Saint Joseph probably didn't see himself becoming a central character in the history of salvation and being given a title like "Patron of the Universal Church."
He lived in a small town, worked hard for a living as a humble carpenter, and probably didn't plan on making a great mark in his own village -- let alone the whole Church.
He is presented with the seriousness of his mission on earth through an angel in a dream telling him to take Mary as his wife. The angel tells him the offspring "conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit." And the Son she will bear "will save His people from their sins" (Mt 1:20-21).
It's great to have such a clear revelation, but the consequences are still daunting. He is suddenly propelled into a very important role, that of the "Guardian of the Redeemer" and the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This required a great deal of humility and obedience.
Caring for the Church
Yet, because he responded in faith to protect and provide for the Holy Family, the Church teaches that God has called him to protect and provide for the Body of Christ, which is the Church. (See Col 1:24.) Thus, all of us as Catholics are invited to invoke his protection and honor him as the "Patron of the Universal Church."
In 1870, Pope Leo XIII explained the title of St. Joseph this way, "It is thus fitting and most worthy of Joseph's dignity that, in the same way he once kept unceasing holy watch over the family of Nazareth, so now does he protect and defend with his heavenly patronage the Church of Christ."
I am particularly fond of this title, since it shows how this simple, just, and good man continues to protect and intercede for us as members of the Church. He was a man of faith and action, not a single word of his is recorded in all of Scripture. So, his quiet example can inspire us to remain faithful and diligent, working to fulfill our duties in the Church and in our families.
For me, as a Marian seminarian, the task of priesthood seems rather overwhelming. How can I possibly deal with all the pastoral difficulties and challenges? One major reason often given for not pursuing the priesthood is the tremendous responsibility. Saint Joseph was faced with a huge responsibility that we can only vaguely imagine. Clearly, he was called to this, and God gave him the grace to do it. I have to trust that God will give me the grace if I become a priest.
Faithful in trials
Any parent or authority figure can relate to the responsibility and trials that befall St. Joseph. Being a faithful provider and protector requires meeting unexpected trials that will test your abilities.
It isn't long after the birth of Christ that he is again asked in a dream to do something difficult. The journey to Egypt was filled with dangers. Once the Holy Family found a place to stay, they had to live as part of a Jewish minority in a foreign land with foreign gods.
Refugees fleeing from war are seen on the nightly news again and again -- in places like Afghanistan and the Sudan. This is certainly not something anyone wishes to go through. Saint Joseph is given the grace to deal with such situations, but I am sure a quieter, more predictable life in Nazareth was often on his mind while he sojourned in Egypt.
Today, the Church is misunderstood and reviled, and St. Joseph must be concerned with the protection and promotion of Christ's Church. As practicing, devout Catholics, we may feel at times like a minority amid many other views. It's good to remember that the Holy Family experienced this early during its sojourn in Egypt.
Leading the family
After the Holy Family returns to Nazareth, St. Joseph returns to his work, but there are new challenges -- the little challenges of family life and work, and the challenge of losing Jesus in Jerusalem and then finding Him in the Temple. He was head of the family that was the first "domestic church." He shared in the profound faith of Mary, and was there to help her on her journey of faith. Here was a family built on prayer at home and in the local synagogue.
Families today are called to recognize the importance of faith in helping with the big and little challenges they face, so they can be vibrant "domestic churches," worshipping Christ and getting help through prayer and the Sacraments in the local parish. Every family can be helped by devotion to the Holy Family, and by common prayer such as the rosary.
Trusting in God
Today, the need for peace in the world is reflected in the need for peace in ourselves and within our families, and St. Joseph can help. Just as he had to protect Jesus and Mary, so he is still interested in protecting all of us who follow Jesus. The world situation, the threat of terrorism and a wider war, makes us all feel quite vulnerable.
No doubt St. Joseph felt vulnerable and uncertain about exactly what to do as he took Mary and the infant Jesus to Egypt, but he trusted in God, and was consoled by the presence of Jesus and Mary. As Patron of the Universal Church, he is watching out for us and will intercede for us during our own difficult times.
Dear St. Joseph, pray for the Church.
Let us pray for his intercession for the Holy Father, the local bishop, the priests and deacons of our parish, and those who teach the faith. Let us pray that we can be of service -- perhaps, like Joseph, in some humble way that is not noticed but requires faithfulness to God's commands.
Dear St. Joseph, pray for our families.
St. Joseph is a special patron of families. Even if families are broken and dispersed, St. Joseph, the quiet and humble man, can be a help, especially for those who are struggling to stay together. Let us ask his help for peace through the struggle.
Dear St. Joseph, pray for our needs.
The difficulties involved in "making ends meet" are certainly familiar to St. Joseph. He is one that has often been called on when people are scraping by, especially with a family to support. In these challenging economic times for workers, let us call upon St. Joseph to help us spend wisely and receive an adequate income to provide for our families.