March 19 is the day we traditional celebrate St. Joseph in the liturgical calendar. This year, because he falls on a Sunday, he gets moved to tomorrow, March 20, since Sundays of Lent have a priority on the liturgical calendar. Typically, if a saint’s feast day falls on a Sunday, that saint just gets elided over for the year. But St. Joseph, because of his importance in the Church, gets to have his feast transferred. (It is a perk of being patron of the universal Church!)
But as important as St. Joseph is in the life of the Church, we know so very little about him. We do not have a date of birth. We do not have a date of death. There are no quotes directly attributed to him. We have no idea where he is buried. We have no other details about his live other than the few scant aspects that are in the Infancy Narrative in Matthew’s account of the Gospel.
Yet, he is also the Patron of the Universal Church. He has been described as the most under-utilized saint in heaven. He is known as the terror of demons. He is the patron of a happy death, as well. So to say he is important in the life of the Church seems to be a colossal understatement, does it not?
I think this gives us a few things to learn about for our lives as Catholic Christians today:
- True sanctity is not about doing great things, but about doing the things that God sets before. St. Joseph had a task: raise Jesus from Childhood and prepare Him for his public ministry. He did all this in the shadows and in the background. For all of us, the goal of holiness is to make Christ known, according to our state in life, as St. Joseph did.
- There is value in hard work and in physical labor. From the Gospels, we learn that Jesus learned to ply the trade of his foster father Joseph: carpentry. As such, Jesus himself knew the value of a good day’s work; knew the value of getting his hands dirty. In our modern culture, we have seemingly lost this appreciation. Yet, I know that spring is springing and how good it feels to get out and clean out the flower beds and to have a little bit of dirt under the fingernails. It is a reflection of how we are all called to assist in the building the Kingdom of God.
- Because St. Joseph is not mentioned during the public ministry of Jesus, we presume that he died prior to Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan. Tradition tells us that he passed away with Mary and Jesus at his side, hence his patronage for a happy death: wouldn’t we all be so lucky to have Mary and Jesus as the last thought of our minds as we leave this world to transfer to the next… St. Joseph is a powerful intercessor at that very moment. Making a habit of prayers for his intercession for loved ones who are approaching death, even for ourselves for when we approach that moment (may it be long in the future!) can be a graced moment both now and in the future.
While there are so many wonderful saints who have marched their pilgrim way before us, St. Joseph is unparalleled in who he was and what he continues to do in the Church. May he intercede with his Son for us all and lead us all through a happy death into the glory that awaits in the Kingdom of Heaven!
Fr. Kyle Schnippel