“Joseph, possessing the branch from which honey was oozing, shone
Like the king of light, the sun, and examined all that had transpired there;
He immersed himself, as if in a sea, in God's grace, kindness, and sweetness;
And more endowed than even the celestials, he offered his worship to God.”
Thembavani: Garland of Unfading Honey-Sweet Verses, 1726
—Vīramāmunivar (Fr. Constantine Joseph Beschi, S.J.)
Italian Jesuit missionary, Fr. Beschi, wrote the longest epic poem on St. Joseph, and he did so in the Tamil language of India. It was 36 cantos containing 3,615 stanzas. Prominent Swiss statesman, Gallus Jakob Baumgartner (1797-1869), wrote the following about this poem:
“It is the noblest epic poem in honor of St. Joseph written in any literature, East or West. In one of the most difficult languages of southern India Beschi produced a poem which for richness and beauty of language. [sic] for elegance of meter, popular treatment, and true poetical conception and execution, is the peer of the native classics…” (The Catholic Encyclopedia).
High praises! What caused this missionary priest to write so prolifically on a man in Scripture who does not have a single word attributed to him? I can’t say for sure, but there are many reasons to write about St. Joseph. Today, I focus on his silent witness to our identity in Christ. The idea came while I was sitting, quietly, woodworking in my back yard with my children looking on. That little fact makes me smile.
Many stories start at the beginning, but St. Joseph’s starts in the middle of his life. It may help to put yourself in his place.
Imagine you found the perfect woman. She has no faults. Her eyes have the light of faith behind them – a peace and trust in God that you have never seen before. Her beauty comes from within. It makes you nervous to be around her and you feel unworthy, but, you pursue her because you can’t live without her. After getting to know her, confessing your own faults and vulnerabilities, she accepts you as you are. Not scandalized. Not judging. Just loving and encouraging you to walk with God closer every day. You have never seen anyone so full of grace before. It probably doesn’t take you very long to decide to ask her hand in marriage.
Then, it happens. Your world comes crashing down. “I’m pregnant”. Not to get into too many biological functions, but given the circumstances, you know that it’s impossible that you’re the father. Now what? Given the type of woman this is, you’re shell-shocked, but you look to God for His will.
This was St. Joseph’s life, and this set the stage for the birth of Christ. While St. Joseph was a “just man” and “resolved” (Matthew 1:19), he was just a layman. He was not a priest. He was not a prophet. He was not a king. Or was he?
Lumen gentium explained, “[The laity] are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.”
Joseph was the layman extraordinaire, from whom we gather many insights into our threefold offices of priest, prophet, and king.
Joseph was a priest in the sense that he shared in Christ’s priesthood by following God’s will. Exodus 40:28-29 tells of the glory of the Lord overshadowing (in the Greek Septuagint “ἐπισκιάζω”) the tabernacle. As Mary became the New Tabernacle, overshadowed (also ἐπισκιάζω) by the Holy Spirit, Joseph guarded her (Matthew 2:13) like the Levites guarded the original tabernacle (Numbers 1:53). St. Joseph, a layman, and blue-collar worker became Guardian and Protector of the Church by saying “yes” to God’s will in his life. Imagine what God has in store for us, too! I, for one, must work on saying “yes” to God and “no” to myself.
Other than exercising his office of a priest, Joseph exercised his prophetic office. Deuteronomy 18:22 says that a prophet is only a prophet if the prophet’s words come to fruition. We don’t know exactly what Joseph said, but his actions of 1) taking Mary as his wife, 2) going to Egypt, and 3) returning from Egypt on account of his encounters with angels in dreams gives witness in the prophetic sense of Deuteronomy 13:1-4. It took a prophetic courage for St. Joseph to leave all that he knew to follow God’s will. Like Moses. Like Jonah. Like David, his ancestor. Reflecting on Lumen gentium and how we were “sharers” in the prophetical function of Christ, we can look to St. Joseph as a guide in acting on God’s will.
Speaking of David, it was through Joseph being the Foster Father of Our Lord that Jesus legally became a “Son of David”, fulfilling the prophecy of Jeremiah 23:5:
Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. (RSVCE)
In a very real sense, Joseph participated in Jesus’ kingship. Whether a carpenter, lawyer, stay-home parent, public servant, writer or the rest, we can participate in unifying the world under Christ the King in our own ways. Sometimes we do this in huge ways. Sometimes little. But, like St. Joseph, and as St. Josemaria Escriva reminds us, “Do everything for Love. Thus there will be no little things: everything will be big. Perseverance in little things for Love is heroism" (The Way, 813). Doing this will reorder the world for Christ, and prepare the way for His kingdom.
St. Joseph became one of the world’s most important people without earning much money or being a social media influencer, but rather by saying “yes” to God, as his bride did in her fiat. St. Joseph serves as an example and inspiration for us all! This is the Year of St. Joseph, marking the 150th anniversary of Pope Pius IX declaring him Patron of the Universal Church. March 19, 2021, is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, where we can sing the Gloria during Lent and the priests’ vestments are white, reminding us of the glorious father of the Holy Family. May we follow in the footsteps of him who gave everything to follow his son and Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Stephen Muff, Esq, MPA is a Catholic Christian who lives in Northern California with his wife and two daughters. He serves on his parish council and is participating in a three-year faith formation program for the laity. He is licensed to practice law in Washington State and DC and currently works in-house for a financial technology company.
Cover image: Rembrandt c. 1645