Incarnate; equal to the Seraphim, being raised on the wings of love, even to the highest state of contemplation, wherein he was enabled to repose sweetly on the bosom of that Divine Master whom the blessed spirits see unceasingly and never tire of beholding. In quem desiderant angeli prospicere. (St. Peter, Ep. I. c. i.)
We all know that resemblance induces love; therefore the Angels of all the various orders, beholding on earth a man, who, by a particular privilege of grace, equalled them inpurity and sanctity, could not fail to love him in a special manner. Thus it was not without design that the Angel, upon his first appearance to Joseph, called him by his name---Joseph, son of David. We see by the Scriptures that it was not customary for the Angels to act thus in bringing messages from Heaven to men. "Son of man, arise," said the Angel to Ezekiel; "Rise quickly," said he to St. Peter; "Write what you see, "said he to St. John the Evangelist. The Angels seem ignorant of, or to make no account of the names of these illustrious personages. But such was not their course towards St. Joseph; they called him by his own name; they treat him as a prince, a descendant of King David---Joseph fili David. This glorious title belonged to him, and the Angels bestowed it upon him, to honor by that distinction one whom eminence and sanctity had already distinguished. Furthermore, they loved to acknowledge him as their fellow-citizen, though he was still living in this land of exile, for, in fact, Joseph was only bodily on earth; his soul seemed already dwelling in Heaven, enjoying its delights. So speaks Holy Church, when, addressing the holy patriarch, she says, "O admirable destiny! even in this life equal to the Angels, you share their happiness and enjoy the vision of God." (Roman Breviary, Feast of St. Joseph.)
The New Testament makes no mention of any man so favored with Angelic visitants as St. Joseph. According to the Gospel, he received no less than four. Sylveira, a celebrated commentator of Holy Scripture, writing upon this subject, asks why God, Who had Himself warned the Magi not to return to Herod, makes use of an Angel to apprise Joseph of the project formed by that prince against the life of the Divine Infant? His answer is, that the Lord, Who never quitted Joseph, made known to him His will by the Angels in order to give the latter an opportunity of conversing with a Saint for whom they entertained so great respect and affection. We are led to wonder why Gabriel, in revealing to Joseph the cruel projects of Herod, contented himself with ordering him to fly into Egypt, without specifying the time he is to spend there, and that visiting him there seven years after, he warns him to return into Judea, but without telling him where to fix his residence, to provide for the safety of the Holy Family, which he will come to tell him later. Why, then, these three visits, when one would suffice? Why leave matter of so great solicitude to the decision of St. Joseph? Sylveira well tells us: "The Angel," says he, "so loved to repeat his visits to Joseph, in order to admire the grandeur of his faith in such profound mysteries and the tranquillity of his soul in such strange events, that he esteemed the satisfaction of seeing him frequently above the glory of enlightening him completely in a single apparition."
Let us remark again, with St. John Chrysostom, that the Angels always visit St. Joseph during his sleep. "Why," he asks, "do they not make themselves known to him and visit him whilst he is awake, as they did to Zachary and the shepherds? If they wished to honor Joseph, would it not have been far more glorious for him had they come to him with a train worthy of the princes of the heavenly court? The most honorable visits are those which are accompanied with the utmost formality. Yet the Angels paid more honor to St. Joseph by appearing to him and discovering to him the secrets of God in the obscurity of a dream, than in the glory of a visit full of grandeur and majesty, since they thereby evinced their belief in the firm and lively faith, of a man, who, to receive the mysteries which were announced to him, had no need to see with his eyes the heavenly ambassadors, all brilliant with light and glory." (St. J. Chrys., Hom. IV. in Matt.; and also Theophylactus.)
Charmed by the faith of St. Joseph, a wise and pious writer, in addressing him, speaks thus: "O Joseph, most holy of men! how could you so readily and firmly believe so new, profound, and unparalleled a mystery?" But I, still more delighted with his promptitude in executing the orders given him, however painful they might be, say to him, with another interpreter, Drexelius: "Teach me, O glorious Saint, why the Angels, who make a profession of honoring your virtues and prerogatives, do not make known to you the orders of the Most High with more respect! Why not leave you the time to prepare for flight and exile? 'Take the young Child and His Mother,' there is the command; 'fly into Egypt,' there is the place of abode; 'remain there till I tell thee,' there is the duration, or rather the uncertainty of the length of an exile which had neither been foreseen nor prepared for. Why not have warned Joseph some days at least before his departure? I am waiting for my answer and Joseph is already on his journey, as prompt in following the orders of the Angel as the latter was in ex- ecuting those of God."
But some may ask, What honor does the Angel here give to St. Joseph? Honor is for him who commands, not for him who obeys. I answer them: that Joseph had more glory in obeying the Angel than the Angel had in commanding Joseph. The Angel commanded Joseph in order to honor him, knowing that, superior to the weaknesses and pride of human nature, he would give the world the example of truly angelic obedience. The Angels obey God with promptitude and devotedness, and Joseph follows the example of those blessed spirits. He hears the command, rises, and sets out. Oh, what joy for the Angel to see this promptitude of obedience! Formerly, the Angels were obliged to use a sort of violence; to decide Lot to quit Sodom, they were forced to take him by the hand and lead him forth against his will from that infamous city. On the contrary, a word, a sign, is sufficient to make Joseph quit his country, for he makes no delay; he is silent and obeys. (See, in the Roman Breviary, the Homily of St. J. Chrys. for the Octave of the Holy Innocents.)
Now, if the Angels rendered so much honor to St. Joseph, because they saw in him their equal in purity, fidelity, and obedience, what fresh honors did they not render him, by reason of the dignity which raised him above all the celestial hierarchy? To what one, I say, not only of the Angels, but even of the Seraphim, has the Lord ever communicated His divine paternity? To which of them has He ever said: "Thou art my son, " or far more still, "You are my father?" Joseph, alone, to the exclusion of all the heavenly spirits, was judged worthy to bear that name which seemed incommunicable. The Angels were ordered to adore, on earth, the incarnate Son of God. Joseph, alone, while adoring with them the Divine Infant, could justly say to them: "You Angels of Heaven can indeed praise and adore Him, for He is your Creator and Lord; but I can do more, I can embrace, kiss, and caress Him, for He is my Son." (St. Cyprian.) What must have been the sentiments of these blessed spirits at the sight of so sublime a dignity reserved for St. Joseph! They were incapable of envy, but a sort of strife and rivalry arose amongst them as to which of them should testify the greatest respect, esteem, and affection for a father so favored by God.
What honors and services have not been rendered by the Angels to some Saints, solely because they saw in them the friends of God! Father Segneri tells us, that they bestowed their care during seven days upon a hermit in his last illness. They served as physicians to Timothy, as couriers to Anthony, as laborers to Isidore, as sailors to Basilides, and as pilots to the old man whose marvellous history has been transmitted to us by St. Paulinus. "Therefore," says Suarez, "we may imagine the care which they bestowed upon him who was not only the friend of God, but the prince of the friends of God; to him who was not only a saint, but the first among all the Saints; to him whom the mouth of a child-God had so often called father!" "With what eagerness," adds Sylveira, "did not the Angels, at the sight of Joseph enduring hard labor, offering his sweat to succor a God unknown and despised; endeavoring to assuage His hunger, to quench His thirst, immolating himself to provide for the wants of this poor Child, suffering every deprivation, and not having where to lay his head---with what eagerness, I say, must not the Angels, if not from a sense of justice and duty, at least through admiration and respect, have descended from Heaven, sometimes, to visit the workshop of St. Joseph, to assist him in his labors: sometimes to go to his house, to comfort him in his fatigue, and sometimes to accompany him on his journeys, to serve him as guides, and to provide for his wants! How often must the sole desire of enjoying his company, and admiring his assiduity in serving the Incarnate Word, have drawn them to his presence!"
The venerable Margaret of the Blessed Sacrament, who was spiritually enlightened upon the mysteries of the Divine Infancy, being one day interrogated by her Superior upon what she knew of the person of St. Joseph, said, among other things, "that he was often hired out by the day, and that God permitted that he should find work suitable to his taste for silence and prayer. Sometimes," added she, "the Angels came to aid him; but the holy old man did not stop to consider them, for his eyes, as well those of the body as the soul, having looked continually upon the Divine Infant, could no longer find objects capable of fixing their attention save Him and His Mother."
We can readily believe that St. Joseph, humble as he was, could not see without pain the Angels sharing in his labors; he would rather have wished to conform himself, in all respects, to the example of the Divine Infant, who, though the King of Angels, had come upon earth, not to be served, but to serve and to embrace all kinds of labor and fatigue. Be that as it may, will it not suffice, for the glory of our Saint, to show that he was worthy the honors and services he received from the Angels, by reason of the resemblance which his virtues and functions gave him with those heavenly spirits? But he was still more deserving of them from the pre-eminent dignity of his title of Father of Jesus. "Being made so much better than the Angels, as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they." (Hebrews, i. 4.)
As for me, O glorious St. Joseph, I am so fully persuaded of your pre-eminence over those blessed spirits, that I would desire, with one of your most devout panegyrists, to see all the members of my body converted into as many tongues, to celebrate you. Ah! at least, I will serve you with Jesus, love you with Mary, and honor and praise you with the holy Angels.
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