The Sanctity of St. Joseph. St. Joseph, in Sanctity, as in Dignity, excels all God's Saints, and is next to the Blessed Virgin Mary herself.
In the supernatural, as in the moral and physical order, the infinite wisdom and power of God suit the means to the end. God gives grace and sanctity to His Saints to fulfil the office and rank for which His Divine Providence has destined them.* The nearer a soul is destined to approach God, and the more intimately and largely she enters into the scheme of Redemption, the greater is her dignity, and in proportion is her sanctity. In the above principles we have the origin and the source of the sanctity, privileges, and choicest graces, showered, in all the plenitude of their abundance, upon the soul of St. Joseph by the Almighty. In the 0ld Law the Prophets and Patriarchs were holy; because they were, in a sense, the Ambassadors between God, and His people; and the channels of His revelations and messages to mankind. Thus the Prophet Jeremias writes, "And the world of the Lord came to me, saying: Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother I knew thee: and before thou earnest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and made thee a prophet unto nations" (Jer. i. 5). The Prophet was sanctified; because his mission was to announce to nations the mysteries and revelations of God Almighty. St. John the Baptist " leaped for joy in his mother's womb," and was sanctified before his eyes saw the light of day; because he was destined to be the Precursor of the Messias; to baptise, in the waters of the Jordan, the Saviour of the world; and to point Him out in person to mankind saying, "Behold the Lamb of God."
The Blessed Virgin approached unspeakably nearer to God, and far greater and higher was her mission and part in the scheme of man's Redemption. To dilate upon these points would be to write the life of the Blessed Virgin; suffice it to say that no relation could be more intimate than that of the son and mother ; no dignity greater than Mother of God. "In one respect," writes Cardinal Newman, "the Blessed Virgin surpasses all, even possible creatures, viz., that she is the Mother of her Creator. What dignity can be too great to attribute to her, who is so closely bound up, as intimately one with the Eternal Word, as a mother with her son?”* And what is the consequence? We find that her sanctity, her privileges, and special graces are exactly in proportion to her dignity, and to her relation with Jesus, her Son and Saviour. As the Blessed Virgin approached nearer to God than any other creature, so her sanctity soars aloft beyond the region of our conception, and excels that of any Saint or Angel; nay, that of all the blessed Spirits put together. Here we have the key-note to the sanctity of St. Joseph.
The Blessed Virgin was the holiest of all creatures; because she approached nearer to Jesus; because her relation to Jesus was closer, more intimate than that of any other creature. Now what was the relation between St. Joseph, and our Blessed Saviour Jesus Christ? How close did he approach to Jesus? What was his mission with regard to Jesus?
In the first place, we see the heavenly appointed mission of St. Joseph with regard to the Blessed Virgin, the Immaculate Mother of Jesus. "When we speak of Mary, we speak of Jesus; speaking of her grandeur, we speak of God's own grandeur. After God, nothing in heaven or on earth is greater than Mary," writes the devout Cardinal de Berulle. Nothing that the infinite power, wisdom, and love of God could do, in a sense, were wanting to sanctify, purify, and beautify the soul of Mary in honour of the Incarnation; hence perfect sinlessness, perfect purity, perfect immaculateness, perfect union with and love of God, were her unique privileges at her Conception and during her whole life. The Almighty was pleased, if we may so speak, with the work of His hands, and no doubt, watched over Mary with a jealous care.
To whose care was this heavenly jewel, this Lily of Israel, committed? To St. Joseph's. To whose guardianship was the Immaculate Virgin entrusted? To St. Joseph's. From the highest heavens God surveyed the earth from pole to pole to find one worthy of Mary; and whom did He find? St. Joseph. Long before the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, God had created a soul for a high and holy mission; and for that mission God showered upon the soul the choicest dewdrops of heavenly graces. Who was he? St. Joseph. Who, among the sons of men, was found, worthy to receive at the altar the hand of the Virgin Mother of God in consecrated wedlock? St. Joseph. Who was the angel, in human flesh, that a jealous God appointed to guard, in marriage, the perpetual vow of chastity that Mary had made from her cradle? St. Joseph. Under whose roof did the Eternal Word become Incarnate? St. Joseph's. Whose faith never wavered, never doubted the fidelity of his spouse? St. Joseph's. Whose hands were privileged to earn daily bread for the support of the Mother of the God of the universe? St. Joseph's. 0n whose arm did Mary, in her delicate state, lean for support from Nazareth to Bethlehem? St. Joseph's. Who watched over Mary at the crib at Bethlehem? _ St. Joseph. Who helped Mary on the Flight into Egypt? Who died in the arms of the Mother of God? St. Joseph. Here we have one reason, one cause, one source, of the dignity; and hence of the sanctity, and special virtues, and privileges of St. Joseph. The relation of a spouse, a guardian, a protector for the Virgin Mother of God, the Immaculate Queen of heaven, speaks more eloquently than words for the holiness of our great St, Joseph.
We know that God loved Mary so tenderly, and in honour of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, watched over, with such jealous care, her unique privileges, that He would give her for her protector no other than the purest, the most immaculate, and the most holy of the sons of men.
But we have a still greater reason, a more profound source, for the holiness of St. Joseph, and that is, his relation, his heavenly mission, his intimate connection with Jesus Christ, our Blessed Saviour.
Sacred and sublime was the heavenly appointed mission of St. Joseph regarding our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ. There can be no doubt that, after the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph was the first on earth to whom the glad tidings of the mystery of Redemption were conveyed, and who was the first to adore the Incarnate Son of God. Long before the birth of the Redeemer of the World, the Gospel tells us "the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. For he shall save his people from their sins." (Matt. i. 20, 21).
St. Joseph learned the mystery of the Incarnation first from the lips of the Blessed Virgin herself. Here God confirms that secret information by a solemn, authentic testimony from heaven. After this, with what care, love, and reverential awe did St. Joseph watch over the mother and the unborn Divine Babe?
After Mary, the Mother of Jesus, no saint approached so near to the divine person of Jesus, no saint had a mission so intimately connected with our Blessed Saviour as St. Joseph. Who watched over the Mother and the Child from Nazareth to Bethlehem? St. Joseph. Who, forgetful of his own fatigues, went from door to door at Bethlehem, seeking a shelter for the exhausted Mother of Jesus? St. Joseph. Who, first after Mary, adored, loved, and worshipped the Divine Infant in the crib at Bethlehem? St. Joseph. Who, first after Mary, took in his arms, and pressed to his bosom, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and kissed the Sacred Feet of the Redeemer of the world? St. Joseph. To whom did the Eternal Father send down an Angel to give instruction how to protect the Infant Jesus from the cruelty of the tyrant Herod? To St. Joseph. Who guarded and protected, as well as adored and loved, the Divine Babe in the Flight into Egypt? St. Joseph. Who laboured with his hand for the support of the Mother and the Child in a strange land? St. Joseph. After the death of Herod, to whom did the Almighty send another messenger from heaven, to "take the child and his mother" “into the land of Israel?" To St. Joseph. Who "every year went to Jerusalem at the solemn day of the Pasch" with Jesus and Mary? St. Joseph. Who was privileged to earn by the labour of his hands daily bread for Jesus and Mary? St. Joseph. Who constantly walked and talked with Jesus, and lived in the most familiar intimacy and presence of Jesus? who, hour by hour, looked into his heavenly countenance, and saw infinite intelligence and wisdom beaming in his divine eye? St. Joseph. Who died in the arms of Jesus and Mary? St. Joseph. Who, in a word, was chosen by God to be called the Father of Jesus, and to be reputed among men as the father of Jesus? St. Joseph.
Here, as we before remarked, is the keynote, the source and reason of the dignity, sanctity, and special privileges and virtues of St. Joseph.
Jesus, infinite sanctity, would never allow any man to be the spouse of his Immaculate Mother, to be his own guardian and protector, to be a member, nay, head, of the Holy Family, to be even called and deemed his father, but the purest, the most holy, the most perfect that God ever created or ever will create. Such is the sanctity of our great Patriarch St. Joseph.*
We may conclude this section with the words of St. Alphonsus Liguori and of Father Segneri. "We cannot doubt," says the saint, "that whilst St. Joseph lived with Jesus, he received such superabundance of grace, that he surpasses in sanctity and merit all other saints." The holy and eloquent Father Segneri writes: "St. Joseph was ennobled and singularly privileged with the honour of spouse of the Mother of God, a dignity which is a solid principle; from which it follows, with every mark of probability, that St. Joseph was not only sanctified, as we maintain, in his Mother's womb, but that he was afterwards confirmed in grace, and exempt from evil; so that no man—we boldly affirm, no man— on this earth was ever holier than Joseph."
Glorious Patriarch, greatest of Saints, St. Joseph, pray for us, and obtain for us the grace of a holy life and happy death.
St. Joseph teas Sanctified in his Mother’s Womb.
Upon the truth of the above proposition or opinion, we say, at the start, the Gospels and early Fathers are silent. In the early ages the Sacred Humanity was so vividly before the minds of the people, that the great duty of the Christian Apologists in those times was to prove to an unbelieving race the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence we find in their writings not much on the Sacred Humanity of our Saviour, little upon the Blessed Virgin, and still less upon St. Joseph. We may also remark that God, who knows "the times and the seasons," reserved Devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and to St. Joseph in a special manner, for this nineteenth century. Let us here state that everyone is at perfect liberty to hold and believe the opposite opinion, vis,, that sanctification before birth, after the Blessed Virgin, was the special grace of St. John the Baptist and the Prophet Jeremias alone, and not the privilege of our great Patriarch St. Joseph. We only wish to show that the opinion at the head of this section is tenable, and that everyone can safely hold and believe it, as we ourselves do, on sound theological principles.
The Prophet Jeremias was sanctified in his mother's womb. "And the word of the Lord," writes the Prophet, "came to ma saying: Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee: and before thou earnest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and made thee a prophet unto the nations." (Jer. i. 4, 5.) St. John the Baptist was sanctified before his birth. The Gospel says: "And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass: that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. And she cried out with a loud voice and said: Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me. For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears the infant in my womb leaped for joy" (Luke, i. 3944).
The Blessed Virgin was sanctified in her conception. Sin, whether original or actual, never sullied her immaculate soul.
Now, we have seen elsewhere that God gives graces and special privileges suited and in proportion to the dignity and mission of His Saints. "We have also seen that our great Patriarch, St. Joseph, was elevated by God in dignity beyond any Saint of the 0ld or New Testament; and that he ranks next to the Blessed Virgin Mary herself. If, therefore, the Almighty sanctified, as He did, the Prophet Jeremias, before he was born, because his mission was to proclaim His eternal truths; if God sanctified, as He did, the Baptist in his mother's womb, because he was to baptise and to point out the Lamb of God; is it not just and reasonable to believe that the same special privilege of sanctification before birth was bestowed by God upon St. Joseph, whose dignity was greater, whose mission was of a higher order, and whose relations with the Saviour of the world were more intimate than those of the Prophet Jeremias, of the great Baptist, or of any other saint?
We shall not dwell longer on the intrinsic arguments in favour of the above privilege, but shall content ourselves to cite a few of the many authorities before us, holding the opinion we have adopted.
The learned Cornelius a Lapide writes: "Truly, if God gives this privilege of sanctification before birth to any other saint besides the Blessed Virgin, He would not deny it to St. Joseph, her spouse."*
The celebrated and pious Gerson defended the same opinion at the Council of Constance. "This dissimilitude," said the Chancellor of the famous University of Paris, "may be noted between Mary and Joseph, that Joseph, after contracting original sin, was sanctified in the womb by the baptism of the Spirit. So it is declared in the Jerusalem 0ffice, composed for St. Joseph."
Father Segneri, justly esteemed for piety, eloquence, and solid learning, writes: "St. Joseph was ennobled and singularly privileged with the honour of being the spouse of the Mother of God: a dignity which is a solid principle, from which it follows, with every mark of probability, that St. Joseph was not only sanctified, as we maintain, in his mother's womb, but that he was afterwards confirmed in grace, and exempt from all evil, so that no man—we say it boldly— no man on this earth ever was holier than Joseph." f
The Venerable Maria of Jesus of Agreda holds the same opinion. She writes: "St. Joseph was the greatest Saint of God on earth. . . . He ought to have been, as he was in reality, a prodigy of holiness, and by the special providence of God he was sanctified before his birth. . . . Although he had not the use of reason in his first sanctification, in which he was justified only from original sin, his mother was sensible of a new joy in the Holy Spirit; and without fully penetrating the mystery, she performed great acts of virtue, and believed that her child would become great before God and man." (Cite Mi/stique de Dieu).
The learned Trombelli writes: "Theologians have not been wanting, who have maintained that St. Joseph was sanctified in his mother's womb. Gerson, a name of great authority in theology, confirms this grace by the Breviary of Jerusalem, in which, he says, be read it. He is followed by Isodore Isolano, who, by many arguments, seeks to show the greater probability of this opinion. Among moderns, Father Reiss adorns it and establishes it with many proofs, averring that this opinion has not a few defenders, such as Carthagena, Diego de Valencia, Theophilos, and St. Chrysostom, cited by Isolano, and finally Cornelius a Lapide."
We shall cite but one more author, Father Vallejo, the devout Client of St. Joseph.
"The privilege of sanctification in his mother's womb," he writes, " was bestowed on the Baptist, who was born as the glorious Precursor of the Man-God. And whoever will consider the profound dignity of St. Joseph, who was born the chosen spouse of the Virgin Mary, and the putative father of Jesus, cannot but deem him entitled to this grace of presanctification, which adds a new degree of splendour to his sanctity." (Life of St. Joseph, p. 19.)
From the above arguments and authorities we conclude that the opinion that the glorious St. Joseph was sanctified in his mother's womb is tenable, and can be safely held and believed. The devout Client of St. Joseph will gladly adopt it, because it redounds to the greater glory of the Holy Family— Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
St. Joseph, by a special Privilege from God, was Confirmed in Grace.
A celebrated writer, describing the glories of St. Peter's in Rome, says: "The mind expands" and grows " colossal" contemplating the beauty, the majesty, and sublimity of this greatest of temples in the Church of God.* The same may be said, in different order, of the heroic virtues of our great St. Joseph. When, alter long reading and thinking, we come close to see and examine the eminent virtues of our great Patriarch, the mind must "expand" and grow "colossal" to take in and comprehend the height, the width, and sublime beauty of this mighty spiritual edifice, not the work of the genius and wealth of man, but designed and constructed by the hands of the 0mnipotent Himself.
That St. Joseph was confirmed in grace is a tenable and well-grounded opinion. The writers who hold that St. Joseph was sanctified before his birth, maintain the above opinion also, and with the same arguments. This special privilege was conferred upon our Saint by the Almighty on account of his relations with Jesus and Mary. Suarez says it is certain that St. John the Baptist and the Apostles were confirmed in grace.* Cornelius a Lapide, from this, argues and concludes, that Almighty God would not and could not refuse to confer upon St. Joseph, His reputed father, and the chaste Spouse of the Immaculate Mother of God, any grace or privilege granted to any other Saint after the Blessed Virgin In one word, St. Joseph was confirmed in grace by the Almighty, on account of his dignity and sanctity, as reputed father of Jesus, husband of Mary, and head of the Holy Family.
We shall quote only a few of the many respectable authors before us.
The learned and eloquent Father Segneri writes : "St. Joseph was ennobled and singularly privileged with the honour of spouse of the Mother of God. ... St. Joseph was not only sanctified, as we maintain, in his mother's womb, but was afterwards confirmed in grace and exempt from evil." The devout client of St. Joseph, Father Vallejo, quotes many authorities for the above opinion, and says: "Hence, we may lawfully infer that the great St. Joseph was not only sanctified before appearing in the light of this world, but was also favoured with the use of understanding and free will. . . . This similarity to the Blessed Virgin, of loving God before birth, is conceded by great theologians to St. John the Baptist, and consequently to St. Joseph, a Saint to whom, in glory, and in the privileges of grace, his ministry and dignity give advantages over all the other blessed. Nor can we believe that God, who is so liberal of His favours, will deny the guardian and foster-father of His Son, the grace which He freely conceded to another Saint, who was not of so eminent a dignity, nor of so supreme a ministry. From the same motive we shall say that the foster-father of Jesus, the head, and in some sense, the superior of the Blessed Virgin, and of Christ as man, was confirmed in grace the instant he had the use of reason by an extraordinary favour of heaven. . . . The privilege of avoiding, by a special grace of heaven, all deliberate sins is conceded to St. John the Baptist by grave theologians, who rely on the authority of St. Augustine and a hymn of the Church; and I think that these doctors, whose arguments pass for solid with Suarez,* will not deny the same favour to St. Joseph when the reasons in his case are at least equal, if not superior" (Life, p. 36).
From the above sound arguments, we may safely conclude that St. Joseph was confirmed in grace like St. John the Baptist, and the Apostles, is a tenable and reasonable opinion. We the more readily hold and believe it, because it redounds to the greater glory of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I offer to you my heart and soul.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, assist me in my last agony.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul in peace with you.