Little Lives of the Great Saints – Saint Joseph, The Spouse of the Most Blessed Virgin, The Foster-Father of Jesus Christ and Patron of the Universal Church

Saint JosephArticle

Died A.D. 22.

Saint Joseph, whose glory is as old as Christianity and as wide as the world, was nobly descended from the ancient patriarchs and the greatest of the Kings of Juda. His life has not been written by men. The Holy Spirit himself has recounted the principal actions in his career.

He was born at Nazareth, but reverses of fortune, in which we can trace the hand of God, led him to Jerusalem The Divine Redeemer was about to visit this sin-stained world. In the natural order of things, He would require a protector and the Most Holy Mary would need a virtuous companion. But who could be found worthy of those lofty distinctions? There was one. It was Joseph.

When thirty-three years of age, he was espoused to the Most Blessed Virgin. He was then, it is said, well made, agreeable in person, and with a countenance which beamed with inexpressible modesty and goodness. At the age of twelve he had made a vow of chastity, and his life was as pure as a lily.

Saint Joseph seems for a time to have been unacquainted with the fact that the Holy Spirit had accomplished the mystery of the Incarnation in his Immaculate Spouse. He was aware of his own chaste conduct towards her; but many an anxious thought crossed his upright mind on finding that, in spite of the holiness of her life, he might well be assured that she was about to become a mother.

He was, however, as the Holy Book styles him, “a just man,” and, of course, possessed of all the virtues, especially mildness and charity. So after carefully weighing the whole affair in his mind, he determined to leave our Blessed Lady without saying a word. He neither accused nor condemned. He committed the matter to God, and God mercifully sent an angel from heaven to clear away his doubts, and to reveal to him the adorable mystery of the Incarnation.

“But while he thought on these things,” says the first of the Evangelists, “behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

“‘And she shall bring forth a Son; and thou shaft call his name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins.’

“Now all this was done that the word might be fulfilled, which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying:

“‘Behold a Virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is God with us.’

“And Joseph, rising from his sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him”

The humble house of Joseph, we are told, consisted of but three chambers. One of these was his own bed-room. Another he used as a workshop. The third contained a small bed which was made by our saint. Here the Blessed Virgin slept and made her abode. It might in truth be called the apartment of the Queen of Heaven.

These holy personages kept no servant. Mary did her own work. Their nourishment was very frugal; but they partook of it every day together. Saint Joseph sometimes ate flesh-meat, the Most Holy Virgin never. Their usual diet consisted of fish, fruits, bread and cooked vegetables, taken with great moderation, and varied according to circumstances.

The journey to Bethlehem and the birth of the infant God in a stable are wonderful events known to every one in our day. But Saint Joseph was the first man to witness them How tenderly he saw and adored the new-born Saviour of the world! How faithfully he acquitted himself of the double charge of educating Jesus and guarding His Blessed Mother!

“He was truly,” says Saint Bernard, “the faithful and prudent servant whom the Lord appointed master over His household – His foster-father, the comfort and support of His Mother, and His most faithful co-operator in the execution of His deepest counsels on earth.”

“What a happiness,” continues the same great doctor, “not only to see Jesus Christ, but also to bear Him, to carry Him in his arms, to lead Him from place to place, to embrace and caress Him, to feed Him, and to be a witness of all the sublime secrets which were concealed from the princes of this world!”

We would be ungrateful to this illustrious saint if we did not remember that it is to him, as an instrument of God, that we are indebted for the preservation of the Divine Infant from the fiendish malignity of King Herod.

“An angel of the Lord,” says Saint Matthew, “appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: ‘Arise and take the Child and His Mother, and fly into Egypt; and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the Child to destroy Him.

“Who rising up, took the Child and His Mother by night, and retired into Egypt.

“And He was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: ‘Out of Egypt have I called my Son.” ‘

There is a tradition, handed down by the Fathers of the Church, that upon the Holy Family’s entering the land of Egypt, the presence of the Child Jesus had the miraculous effect of striking all the pagan oracles of that superstitious country dumb. The statues of the gods trembled, and in many places fell to the ground.

The Holy Family fixed their abode at Heliopolis. On entering this famous city, they passed under a stately sycamore-tree, which gracefully bent down its branches as an act of homage to the Son of God. ft stands to this day, a relic of venerable antiquity. Thus the city of the sun, 9 in accordance with its name, saw the true Sun of Grace and Justice.

Several years passed away, and Joseph was commanded to leave the land of the Pharaos.

“Now Herod being dead,” writes Saint Matthew, “behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph in Egypt, saying:

“‘Arise and take the Child and His Mother, and go into the land of Israel; for they are dead who sought the life of the Child.’

“Who rising up, took the Child and His Mother, and came into the land of Israel.

“But hearing that Archelaus reigned in Judea in the room of Herod his father, he was afraid to go thither; and being warned in sleep, he retired into the parts of Galilee.

“And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was said by the prophets – that he shall be called a Nazarene.”

Saint Joseph was a strict observer of the law of Moses, and, in conformity to its directions, he went yearly to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. When our Saviour had reached the age of twelve years, He accompanied His parents to the Holy City. After performing the usual ceremonies of the Feast, the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph directed their steps homeward.

But the Divine Boy “remained in Jerusalem, and His parents knew it not.

“And thinking he was in the company, they came a day’s journey, and sought him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance.

“And not finding Him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking Him.

“And it came to pass that after three days they found Him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions.

“And all who heard Him were astonished at His wisdom and His answers.

“And seeing Him, they wondered. And His Mother said to Him: ‘Son, why hast Thou done so to us? Behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.’

“And He said to them: ‘How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that f must be about the things that are my Father’s?’

“And they understood not the word that He spoke unto them.

“And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. And His Mother kept all these words in her heart.

“And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age, and grace with God and men.”

How full of rich, suggestive thought is the last sentence of the Evangelist, “And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age, and grace with God and men”! What a bright and precious example for the young, what a stimulus even for the old – to advance during this short and fleeting life “in wisdom and age, and grace before God and men”!

The Holy Book makes no further mention of Saint Joseph; but we are not destitute of valuable information, from approved sources, in relation to the last years of his pure, simple, and beautiful life.

The cares, travels, and ceaseless fatigues which the great Saint had undergone for the support of the Most Holy Virgin and the Divine Child soon told on his delicate constitution. Long before old age his health began to fail, ft seems that during the last eight years of his life he ceased working on account of his growing infirmities, and at the urgent request of the Immaculate Mother herself.

“1 beg of you to cease from this incessant toil and repose yourself,” said the Blessed Mary to our Saint one day. “1 will now labor for you, in testimony of my gratitude, and as long as the Lord shall give us life.”

For some time Saint Joseph hesitated but at length her sweet arguments prevailed. He was thus relieved from labor, and for the rest of his days he gave himself to the practice of virtue and the contemplation of those sublime mysteries of which he had been a happy witness. With the Son of God and His Blessed Mother so near, it is not astonishing to learn that our Saint arrived at so high a degree of sanctity that next to his Immaculate Spouse – who stands alone among mere creatures – he surpassed all men.

Thus God graciously conducted His servant Joseph along the royal road of suffering, ft was, no doubt, to increase his merits and his crown – before his power of gaining merits had ceased – that in the last years of his life he was visited by certain maladies exceedingly acute; maladies which caused great debility, and racked his feeble body with excessive pain.

“But when his last hour drew nigh,
Oh! full of joy was his breast;
Seeing Jesus and Mary close by,
As he tranquilly slumbered to rest.”

During the nine days that preceded the death of Saint Joseph, he was tenderly watched day and night by Christ and the Most Blessed Virgin. It was so arranged that one or the other was always present at his bedside. Three times daily the angels chanted celestial music for the holy patient. Thus cheered and fortified, the precious end came, and with his head supported on the bosom of the Son of God, and a last benediction from the Divine Lips brightening the path to eternity, this glorious guardian of the Holy Family, at the age of sixty years and some days, bade adieu to the toils and hardships of this world.

As Pharao said to the Egyptians of old in their distress, “Go to Joseph,” so may we with happy confidence ask Heaven for favors through the intercession of him to whom the Son of God was subject on earth.

Saint Teresa chose him as the chief patron of her Order. “I choose the glorious Saint Joseph for my patron,” she writes, “and I commend myself in all things to his special intercession. I do not remember ever to have asked of God anything by him which I did not obtain. I never knew any one who, by invoking him, did not make great advances in virtue. He assists all who address themselves to him in a manner truly wonderful.”

“To all who would ho lily live,
To all who would happily die,
Saint Joseph is ready to give
Sure guidance and help from on high.”

MLA Citation

  • John O’Kane Murray, M.A., M.D. “Saint Joseph, The Spouse of the Most Blessed Virgin, The Foster-Father of Jesus Christ and Patron of the Universal Church”. Little Lives of the Great Saints, 1879. CatholicSaints.Info. 23 September 2018. Web. 21 November 2018. <>