THE writer of a life is expected to describe the actions and also the outward appearance of the person, with a life-like reproduction of form and feature: he must describe the mould in which the moral and intellectual being is cast; that mould which is called 'the character,' and which is the impression stamped on each individual by its Creator. And the soul itself, that inner life and being which no human faculties approach, must be indicated by its action on the complex being whom it informs. If any one should take up this book with such expectations, let him close it at once; for none may do this when a saint is the object of our contemplation, and especially St. Joseph: for we may, indeed, try to describe the natural character of any other saint, together with the supernatural ennobling of that character, according to the actions which by God's permission disclose to us their progress towards that particular perfection which adorns each with such a varied sanctity, that the Church cries out in wonder at each miracle of grace,' Non est inventus similis illi.' But excepting our Lady, St. Joseph stands nearest to the Incarnate Word, who was the model and perfection of the regenerate human race, and whose likeness is reflected in all saints, but especially in those who approached Him most nearly—first in our Blessed Lady, and then in St. Joseph—so that all individual character is, as it were, absorbed in the brightness of their sanctity. Other saints were to encourage us by their own victories over their imperfections, and each reproduced one or more of the attributes of our Lord's sanctity; so that the varieties of their character were permitted to be handed down to us as our models. This could hardly be so with Mary and Joseph, who lived in the visible presence of our Lord, and were both reflections of the whole beauty of the original; and it was unnecessary, and almost impossible, that any natural character should remain.
We are told that the pencil of St. Luke portrayed the human likeness of our Lord, and his pictures of our Lady, though blackened by time into obscurity, have still a miraculous power. But no record tells us what St. Joseph was; only tradition has led the painters of the mystic school to represent him as a venerable old man, with flowing beard and hair, and with a countenance of unruffled calmness and heavenly peace. And as by gazing on light we become light, so Gerson says that his features resembled those of the Son of David, Jesus of Nazareth. How then, we may ask again, is it possible to write a life of St. Joseph t All that the Holy Scriptures tell us is, that the holy house of Nazareth contained three persons: our Blessed Lord, the First-born of the new creation, and the model of those who will inherit His kingdom; and our Lady, the model of a spotless virgin, wife, and mother, the Mater Creatoris ; and St. Joseph, to whom the Eternal Father delegated the office of directing the Holy Family. He was to govern silently, for such is the government of the world by Him of whom it is said by Isaiah (xv. 15), 'Verily Thou art a hidden God;' or as those to whom is now intrusted the direction of souls, who look to St. Joseph as their guide through the intricacies of the spiritual life. And as at the first he was the guide and guardian of Christ, so now always those who seek Christ by an interior life are led naturally to look towards him for the same assistance. For Joseph, who was the guide and guardian of God's family at first, continues to guide and guard that family ever since.
The office of St. Joseph is now, as then, to be the guardian of all who are the children of God; to watch, as St. Paul did in after-days, 'till Christ was formed' in the hearts of his converts. For he must be formed in the heart of each who would live like him, and all must be united with the Father and the Son in one Spirit as in one Body; and St. Joseph is the guardian of all who are the members of Christ, for what God begins never ends. He does not form an office or an instrument, and then throw it aside. His plans are eternal, and He goes on perfecting each till it finds its final consummation in eternity.
Those who have advanced far in the interior life say that thay have found St. Joseph their patron as well as their model, and that their knowledge of him has increased with their own progress in imitating his virtues. They have therefore learnt what he thought and felt by their own experience. This would, however, seem to make it impossible that we should by any acquisition of external knowledge attain to the sight of him as he was represented to them in characters traced out by the Holy Spirit on their hearts. They have, however, left us landmarks of their spiritual journeyings across,the desert, and they have dug wells for us by the way, where we may rest and listen to some of the wonders they discovered on their road to the heights of contemplation. The danger is lest they should substitute their own views for the pure and everlasting idea conveyed by revelation, or should dare to mingle their own thoughts and feelings with those of him whose life was mystical, and the model of all those who lead an interior life.
What, then, is this life of St. Joseph 1 It contains not his perfections, but the thoughts which arise in ignorant and unlearned minds while he is the object of their contemplation. If there is truth in them, it is the reflection of heavenly light; if there is error, it is the stains or obscurity of the minds on which it falls. All generations of men behold the light of the sun, but each sees it with his own eyes, and realises it with his own faculties, and expresses it in his own way. The variations are in the individual; the light is one and the same. And so in meditating on spiritual things, the faculties which are the medium of the divine intercourse partake of the individual imperfections; and even saintly persons describe heavenly truths not as they are, but as they see them: they cannot give the object, but only their own view of it. Therefore it is not.the object of this Life of St. Joseph to give any one especial view of the saint who holds so high a place in the early history of our Lord. It is rather to lead others to meditate for themselves on the mysteries of which he was the guardian. The Life would never have been written except in deference to the wishes of a devoted follower of St. Joseph, and it is by his desire that these pages are placed before those who have the same devotion to the saint. Let, then, the writer be forgotten, as is meet; while the reader contemplates for himself the heavenly objects, and is led by the aid of grace to behold and understand what no one can teach another.
Sancte Joseph, ora pro nolis.