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St. Joseph: Masculinity and Virtue
In 1621, Pope Gregory XV inserted the feast of St. Joseph into the General Roman Calendar for March 19, though the feast had been informally celebrated on that day several centuries before, perhaps as early as the 10th century.
It may seem strange today that it took those long centuries to pay that honor to St. Joseph and recognize the treasure to the Church that he was. Before then, he was largely dismissed as the elderly consort to another man’s wife. Such a view was never historical, but seems to have been taken largely with the goal of safeguarding the virginity of Mary. Mary must have been and remained a virgin, the thinking went, her husband was so very old, anything else must have been impossible.
Such a view may have guarded Mary’s virginity, but it paid no great honor to Joseph. Rather than a celibacy of choice and virtue, he remained continent by physical necessity or rather, physical impossibility.
But this image of St. Joseph will not do. If he was a saint, he was a man of virtue; it is hard to believe that God would have chosen a lesser man to be his earthly father and the spouse of His Blessed Mother. The English word “virtue” derives from the Latin, virtus, manliness. A man who lacks manliness is an effeminate man. According to Thomas Aquinas such a man is soft, yields to the touch, and “forsakes a good on account of difficulties he cannot endure.” Such a man, indeed, could not have been celibate except by physical necessity. But God forbid us from thinking St. Joseph to have been such a man.
We know that St. Joseph was not afraid to suffer patiently and to endure difficulties for great goods in his life. He suffered a long journey with a very pregnant wife, finding only a barn for shelter as she bore her baby. He suffered all the uncertainty of exile and having to flee for his adopted son’s life when Herod sought for him. Of the line of kings, he worked as a humble carpenter in a small backwater to support and protect Mary and Jesus with no trace of bitterness or regret. There is a reason he is called, “mirror of patience.” Why should we think such a man incapable of sacrifice for the sake of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother?
On the contrary, as Fulton Sheen says, St. Joseph was probably a young man, “strong, virile, athletic, handsome, chaste, and disciplined.” (More ancient sources also support the “Young Joseph” theory). As a virtuous man, he is a model for men today, in ways the world desperately needs. Against the sloth and acedia of a modern life glued to the iPhone, St. Joseph was a worker. Against the lusts of modern life, Joseph offers a model of chastity. Against a world that sees the family as a burden, he was a devoted husband and father. Against the ego and narcissism of modern life, he was humble, of the line of kings, but content to earn a hard living.
No less a man would have been a fitting husband for Our Lady and the earthly father of Our Lord. And thus he is a model and patron for us today: as we commend ourselves to the care of him to whom was given the care of God and His Mother.
St. Joseph, pray for us.