|Joseph's Dream, 1640. Georges de La Tour.|
|An Angel Instructing Joseph to Flee. Illustration from Luther's Church Postils*|
|St. Joseph the Carpenter. c.1635. Georges de La Tour.|
|St. Joseph. 1620. Garrit van Honthorst.|
|Dream of Joseph. Daniele Crespi.|
|The Death of St. Joseph. 1712. Giuseppe Maria Crespi.|
Today we celebrate St. Joseph, the guardian of Jesus. Joseph was Jesus' adoptive, or earthly father, and probably died before Jesus began his ministry. We hear of Joseph in the Christmas stories in the Gospels, and when Luke tells us about the family's visit to the Temple. We know he was a "just man" (observant of the law) and "unwilling to put [Mary] to shame" (merciful and kind). He was a carpenter, or architect (perhaps even a mason, according to some scholars). Joseph protected Mary and Jesus, fleeing to Egypt when Herod sought to kill Jesus.
What honor God bestowed on Joseph by appointing him guardian and earthly father of his Son! What honor God bestows on us parents--especially fathers--by entrusting to us his Baptized sons and daughters. One of the best wedding gifts my husband and I received was a letter from a dear (married) friend explaining that any children resulting from our union are God's. How easy it is to think of our children as "ours," and to be possessive in a envious way, claiming every success and despairing at ever failure. Perhaps Mary and Joseph were reminded--or had to remind themselves--all the time that Jesus was not "theirs," but God's (indeed God Himself). Jesus certainly reminded them: "Did you not know I would be about my father's business?" and "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?"
Some thoughts about Joseph for kids:
* Joseph was known as a carpenter, a builder. He took care of his family, and fulfilled his vocation. Maybe at times he felt inadequate or too lowly to instruct the Son of God, but God did not. We should not despise our callings, but joyfully and diligently perform our work and roles.
* Joseph protected Mary and the young Jesus, providing for them, and keeping them from harm. We just started saying "girls first!" to our 2-year-old son (getting in line to wash hands, etc.) Joseph's example is a good one of the man's protective role toward women and children. Our little societal practices (holding the door, giving a woman the last seat, ladies first) just reflect the larger practice of men protecting and acting gently--being a gentleman--toward the weaker sex.
* Joseph does not seek his own recognition. Ok, we actually don't know if this is true, but notice how small a part he plays in the Gospels, and how he is always in the background in Nativity scenes (often without a halo!). Yet Mary could not have raised Jesus alone.
Fun Activities and Traditions:
* If everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, everyone is Italian on St. Joseph's Day. And instead of green you wear red!
* Make zeppoles (or find your nearest Italian bakery to buy some!)
* Have a "fasting feast" with fancy vegetarian dishes and desserts (fava bean dishes are traditional in Italy).
* The Polish pray the Litany on St. Joseph's Day.
I try to tie feast days and the seasons together, especially for my young kids (toddlers are like the Medievals--they love to categorize!) Notice how Lenten practices are used to celebrate St. Joseph (vegetarian feasting and praying the Litany). Most of the Scripture passages about St. Joseph are from the Christmas account, and in a few days we will celebrate the Annunciation! A mini-Christmas in Lent! I love it! Those who say liturgical calendars focus on one event at the expense of another clearly have never spent a year with the Church. Christmas, Easter, "Church-time" as my kids call Trinity, are all interconnected and constantly overlapping, just as we experience the whole salvation drama every Sunday in the Divine Service.