The widely revered Saint Joseph is known by the following titles or representations in the Catholic Church: 1) the Husband of Mary; 2) the Foster-Father of Jesus; 3) the Worker; 4) the Patron of the Universal Church; and 5) the Patron of a happy death.  These images provide something for everyone to identify with – particularly husbands and fathers, but also all workers…and everyone who will eventually die.   

The feast days of Saint Joseph are on March 19th (Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary) and May 1st (Saint Joseph the Worker) to celebrate his imitable life as a husband, foster-father, and worker.

Saint Joseph is not mentioned many times in the Bible, so the images of Saint Joseph are pieced together from references to him primarily in the Gospel of Matthew.  (Although, there are other mentions of him in the Gospel of Luke, and a brief reference in John’s Gospel.)  The Gospel of Matthew describes Saint Joseph’s genealogy and his relationship to Mary and her Son in Jesus’ early years which include his marriage to Mary, the birth of Jesus, the flight to Egypt and return to Nazareth, and the family life of the Holy Family.  Some of the most imitable traits of Saint Joseph, from which the great devotion to him arose, came from this Gospel evangelist.  These are traits that were honored and sought out by the hard-working and devout faithful across the globe, and continue to be so today. 

The image of Saint Joseph as “a just man” (can also be read as “a righteous man”) is related to his becoming aware of Mary’s pregnancy recently after they had been married.  Saint Matthew’s Gospel (1:19) reads, “When His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.”  Saint Joseph’s willingness to keep this quiet, may have been a key to the plan of the Incarnation, as Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote, that if Joseph had disclosed Mary’s pregnancy, she may have been stoned by Jewish law and, thus, been unable to give birth to the Savior (see The childhood of Christ by Thomas Aquinas, Roland Potter, 2006).

Saint Joseph was a just and righteous man who obeyed God’s will for him which was sometimes communicated to him via angels in dreams – three such instances are recorded in the Gospel of Matthew: the communication regarding Mary’s state of pregnancy with Jesus; the order to flee into Egypt to avoid Herod’s search; and, the direction to return from Egypt to Israel.  In these instances, the Gospel evangelist does not discuss indecision or equivocation, he only narrates the story of the decisive obedience of Joseph to the will of God. 

The image of Saint Joseph as a carpenter also originates in a reference from Saint Matthew’s Gospel (16:55) which reads, “Is he not the carpenter’s son?”  This notion was further expanded over the centuries including in a Greek document called “History of Joseph the Carpenter” written in the 5th century and considered to be apocrypha by the Roman Catholic Church.  In addition, several Popes have written about the dignity of work and Saint Joseph’s model as a worker – including Pope Pius XII who in 1955 declared May 1st as the feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker.

Although the death of Saint Joseph is not discussed in the bible, he is also revered as the patron of a happy death.  It is believed that this designation arose from Saint Joseph’s own happy death scene where with the knowledge that his full life was lived in such an obedient and just way, he did not have any guilt or regrets at the death bed and went happily to the Lord.

Another recent attribute to Saint Joseph is that he can help you sell your house by praying the “Ancient Prayer to Saint Joseph” and burying a statue of Saint Joseph in the yard of the house near the “For Sale” sign.  This practice is reported to have started in the 1990’s; but, per, the Prayer to Saint Joseph is very old and originated in the 3rd or 4th century and “has never been known to fail, provided that the request is for one’s spiritual benefit or for those whom we are praying for.”

Ancient Prayer to Saint Joseph

O St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interest and desires.

O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.

O St. Joseph, I never become weary of contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him close in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for me. Amen.

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