A Catholic Monthly Magazine

St Joseph in Another Light

Fr John Rea sm

If you could create your own father, wouldn’t you make him the most perfect man possible?

God and his Word, without whom nothing that is made has been made, created Joseph as like to the Heavenly Father as any mere man can be.[1] God himself is the blueprint for Joseph son of David. No wonder, then, that the first invocation in the Litany of St Joseph is ‘Holy Joseph.’ No wonder is it either to believe that when the Child Jesus related to Joseph, he had a clear image of what his Father in heaven is like and would feel in Joseph’s love something of his Heavenly Father’s love. St. Joseph mirrors God the Father more closely than any other man ever.

Joseph also reflects virtues and characteristics of great men in Israel’s history and events in their lives.

There is a parallel between our saint and Moses. God revealed his personal name to Moses when he spoke to Moses out of the burning bush and it was to Joseph that he revealed the name of his incarnate Son. ‘You shall call his name Jesus.’[2] Under God, Moses saved the Chosen People from slavery.  In a sense, Joseph too was a saviour when he married Mary and became legal father to Jesus because he provided them with food, clothing, shelter and leadership.[3] Moses was a man of faith and so was Joseph. Moses is renowned for his patience. In his litany, Joseph is named ‘most patient.’ Both are remarkable for their humility. ‘This Moses was the meekest of men.’[4] In Joseph we have a man far greater than any patriarch, prophet, priest, martyr or other Biblical figure, the Blessed Virgin excepted, yet we don’t know anything he said and very few things that he did. In hiding the young Jesus from the world, Joseph effectively hid himself as well. 

Joseph, son of David, in some ways resembles Joseph, son of Jacob. Not only do the two share the same name, but the Holy Spirit gave prophetic dreams to both. Both went down in to Egypt. Both are models of chastity. Both have that practical wisdom that we call prudence. The earlier Joseph became second only to Pharoah as a ruler in Egypt and Blessed Pope Pius lX made St Joseph patron of the universal Church. The first distributed the grain gathered in the seven years of plenty. The second is an intercessor for every kind of blessing.

Joseph and the prophet Isaiah have something in common. They both saw angels, Isaiah in a vision and Joseph in dreams. Those Isaiah saw were Seraphim, the highest - ranking angels whose sole service is to give glory to God. The angel who relayed God’s words to Joseph was a messenger; if not Gabriel, then a member of Gabriel’s cohort.

Joseph saw some of Isaiah’s prophecies realised. Certainly, the prophet’s word about Our Lady. ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.’[5] And as, in Luke’s words, Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man, Joseph may well have also discerned Isaiah 11: 1-3 fulfilled in him. ‘There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.’

Matthew describes St Joseph as a just man and that implies a lot more than what we might first think. In Jewish spirituality ‘just’ distinguishes a truly upright man or woman from everyone else. The first Psalm describes such a person and in so doing gives us a more distinct picture of St Joseph. ‘Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in due season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does he prospers.’ These verses tell us that Joseph shunned all occasions of sin. He was immersed prayerfully in the sacred writings of his people. And since in the Bible water often symbolises the Holy Spirit, the fruit in his life is the Fruit of the Holy Spirit.[6] and [7]

This is St Joseph in the light of the Hebrew Scriptures; the Law, the Prophets and the Writings.


[1] John 1: 3

[2] Exodus 3: 13 –14, Matthew 1: 21

[3] Numbers 12: 3

[4] It is through Joseph, according to Jewish law, that Jesus is descended from King David, whence the use of ‘legal’ rather than ‘foster’ father. Through St Joseph Jesus inherits the promise made to David in 1 Sam 7: 26.

[5] Isaiah 7: 14

[6] John 4: 13-14 and John 7: 37-39, 1 Cor. 12: 13

[7] Galatians 5: 22

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