The Death of St. Joseph.
Where, and at what age, the holy soul of St. Joseph winged its flight to the bosom of Abraham, we know not for certain, as the Gospel is silent. After the memorable occasion of the finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, the Gospel, as we have seen, says, the Holy Family returned to Nazareth; and the last word about St. Joseph is—Jesus "was subject to them;" that is, Jesus, after having completed His twelfth year, lived under the authority and guardianship of His reputed father St. Joseph, and His holy Mother the Blessed Virgin.
At this distance of time and place we can contemplate and meditate on the Holy Family at Nazareth. We can see St. Joseph, forgetful of himself, busily engaged to maintain in comfort and happiness the Mother and the Child. We can see the Child Jesus, from time to time even, helping with His Divine Hands, St. Joseph in his workshop. We can contemplate the Blessed Mother, assiduous in keeping her house neat and clean, and every way in her power, making happy the Son and the Husband. Now and again, Mary and Joseph would kneel, and with reverential awe, look into the Divine countenance of the Saviour of the world, and adore, love, and render supreme homage to the Incarnate and Eternal Son of God. The eyes of all heaven were riveted on the "Holy House," when Jesus, Mary, and Joseph knelt, prayed, and adored the Eternal Father. At the Transfiguration, 0ur Blessed Lord condescended to console Peter, James, and John, who were afterwards to witness His Agony in the Garden; and one faint ray of the Divinity rapt them into an ecstasy of delight. So we can well imagine that our Blessed Lord, in the Holy House at Nazareth, allowed from time to time the Divinity to shine forth through the Humanity, and, as the Eternal Son of God, manifested Himself in all His heavenly glory to Mary and Joseph. At the Nativity, a "multitude of the heavenly army " appeared to the shepherds, singing, "Glory to God in the highest." So we can well imagine, that at intervals this heavenly music broke upon the ears of Mary and Joseph; and that their eyes beheld countless millions of Angels, nay, the nine choirs of celestial Spirits, paying homage to their Lord. How long this paradise on earth lasted, how long St. Joseph enjoyed this foretaste of heaven, before he was permitted to drink of the " torrents of God's pleasure," as we remarked before, we know not for certain.
As to the precise time of the death of St. Joseph, the ancient Fathers differ in opinion. Some are of opinion that he lived to a very old age, and that he witnessed the Passion, Death, and the Ascension of 0ur Blessed Lord. This opinion does not appear to accord with reason; for if St. Joseph witnessed the Passion and Death of Jesus, his name would most probably be mentioned by the Evangelists; and, secondly, 0ur Blessed Lord, at dying, would leave His holy Mother in the charge of her faithful husband, and hence would not have confided her, as He did, to St. John the Evangelist.
The common opinion therefore, which the Bollandists say is "little less than certain," and which is supported by reason, as well as by the great majority of the Fathers, is, that St. Joseph died in the arms of Jesus and Mary, a little before the public Ministry, or preaching of 0ur Blessed Lord. That is, the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph lived together at Nazareth for eighteen years after the Finding in the Temple; and that St. Joseph died when Jesus was about thirty years of age. This opinion is conformable to reason; for during the Sacred Infancy, and up to the time of His public Ministry, the name of St. Joseph is mentioned by the Evangelists in connection with all the great events of 0ur Blessed Lord's Life; yet, after the public Ministry, the name of St. Joseph, does not even once occur in any of the Gospels; thereby clearly indicating that he was no longer alive. Besides, it would not appear fitting, that the Jews could point to the reputed father of the Saviour, when the preaching, and stupendous miracles of Jesus went to prove Him the Son of God, and that His Father was in heaven.
This opinion also is supported by the great majority of ancient and modern writers.
The Bollandists say: "How many years Joseph survived the Finding of Jesus in the Temple at the age of twelve, and His return to Nazareth, cannot be precisely said with even probable conjecture; except that it is almost certain, and considered by many as beyond all doubt, that he died before Jesus began to manifest Himself to the world, inasmuch as the Evangelists make no further mention of him, .... Nor indeed did it seem fit, that He, who by His stupendous miracles, was to prove Himself the Son of God, should have in the eyes of all, one who was nominally and legally His father."
"It is believed," says another critic, "and 'with great probability, that Joseph died before Christ began to preach the Gospel; and before the marriage of Cana; where Jesus was invited with His Mother and Disciples. 0n that occasion Joseph is not mentioned; nor is he in the whole history of 0ur Lord's public Ministry. At His death, Jesus commended His Mother to St. John, which shows that St. Joseph was no longer alive, for Christ is not the author of division or divorce." (Tillemont).
The learned Suarez, after reviewing the reasons and authorities on both sides, concludes: "I think that St. Joseph did not die immediately after Christ's twelfth year; because St. Luke, when he says that the Child returned to Nazareth with His parents, and was there subject to their orders, shows that He lived for some time with them. And it is credible that St. Joseph survived to maintain Jesus to His thirtieth year, when He was to begin the preaching of the Gospel/'*
Some are of opinion that our great Saint died where he had lived, in the " Holy House'' at Nazareth. Others, with the Bollandists, Venerable Bede, and St. Adamnan, hold that he died in Jerusalem, where he had gone on the solemn feast of the Pasch to worship in the Temple; and almost all agree that he was buried in the valley of Josaphat in the tomb of his ancestors.
Although the age of St. Joseph, at his death, is not known for certain; yet it can be told with a fair approach to accuracy. In a preceding section we have seen, that St. Joseph, at his Espousals with the Blessed Virgin, was a young man. Venerable Marie of Jesus, of Agreda, says thirty-three; let us add to this, thirty, the age of our Blessed Lord at the time of His public Ministry, when St. Joseph died, and we have a fairly accurate estimate of the age of our great Patriarch at the time of his death.
At death we covet the prayers of holy souls to help us on the passage to eternity; happy the death of St Joseph, who was helped and comforted by the hands and prayers of the Blessed Virgin herself. At death, we covet the presence of God's minister, that the departing soul may get the last blessing, the last absolution; happy the death of St. Joseph, whose departing soul was absolved and blessed by Jesus Christ Himself. The presence and the attentions of a dear and holy friend sweeten the pains of death; sweet, peaceful, and happy, the death of St. Joseph, who died in the arms of Jesus and Mary. In the hour of trial the faithful friend proves his gratitude and love; so at the death of St. Joseph, his holy spouse, the Blessed Virgin, endeavoured to reward him, for his loving and reverential attentions and kindness to her, during the long period of thirty years. If Jesus rewards, as He does, a cup of cold water given in His name; what choicest heavenly graces and blessings, did He not shower upon His dying reputed father St. Joseph, who assisted Him before He was born; who first after Mary, adored Him in the manger at Bethlehem; who saved His life from the cruelty of Herod; who carried Him in his arms through the wild desert, and over the burning sands of Egypt; who, by the labour of his hands, supplied the wants and comforts of Jesus; in one word, who lived for Jesus, who is now dying of love for Jesus—how Jesus rewarded our dying Saint, the mind cannot conceive, nor the tongue express.
The pious reader will excuse us for inserting a few passages, out of the many we have before us, from the devout Clients of St. Joseph. Father Binet writes, "St. Joseph died in the arms of Jesus and Mary; a happiness which excites feelings of the deepest devotion. His passage to the other world was more a triumph than a death. He finally breathed his last sigh which Jesus and Mary received. 0n that occasion all the court of heaven descended to venerate that body, in which had dwelt so great and holy a soul, adorned with those riches of virtue which the Gospel sums up in the one word, 'just' ".
"0h! how at that moment, the last of his life, must not Jesus have rewarded, with a torrent of confidence, him, who, as a father, had borne a father's fears and toils. 'Go,' must the Angels have said;' go, 0 new Precursor, and bear to the holy Patriarchs the tidings of their coming liberation, which now appears as the dawn of the Sun of Justice above the horizon, foretokening happiness; meanwhile we weave thee this crown of roses, and lilies, and this starry robe which thy purity deserves and thy dignity of father of Jesus, a title never bestowed on Angels. Already is thy throne prepared at the right hand of that which awaits thy spouse. Thou shalt be the great counsellor in the court of heaven, the treasurer of the riches and graces, which the Almighty Father dispenses; thou shalt be the Protector of the future Church, and the advocate of its children in all necessities and cares.' The Mother of God, speaking with the sweet eloquence of her eyes, more than with the tender harmony of her voice, thanked him for his care in ministering to her with such signs of gratitude as kindled new flames of divine love in the noble heart of St. Joseph. In these colloquies that splendid light gave its last gleams, like the sun when near its setting."*
Pious souls can write with touching sweetness on St. Joseph, but the Saints alone can conceive, and express thoughts worthy of so noble a theme. "Let us consider this blessed Patriarch," writes St. Leonard of Port Maurice, "in the arms of Jesus and Mary, at the moment of giving up his soul to his Creator. See him stretched on his poor bed, Jesus on one side, and Mary on the other, surrounded by a multitude of Angels, Archangels, and Seraphim, who, with a respectful attention, are waiting to receive this holy soul. 0 God, who shall tell us with what feelings, at this supreme moment, Joseph took a last leave of Jesus and Mary." What acts of thankfulness, of supplication, of humility, on the part of this holy old man! His eyes and his heart speak, alone his tongue is silent. But how much there is in his silence! He looks at Mary, and Mary at him; and with what love and veneration! Then he turns his dying eyes on Jesus, and Jesus returns the look, but with what tenderness! He takes the hand of Jesus, and presses it to his heart: and covers it with kisses, and bedews it with his tears, and says to Him, from time to time, less with his lips than in his heart. "My Son, my much loved Son, I recommend my soul to Thee!" And then, placing that hand on his heart, he falls into a swoon of love. Ah! Joseph! if you could but keep fast hold of that hand, which is Life, you would not die! 0h, how sweet it would be to die, holding the hand of Jesus!
"The soul is on the point of leaving the body; it has already half taken flight, but at the sight of Jesus and Mary it pauses: it cannot break its chain. I repeat, Joseph, if you do not cease to look upon Him who is your life, you cannot die. Tender and Divine Redeemer, Jesus, holy Mary, Joseph cannot quit this land of exile, if you will not give him leave! Jesus lifts His hand. He blesses and embraces His much-loved father, and Joseph expires in the arms of Jesus/'
The honeyed pen of St. Francis of Sales writes: "A Saint, who had so loved in life, could only die of love; for his soul could not love Jesus enough amidst the distractions of this life; and having fulfilled the duty required of him in tending the childhood of his Lord, what remained but that he should say to the Eternal Father, 'I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do' (St. John, xvii. 4): and to the Son: 'My Child, as your heavenly Father intrusted your body into my hands on the day that you came into the world, so on this day of my departure from this world, I remit my spirit into yours.' Such, I imagine, was the death of this great Patriarch, the most noble death of all, due to the most noble life which any creature had ever led—a death which Angels themselves would covet if they were capable of dying."
The following extracts, on the death of St. Joseph, are taken from the famous work, "Cite Mystique de Dieu," by the Venerable Marie of Jesus, of Agreda:—
"This most holy Lady, knowing, through her infused knowledge, that the last hour of her chaste spouse in this place of exile was very near, went to her adorable Son, and said to Him: 'My Lord and my God, the time for the death of Thy servant Joseph, which Thou hast determined by an eternal will approaches. I beseech Thee, Lord, by Thy infinite goodness to assist him in this hour, so that his death may be as precious to Thee as his life has been agreeable. Remember, my Son, the love and humility of Thy servant —his merits—his virtues, and the pains he has taken to preserve Thy life and mine.'
"0ur Saviour replied to her: 'My Mother, your requests are pleasing to Me, and the merits of Joseph are in My thoughts. I will now assist him, and I will give him so eminent a place among the princes of My people, that it will be a subject of admiration for the Angels, and a motive for praises to them and to men. I will do not for any nation that which I will do for your Spouse.' 0ur august Lady returned thanks to her most sweet Son for this promise.
"The most humble Joseph, wishing to close his life by the seal of humility, asked pardon of his holy Spouse for the faults he might have committed in her service as a feeble man of earthly mould. He entreated her to assist him in this last hour, and to intercede for him. He testified, above all, his gratitude to our Adorable Saviour, for the benefits that he had received from His most liberal hand during all his life, and particularly in his sickness. Then taking leave of his blessed Spouse, he said to her: 'Thou art blessed among all women and chosen above all creatures. Let Angels and men praise thee. Let all nations know and exalt thy dignity. Let the name of the Most High through thee be known, adored, and glorified in all future ages, and eternally praised by all the blessed Spirits, for having created thee so pleasing in His eyes. I trust to meet thee in the heavenly land.'"
"After this, the man of God addressed our Lord Jesus Christ, and wishing to speak to His Majesty with profound respect, he made every effort to kneel on the ground. But the sweet Jesus approaching received him in His arms, and the Saint supporting his head upon His bosom, said: 'My Lord and my God, Son of the Eternal Father, Creator and Redeemer of the world, give Thy eternal benediction to Thy servant, who is the work of Thy hands. Pardon the faults I have committed in Thy service and in Thy presence. I confess Thee, I glorify Thee, I render to Thee, with a contrite and humble heart, eternal thanks for having chosen me, by Thy ineffable goodness, from among men, to be the spouse of Thine 0wn Mother. Grant, Lord, that Thy own glory may be the theme of my gratitude through all eternity.'
"The Redeemer of the world gave him His benediction. 'Rest in peace,' He said; 'the grace of My Heavenly Father and Mine be with thee. Proclaim the good tidings to My Prophets and Saints, who await thee, and tell them that their redemption is nigh.' As our beloved Redeemer pronounced these words, the most happy Joseph expired in His arms, and His Divine Majesty closed his eyes. The angels chanted the sweetest hymns of praise, and, by order of the supreme King, they conducted this most holy soul into the company of the Saints, who recognised him as the reputed father of the Redeemer of the world, and His greatly-beloved one, who merited singular veneration. He imparted a new joy to this innumerable assembly by announcing to them, according to the commandment of the Lord, that their redemption would not long be delayed.'
"We must not omit to mention that, although the precious death of St. Joseph was preceded by so long a sickness, and such severe sufferings, these were not the chief causes of it. He might have lived longer, notwithstanding these maladies, if the effects of the ardent love that burned in his chaste bosom had not been superadded; for this happy death was rather a triumph of love than the penalty of sin. The Lord suspended the supernatural aid by which He had preserved the strength of His servant, and hindered the violence of his love from destroying him; and this help failing, nature was vanquished. This victory sundered the ties that detained his holy soul in the prison of the body, in which consists our death. Thus, love was the last of his maladies, and it was also the greatest and most glorious, since by it death is the sleep of the body, and the principle of life."
At the death of 0ur Blessed Lord, we know from the Gospel that many of the Saints arose from their graves, and appeared in the streets of Jerusalem. St. Matthew says: "And the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top even to the bottom, and the earth quaked, and the rocks were rent: And the graves were opened, and the bodies of the saints that had slept arose. And coming out of the tombs after his resurrection came into the holy city and appeared to many (Matt, xxvii. 51). That the bodies of these Saints never again returned to their former dust, but ascended to heaven with their Redeemer, is held by St. Thomas and other great authorities. The Angelic Doctor writes : "It may be asked what became of those who rose with our Lord? For we must believe that they returned to life to be witnesses of Christ's Resurrection. Some think they died again, relapsing into their former dust, like Lazarus and others, whom 0ur Lord raised up. But these authorities are unworthy of credit; for it would be a greater torture for these Saints to die a second time, than not to have been raised to life. We must then believe, that the Saints, who rose with Jesus, ascended with Him to heaven" (Matt, xxvii.)*
That St. Joseph arose from the dead with the "bodies of the Saints," and ascended to heaven with 0ur Blessed Lord, is a pious and well-grounded belief. St. Bernardine of Sienna says: "We cannot affirm as certain, but we may piously believe, that Jesus Christ the Son of God, conceded to His foster father the same privilege as to His Mother, that from the day of His glorious Resurrection, St. Joseph might be body and soul with Christ, as His holy spouse, the Blessed Virgin, was ere long to be; and also that the Holy Family, composed of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and St. Joseph, who lived in the same toils and same union of charity on earth, might live body and soul in glory in heaven."
The above opinion is confirmed from the fact that no relic of the body of St. Joseph has ever been found in any part of the world. It is easy to believe, that Divine Providence would not have hidden from the veneration of the faithful, so precious a treasure as the relics of St Joseph, did they exist.
In heaven then, as in the Holy House at Nazareth, is the Holy Family, with their glorified bodies, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
My soul! what a multitude of holy and edifying thoughts the life of St. Joseph suggests to the Christian mind. We see St. Joseph, though of the royal house and family of David, occupied at the humble business of an artisan. St. Joseph was sanctified and chosen by the Almighty to be the spouse and guardian of the Immaculate Mother of God. After Mary, St. Joseph first knew, adored, and loved the Incarnate Son of God. St. Joseph is the reputed father of Jesus, and saved His life from the cruelty of Herod. St. Joseph is in constant and intimate communication with Heaven, through the medium of Angels. 0n all occasions prompt and docile was the obedience of St. Joseph to the calls of God. Countless times lovingly and reverentially did St. Joseph carry in his arms the Infant Jesus over the hills of Judea, and through the deserts, and over the sands of Egypt. With a cheerful, joyous heart, for about thirty years, did St. Joseph toil and labour to supply the wants and comforts of Jesus and Mary. And finally, having fulfilled his mission, sweetly and calmly did St. Joseph breathe forth his holy soul to God in the arms of Jesus and Mary.
In imitation of St. Joseph, I resolve, by the aid of Divine grace, first, to obey promptly all the calls and secret inspirations of Almighty God. Secondly, in order to sanctify my daily occupations, I resolve to offer to God's greater glory each and every act of the day, in union with the life and death of Jesus; in union with all the Masses daily offered up to Heaven throughout Christendom; and in union with Jesus in all the tabernacles in the Catholic Church. Thirdly, I resolve every day to beg of God the grace of a happy death; like St. Joseph, to die in the peace and love of Jesus and Mary. 0 merciful God, through the name, love, and merits of Jesus, grant me the grace to keep these resolutions. St. Joseph, obtain for me the grace to lead a holy life and die a happy death.
A Prayer to obtain the grace of a Happy Death.
"0 Lord Jesus Christ, by the bitterness Thou wast pleased to suffer on the Cross for love of me, especially when Thy sacred soul departed from Thy body, have mercy upon my poor soul, now and at tie hour of my death, that I may be admitted to the immediate vision and possession of Thee for all eternity. Amen."
A Prayer to St. Joseph to obtain the grace of a Holy Life and Happy Death.
0 great St. Joseph, obtain for me from Jesus the grace to keep all God's commandments, and to promptly obey the secret calls and inspirations of Heaven. St. Joseph, obtain for me the grace to do all my actions to please God alone. 0 St. Joseph, ask of Jesus, for me, the grace never to commit a mortal sin. 0 my dear St. Joseph, watch over me during life, he with me at death, and obtain for me Paradise. St. Joseph, spouse of Mary, beg of the Blessed Virgin to obtain for me, from Jesus her Son, the grace to lead a holy life and die a happy death. Amen.
A Prayer to St. Joseph for the grace of a Happy Death.
0 glorious St. Joseph, the model, the patron, and the comforter of the dying, I now beg thy protection at the last moment of my life; obtain, I beseech thee, that 1 may die the death of the just.