By Martin Nchedo Umeatuegbu
It was on December 8, 1870, that Blessed Pope Pius IX issued a document through the Sacred Congregation of Rites entitled, Quemadmodum Deus and proclaimed St Joseph the Patron of the Universal Church. Sixteen years earlier before then, December 8, 1854, this same Pontiff proclaimed in the document, Ineffabilis Deus, that Maria, who is Joseph’s spouse, was Immaculate Conception, thus becoming the third Marian Dogma.
One hundred and fifty years later, the Vicar of Christ, Pope Francis, issued an Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde, which means “With a Father’s Heart”, to declare the Year of St Joseph, in celebration of the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of declaration of universal patronage of Joseph by his aforementioned predecessor. This has really inspired me personally to be conscious of the personality of Joseph.
Hence, in honour of Joseph’s Year, I shall be reflecting about this holy man under ”Go to Joseph Series”; for the only language that I understand from the Papal proclamations on the foster father of Jesus and husband of Maria is that the Popes tell us to Go to Joseph. It is one thing to hear this recommendation, but yet, it is another thing to know the reason for recommending us to go to him. It therefore begs the question: Why should we go to Joseph? What is so special about this man?
Among several reasons for asking us to go to Joseph is that in doing so, we become like God by imitating Him in His humility as one who was the first to go to him. As Pope Francis identifies in the initial paragraphs of Patris Corde, the four Gospels refer to Jesus as “Son of Joseph” (see Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3; Luke 4:22; John 6:42). Jesus who is God confined Himself to the earthly care of Joseph.
This is indeed a great humility for how can God choose to be under obedience to His own creature? If we are to substitute the title, “Son of Joseph”, with “Jesus”, the expression becomes “Jesus of Joseph”, while further substitution with “God” would render it as “God of Joseph”. A reversal of this statement gives us the rendition, “Joseph of God”. And when the triple proper names, “Jesus”, “Son” and “God” are combined, we have the expression, “Jesus who is God is the Son of Joseph”.
This gives us the insight that that same Joseph is dignified by Jesus. This is consequent upon the fact that in Joseph’s earthly home, Jesus is “Theos tou anthropou” (God of man). While in Heaven, the Eternal home of Jesus, Joseph becomes forever “anthropos tou Theou” (Man of God).
This is a great, yet unknown secret about Joseph, the foster-father of the Son of God who is also God the Son. So, as Jesus has gone to Joseph, He has given him great powers, and afterwards encourages us to do same, for it shows that to him, God refuses nothing.
We are asked to go to Joseph because Jesus identifies with us as His siblings, hence, He desires His father to be ours too, just as He gives us His mother to be our mother too at the foot of the Cross (see John 19:27). Therefore, just as no one can claim to have Jesus as Brother if one does not have Maria as Mother, so also can no one claim to be Jesus’ sibling if one does not recognise Joseph as Father.
It is on this account that Pope Francis in the document identifies the type of father Joseph is. He is: a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father, a creatively courageous father, a working father, and a father in the shadows.
By implication, Joseph is being presented to us as a father whom Jesus has reposed so much confidence in. Thus, God can never undermine His trust in him by telling us to go to him. He becomes too a model and example to every father in the family.
Another important reason for encouraging us to go to Joseph is because in him is an example of a good husband. Just as he possesses the characteristics of a man who understands the situation of his spouse, Maria, even in trying moments, so can he help everyone in marriage on how to handle situations even when all hope seems to be lost.
Therefore, let every married woman look up to Joseph as a teacher to her husband, and let every married man see him as a tutor on how to be a good custodian and a pillar of faithfulness. This would enable them recognize the meaning of the marital vows they have exchanged.
Even those who are no longer faithful to their marriage should invite Joseph with faith combined with good efforts, and they will see wonders done in restoring unity in their homes.
Anywhere Joseph is, there Jesus and Maria are. Therefore, the presence of Joseph is the presence of God because his sweetness attracts Jesus who is God and Maria who is the Mother of God. This presence and sweetness which attract Jesus and Maria means that God goes to Joseph, and simultaneously encourages us to go to Joseph. When we go to Joseph, we will discover that God is there too with us.
O St Joseph, foster-father of Jesus and faithful spouse of Maria! Pray for us who have recourse to You.