THE LIFE OF ST. JOSEPH.
The Genealogy, Birth-place, and Avocation or Trade of St. Joseph.
LITTLE is said in the Gospels about 0ur Blessed Lady; yet, that little is so pregnant with meaning, so significant, that bulky volumes have been written on her Life and virtues by learned and holy men. The one title— MOTHER OF GOD—is the foundation, width, height, and summit of this mighty edifice of dignity and sanctity. So it is, but in a far lesser degree, with St. Joseph. On his Life little is said in the Gospel, and not much by the early Fathers. The great duty of the early Fathers was to prove the Divinity of the Redeemer; for in these ages, not only the virtues, but the very countenances of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were, by tradition, familiar to the people; yet, the pregnant fact, that he was the "husband of Mary," and the foster-father of Jesus, is the heavenly ray that lights up every page of the many large and edifying books written in his honour. That we may hasten on to explain practical Devotion in honour of our great Patriarch, St. Joseph, we shall confine ourselves to reflections on the Gospel narrative.
The Genealogy, or Family, of St. Joseph.
St. Joseph, though poor, was noble; the purest and best blood of Israel flowed in his veins. He was descended from the royal house and family of David. The Gospel says: "And in the sixth month, the Angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David" (Luke, i. 26).
The Genealogy of St. Joseph is given by two of the Evangelists, SS. Matthew and Luke. St. Matthew gives the natural Genealogy, and traces the descent of St. Joseph down from Abraham. "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac .... And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ" (Matt. i. 1-16).
St. Luke gives the legal Genealogy, and traces the line of St. Joseph up to Adam. "And Jesus himself was beginning about the age of thirty years, being (as it was supposed) the Son of Joseph, who was of Heli, who was of Mathan, who was of Levi, who was of Adam, who was of God " (Luke, iii. 23-38).
Here we see that St. Matthew calls St. Joseph the son of Jacob, and St. Luke styles him the son of Heli. Now, without entering into any long or apparently learned dissertation, we may briefly state, that most of the Fathers, with St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, Justin Martyr, St. John Damascenus, Venerable Bede, &c., and the most learned Commentators, explain the discrepancy as follows: Jacob and Heli were half brothers, sons of the same mother, Hesta, who was wife, first of Mathan, the father of Jacob, and on his death or divorce married Matthat, the father of Heli. Heli died without heir; and by the Law of Moses, his brother Jacob was obliged to marry the widow. "When brethren dwell together," says the Law, "and one of them dieth without children, the wife of the deceased shall not marry to another; but his brother shall take her, and raise up seed for his brother. And the first son he shall have of her he shall call by his name, that his name may not be abolished out of Israel" (Deut. xxv. 5). St. Joseph, v> ho was the real son of Jacob, according to the above Law, was also styled the son of Heli, and hence was of the royal house and family of David. We may also here remark that learned Commentators teach, that St. Joseph was related to the Blessed Virgin in the second degree of consanguinity, or first cousins, and hence to our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, in the second and third degree, or first and second cousins. The learned Cornelius A. Lapide says: "It is most probable that at the time of Christ it was perfectly known that Mathan was the grandfather of Joseph and the Blessed Virgin; that Jacob, Joseph's father, and Joachim, the father of the Blessed Virgin were brothers" (Luke, iii. 27).
Thus, the Precious Blood of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was taken by the Holy Ghost from the Immaculate Heart of Mary, was noble and royal; yet it was not from the Blessed Virgin, but from the head of the family, according to the Law of Moses, "the husband of Mary," the legal, and before the eyes of the world, the putative father of Jesus, that our Blessed Lord had a right to the throne and kingdom of David.
If the Blessed Virgin gave, as she did, to the Incarnate Son of God the royal blood of the Tribe of Judah, and of the house of David, St. Joseph alone transmitted to the Messias the rights to the sceptre and throne of Israel. Here we see the important part St. Joseph had before the eyes of the Almighty in the scheme of Redemption, and the claims he had upon our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus, the Redeemer of the world.
For the greater glory of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, who were of the same blood, not only did St. Joseph belong to the famous Tribe of Judah, and to the royal house of David, King and Prophet, through Solomon, the wisest and greatest of monarchs, but he could count among his illustrious ancestors ten Judges, thirteen Patriarchs, and twenty-two Sovereigns.
The Birthplace and Avocation or Trade of St. Joseph.
"Whether St. Joseph was sanctified before, his birth, like St. John the Baptist, and the Prophet Jeremias, we shall discuss when we come to speak of the sanctity of our Saint; here we have to treat only of the place of his birth.
Nations and cities glory, and justly pride themselves in having given birth to heroes, men of renown, men famous in arts or arms. Singular enough, the birthplaces of the greatest men the world has ever seen, like Homer, the prince of poets, have to this day, and likely shall be forever, a subject of dispute among the learned. So it is with, unspeakably the greatest and most holy of men, our great Patriarch St. Joseph. Two cities, Bethlehem and Nazareth, claim the honour and glory of having given birth to the foster-father of Jesus and "husband of Mary." The learned are divided in opinion. We shall not enter into the dispute, which has little to do with our subject, which is popular devotion to our great Saint. Suffice it to say that St. John Chrysostom and other Fathers, as well as modern critics, hold that not only was our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ born in Bethlehem, as we know from the Gospel, but that also it was the birthplace of Mary his holy Mother, and of St. Joseph his reputed father. The Saint thus writes: "Joseph and Mary, citizens of Bethlehem, leaving their native place, took up their abode at Nazareth, and there resided" (Life of St. Joseph Vallejo, p.48). 0 glorious and holy Bethlehem! the home and rest of the wearied pilgrim; no wonder that since the dawn of Christianity, countless millions, in every age and every clime throughout Christendom, would turn to thee, and with reverence salute thee, the birthplace of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
The Avocation or Trade of St. Joseph.
Of the trade of St. Joseph, all we know for certain from the Gospel is that he was son of an artisan. Speaking of our blessed Lord, St. Matthew says: "And coming into his own country, he taught them in their synagogues, so that they wondered, and said : How came this man by this wisdom and miracles. Is not this the carpenter's son (artisan's son)?" (xiii. 54). From the Latin words, fabri films, all Commentators agree that St. Joseph was an artisan, or tradesman; but to what particular trade he belonged, they differ in opinion, and, as Maldonatus says: "It is a question of very little importance." Cardinal Hugo, with others, are of opinion that St. Joseph was a gold and silversmith. St. Isidore, from the word "faber" concludes that he worked in iron, or was a blacksmith. St. Ambrose assigns to our Saint the profession of an architect. Notwithstanding the above authorities, popular, constant, and universal tradition assigns to our Saint the employment or trade of a carpenter. St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, St. Thomas of Aquin, Suarez, are of opinion that St. Joseph and our Blessed Lord Himself worked together at the carpenters' trade*
Nor was this employment unworthy of the noble and royal lineage of St. Joseph; for in days of primitive simplicity the Hebrew Patriarchs and kings worked at trades, nay, fed their flocks and herds. In the palmiest days of the Roman Empire, the greatest generals, in times of peace, used to cultivate with their own hands their gardens; and history tells us how often the voice of the nation called from the plough Dictators and Consuls to lead the Roman legions to victory.
After the primeval fall, labour, by the decree of God, is the lot of man. God said of Adam: "With labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. ... In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread" (Gen. iii. 17). The Almighty has therefore given to the world an example in the person of St. Joseph, how the most exalted sanctity can be combined with toil and manual laboui. No doubt, whilst his hands were employed in labour, St. Joseph's heart and soul were adoring, praising, and glorifying God.
0 God! May we imitate the example of St. Joseph. May we do all things to please Thee alone. 0 God! Holy the hands that were privileged to work and to minister to the wants and comforts of Jesus and Mary. 0 God, in imitation of St. Joseph, grant us the grace, that whilst our hands labour, our hearts and souls may be employed in praising, blessing, and glorifying God Almighty. Amen.