The Holy Patriarch Saint Joseph was appointed by God to be the guardian and protector of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He is also a model for us of fatherhood and faithfulness.
His obedience of faith was manifested, as the Gospel tells us, after an angel of God revealed to him that it was through the Holy Spirit that the child had been conceived in Mary. When Joseph awoke, “he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took his wife into his home” without hesitation or objection (Matthew 1:20). When Herod sought to kill the infant Jesus, Saint Joseph obediently took him and the Blessed Mother to safety (Matthew 2:13-14). As Pope Saint John II pointed out in Redemptoris Custos, “already at the beginning of redemption, after Mary, we find the model of obedience made incarnate in Saint Joseph, the man known for having faithfully carried out God’s commands.”
As head of the Holy Family, he is the model for every Catholic home. Pope Francis, early in his pontificate, emphasized the saint’s importance, inserting a petition in each Eucharistic prayer to the man who became a spiritual father to Jesus. In an unofficial — but very real — way, Joseph is the patron saint of the family as domestic church, just as he is of the Universal Church.
The “domestic church” refers to the spiritual life of the Christian family who incorporates prayers, traditions, and religious instruction as the center of the Catholic hearth and home. The domestic church, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describes in a 2012 letter, is “a place of formation in faith and prayer, a seedbed of vocations, the natural school of virtues and ethical values, and the primary living cell of society.”
Appointed by God to protect Jesus and Mary, so now Saint Joseph is the protector of the Universal Church, considered the family of God in this world. We are the members of the family of God because we have God the Father as our adoptive father through the filiation we receive at baptism. The foster-father of the Son of God is also a father to us through baptism. Joseph’s paternal protection of the Lord Jesus continues even from Heaven, as he watches over Christ’s Mystical Body on earth. He is the icon on earth of a loving and caring father, modeled after God our Father. Saint James reminds us, “Every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (James 1:17).
For this reason, Saint Joseph has long been honored as the Patron Saint of the Universal Church. On December 8, 1870, when Blessed Pope Pius IX declared Joseph Patron of the Universal Church, he also raised his feast day of March 19 to the highest liturgical rank in the universal calendar of the Church. This occurred at a difficult time for the Church when he wrote: “Because of this sublime dignity which God conferred on his most faithful servant, the Church has always most highly honored and praised blessed Joseph next to his spouse, the Virgin Mother of God, and has besought his intercession in times of trouble.”
It was indeed troubled times for the Church. Ten years earlier, the defeat of the papal army by Italian troops on September 18, 1860 at the Battle of Castelfidardo led to the loss of the Papal States and loss of the Pope’s temporal power. In that occasion, the pope stated that the Church was “beset by enemies on every side, and is weighed down by calamities so heavy that ungodly men assert that the gates of hell have at length prevailed against her.”
Troubled times continue today for the Church, as intense pressures from the world charge her to change fundamental doctrine related to life and family. Regrettably, some members of the Church have caved in to the pressures of the world and are advocating those changes. Many propose that the Church should change her teaching to accommodate the needs of contemporary man, accepting the premises of secular society.
As a great contemporary confessor of the Faith, Cardinal Burke, recently reminded us:
The pervasive confusion and grave error about the most fundamental truths, the most beautiful realities, and the lasting goods of human life and its cradle, the human family, as they come to us from the hand of God, are the tragic signs of Satan’s presence in our midst. When we see how he has succeeded in corrupting a culture which was once Christian and in sowing the seeds of confusion and error even within the Church herself, we can easily become frightened and discouraged.
But we should not be discouraged because, as Cardinal Burke reminds us, Christ will come to our assistance — and He will do it through the intercession of Saint Joseph. So today we entrust ourselves, our families, and HLI’s mission to defend life and family to the intercession and protection of Saint Joseph.
Saint Joseph, Patron Saint of the Universal Church and the Domestic Church, pray for us.