OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
JOHN PAUL II
ON THE PERSON AND MISSION OF
IN THE LIFE OF CHRIST AND OF THE CHURCH
17. In the course of that pilgrimage of faith which was his life, Joseph, like Mary, remained faithful to God’s call until the end. While Mary’s life was the bringing to fullness of that fiat first spoken at the Annunciation, at the moment of Joseph’s own “annunciation” he said nothing; instead he simply “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Mt 1:24). And this first “doing” became the beginning of “Joseph’s way.” The Gospels do not record any word ever spoken by Joseph along that way. But the silence of Joseph has its own special eloquence, for thanks to that silence we can understand the truth of the Gospel’s judgment that he was “a just man” (Mt 1:19).
One must come to understand this truth, for it contains one of the most important testimonies concerning man and his vocation. Through many generations the Church has read this testimony with ever greater attention and with deeper understanding, drawing, as it were, “what is new and what is old” (Mt 13:52) from the storehouse of the noble figure of Joseph.
18. Above all, the “just” man of Nazareth possesses the clear characteristics of a husband. Luke refers to Mary as “a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph” (Luke 1:27). Even before the “mystery hidden for ages” (Eph 3:9) began to be fulfilled, the Gospels set before us the image of husband and wife. According to Jewish custom, marriage took place in two stages: first, the legal or true marriage was celebrated, and then, only after a certain period of time, the husband brought the wife into his own house. Thus, before he lived with Mary, Joseph was already her “husband.” Mary, however, preserved her deep desire to give herself exclusively to God. One may well ask how this desire of Mary’s could be reconciled with a “wedding.” The answer can only come from the saving events as they unfold, from the special action of God himself. From the moment of the Annunciation, Mary knew that she was to fulfil her virginal desire to give herself exclusively and fully to God precisely by becoming the Mother of God’s Son. Becoming a Mother by the power of the Holy Spirit was the form taken by her gift of self: a form which God himself expected of the Virgin Mary, who was “betrothed” to Joseph. Mary uttered her fiat. The fact that Mary was “betrothed” to Joseph was part of the very plan of God. This is pointed out by Luke and especially by Matthew. The words spoken to Joseph are very significant: “Do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20). These words explain the mystery of Joseph’s wife: In her motherhood Mary is a virgin. In her, “the Son of the Most High” assumed a human body and became “the Son of Man.”
Addressing Joseph through the words of the angel, God speaks to him as the husband of the Virgin of Nazareth. What took place in her through the power of the Holy Spirit also confirmed in a special way the marriage bond which already existed between Joseph and Mary. God’s messenger was clear in what he said to Joseph: “Do not fear to take Mary your wife into your home.” Hence, what had taken place earlier, namely, Joseph’s marriage to Mary, happened in accord with God’s will and was meant to endure. In her divine motherhood Mary had to continue to live as “a virgin, the wife of her husband” (cf. Luke 1:27).
19. In the words of the “annunciation” by night, Joseph not only heard the divine truth concerning his wife’s indescribable vocation; he also heard once again the truth about his own vocation. This “just” man, who, in the spirit of the noblest traditions of the Chosen People, loved the Virgin of Nazareth and was bound to her by a husband’s love, was once again called by God to this love.
“Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife” into his home (Mt 1:24); what was conceived in Mary was “of the Holy Spirit.” From expressions such as these are we not to suppose that his love as a man was also given new birth by the Holy Spirit? Are we not to think that the love of God which has been poured forth into the human heart through the Holy Spirit (cf. Roman 5:5) molds every human love to perfection? This love of God also molds-in a completely unique way-the love of husband and wife, deepening within it everything of human worth and beauty, everything that bespeaks an exclusive gift of self, a covenant between persons, and an authentic communion according to the model of the Blessed Trinity.
“Joseph. . .took his wife; but he knew her not, until she had borne a son” (Mt 1:24-25). These words indicate another kind of closeness in marriage. The deep spiritual closeness arising from marital union and the interpersonal contact between man and woman have their definitive origin in the Spirit, the Giver of Life (cf. Jn 6:63). Joseph, in obedience to the Spirit, found in the Spirit the source of love, the conjugal love which he experienced as a man. And this love proved to be greater than this “just man” could ever have expected within the limits of his human heart.
20. In the Liturgy, Mary is celebrated as “united to Joseph, the just man, by a bond of marital and virginal love.”(31) There are really two kinds of love here, both of which together represent the mystery of the Church – virgin and spouse – as symbolized in the marriage of Mary and Joseph. “Virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God not only does not contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes and confirms it. Marriage and virginity are two ways of expressing and living the one mystery of the Covenant of God with his people.”(32) the Covenant which is a communion of love between God and human beings.
Through his complete self-sacrifice, Joseph expressed his generous love for the Mother of God, and gave her a husband’s “gift of self.” Even though he decided to draw back so as not to interfere in the plan of God which was coming to pass in Mary, Joseph obeyed the explicit command of the angel and look Mary into his home, while respecting the fact that she belonged exclusively to God.
On the other hand, it was from his marriage to Mary that Joseph derived his singular dignity and his rights in regard to Jesus. “It is certain that the dignity of the Mother of God is so exalted that nothing could be more sublime; yet because Mary was united to Joseph by the bond of marriage, there can be no doubt but that Joseph approached as no other person ever could that eminent dignity whereby the Mother of God towers above all creatures. Since marriage is the highest degree of association and friendship involving by its very nature a communion of goods, it follows that God, by giving Joseph to the Virgin, did not give him to her only as a companion for life, a witness of her virginity and protector of her honour: he also gave Joseph to Mary in order that he might share, through the marriage pact, in her own sublime greatness.”(33)
21. 21. This bond of charity was the core of the Holy Family’s life, first in the poverty of Bethlehem, then in their exile in Egypt, and later in the house of Nazareth. The Church deeply venerates this Family, and proposes it as the model of all families. Inserted directly in the mystery of the Incarnation, the Family of Nazareth has its own special mystery. And in this mystery, as in the Incarnation, one finds a true fatherhood: the human form of the family of the Son of God, a true human family, formed by the divine mystery. In this family, Joseph is the father: his fatherhood is not one that derives from begetting offspring; but neither is it an “apparent” or merely “substitute” fatherhood. Rather, it is one that fully shares in authentic human fatherhood and the mission of a father in the family. This is a consequence of the hypostatic union: humanity taken up into the unity of the Divine Person of the Word-Son, Jesus Christ. Together with human nature, all that is human, and especially the family – as the first dimension of man’s existence in the world – is also taken up in Christ. Within this context, Joseph’s human fatherhood was also “taken up” in the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation.
On the basis of this principle, the words which Mary spoke to the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple take on their full significance: “Your father and I…have been looking for you.” This is no conventional phrase: Mary’s words to Jesus show the complete reality of the Incarnation present in the mystery of the Family of Nazareth. From the beginning, Joseph accepted with the “obedience of faith” his human fatherhood over Jesus. And thus, following the light of the Holy Spirit who gives himself to human beings through faith, he certainly came to discover ever more fully the indescribable gift that was his human fatherhood.
25. The same aura of silence that envelops everything else about Joseph also shrouds his work as a carpenter in the house of Nazareth. It is, however, a silence that reveals in a special way the inner portrait of the man. The Gospels speak exclusively of what Joseph “did.” Still, they allow us to discover in his “actions” – shrouded in silence as they are – an aura of deep contemplation. Joseph was in daily contact with the mystery “hidden from ages past,” and which “dwelt” under his roof. This explains, for example, why St. Teresa of Jesus, the great reformer of the Carmelites, promoted the renewal of veneration to St. Joseph in Western Christianity.
26. The total sacrifice, whereby Joseph surrendered his whole existence to the demands of the Messiah’s coming into his home, becomes understandable only in the light of his profound interior life. It was from this interior life that “very singular commands and consolations came, bringing him also the logic and strength that belong to simple and clear souls, and giving him the power of making great decisions-such as the decision to put his liberty immediately at the disposition of the divine designs, to make over to them also his legitimate human calling, his conjugal happiness, to accept the conditions, the responsibility and the burden of a family, but, through an incomparable virginal love, to renounce that natural conjugal love that is the foundation and nourishment of the family.(37)
This submission to God, this readiness of will to dedicate oneself to all that serves him, is really nothing less than that exercise of devotion which constitutes one expression of the virtue of religion.(38)
27. 27. The communion of life between Joseph and Jesus leads us to consider once again the mystery of the Incarnation, precisely in reference to the humanity of Jesus as the efficacious instrument of his divinity for the purpose of sanctifying man: “By virtue of his divinity, Christ’s human actions were salvific for us, causing grace within us, either by merit or by a certain efficacy.”(39)
Among those actions, the gospel writers highlight those which have to do with the Paschal Mystery, but they also underscore the importance of physical contact with Jesus for healing (cf. for example, Mk 1:41), and the influence Jesus exercised upon John the Baptist when they were both in their mothers’ wombs (cf. Lk 1:41-44).
As we have seen, the apostolic witness did not neglect the story of Jesus’ birth, his circumcision, his presentation in the Temple, his flight into Egypt and his hidden life in Nazareth. It recognized the “mystery” of grace present in each of these saving “acts,” inasmuch as they all share the same source of love: the divinity of Christ. If through Christ’s humanity this love shone on all mankind, the first beneficiaries were undoubtedly those whom the divine will had most intimately associated with itself: Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and Joseph, his presumed father.(40)
Why should the “fatherly” love of Joseph not have had an influence upon the “filial” love of Jesus? And vice versa why should the “filial” love of Jesus not have had an influence upon the “fatherly” love of Joseph, thus leading to a further deepening of their unique relationship? Those souls most sensitive to the impulses of divine love have rightly seen in Joseph a brilliant example of the interior life.
Furthermore, in Joseph, the apparent tension between the active and the contemplative life finds an ideal harmony that is only possible for those who possess the perfection of charity. Following St. Augustine’s well-known distinction between the love of the truth (caritas veritatis) and the practical demands of love (necessitas caritatis),(41) we can say that Joseph experienced both love of the truth-that pure contemplative love of the divine Truth which radiated from the humanity of Christ-and the demands of love-that equally pure and selfless love required for his vocation to safeguard and develop the humanity of Jesus, which was inseparably linked to his divinity.
28. At a difficult time in the Church’s history, Pope Pius IX, wishing to place her under the powerful patronage of the holy patriarch Joseph, declared him “Patron of the Catholic Church.”(42) For Pius IX this was no idle gesture, since by virtue of the sublime dignity which God has granted to his most faithful servant Joseph, “the Church, after the Blessed Virgin, his spouse, has always held him in great honor and showered him with praise, having recourse to him amid tribulations.”(43)
What are the reasons for such great confidence? Leo XIII explained it in this way: “The reasons why St. Joseph must be considered the special patron of the Church, and the Church in turn draws exceeding hope from his care and patronage, chiefly arise from his having been the husband of Mary and the presumed father of Jesus…, Joseph was in his day the lawful and natural guardian, head and defender of the Holy Family…. It is thus fitting and most worthy of Joseph’s dignity that, in the same way that 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.”(44)
29. This patronage must be invoked as ever necessary for the Church, not only as a defense against all dangers, but also, and indeed primarily, as an impetus for her renewed commitment to evangelization in the world and to re-evangelization in those lands and nations where-as I wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Christideles Laici – “religion and the Christian life were formerly flourishing and…are now put to a hard test.”(45) In order to bring the first proclamation of Christ, or to bring it anew wherever it has been neglected or forgotten, the Church has need of special “power from on high” (cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:8): a gift of the Spirit of the Lord, a gift which is not unrelated to the intercession and example of his saints.
30. Besides trusting in Joseph’s sure protection, the Church also trusts in his noble example, which transcends all individual states of life and serves as a model for the entire Christian community, whatever the condition and duties of each of its members may be.
As the Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council has said, the basic attitude of the entire Church must be that of “hearing the word of God with reverence,”(46) an absolute readiness to serve faithfully God’s salvific will revealed in Jesus. Already at the beginning of human redemption, after Mary, we find the model of obedience made incarnate in St. Joseph, the man known for having faithfully carried out God’s commands.
Pope Paul VI invited us to invoke Joseph’s patronage “as the Church has been wont to do in these recent times, for herself in the first place, with a spontaneous theological reflection on the marriage of divine and human action in the great economy of the Redemption, in which economy the first-the divine one-is wholly sufficient unto itself, while the second-the human action which is ours-though capable of nothing (cf. Jn 15:5), is never dispensed from a humble but conditional and ennobling collaboration. The Church also calls upon Joseph as her protector because of a profound and ever present desire to reinvigorate her ancient life with true evangelical virtues, such as shine forth in St. Joseph.”(47)
31. The Church transforms these needs into prayer. Recalling that God wished to entrust the beginnings of our redemption to the faithful care of St. Joseph, she asks God to grant that she may faithfully cooperate in the work of salvation; that she may receive the same faithfulness and purity of heart that inspired Joseph in serving the Incarnate World; and that she may walk before God in the ways of holiness and justice, following Joseph’s example and through his intercession.(48)
One hundred years ago, Pope Leo XIII had already exhorted the Catholic world to pray for the protection of St. Joseph, Patron of the whole Church. The Encyclical Epistle Quamquam Pluries appealed to Joseph’s “fatherly love…for the child Jesus” and commended to him, as “the provident guardian of the divine Family,” “the beloved inheritance which Jesus Christ purchased by his blood.” Since that time-as I recalled at the beginning of this Exhortation-the Church has implored the protection of St. Joseph on the basis of “that sacred bond of charity which united him to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God,” and the Church has commended to Joseph all of her cares, including those dangers which threaten the human family.
Even today we have many reasons to pray in a similar way: “Most beloved father, dispel the evil of falsehood and sin…graciously assist us from heaven in our struggle with the powers of darkness…and just as once you saved the Child Jesus from mortal danger, so now defend God’s holy Church from the snares of her enemies and from all adversity.”(49) Today we still have good reason to commend everyone to St. Joseph.
32. It is my heartfelt wish that these reflections on the person of St. Joseph will renew in us the prayerful devotion which my Predecessor called for a century ago. Our prayers and the very person of Joseph have renewed significance for the Church in our day in light of the Third Christian Millennium.
The Second Vatican Council made all of us sensitive once again to the “great things which God has done,” and to that “economy of salvation” of which St. Joseph was a special minister. Commending ourselves, then, to the protection of him to whose custody God “entrusted his greatest and most precious treasures,”(50) let us at the same time learn from him how to be servants of the “economy of salvation.” May St. Joseph become for all of us an exceptional teacher in the service of Christ’s saving mission, a mission which is the responsibility of each and every member of the Church: husbands and wives, parents, those who live by the work of their hands or by any other kind of work, those called to the contemplative life and those called to the apostolate.
This just man, who bore within himself the entire heritage of the Old Covenant, was also brought into the “beginning” of the New and Eternal Covenant in Jesus Christ. May he show us the paths of this saving Covenant as we stand at the threshold of the next millennium, in which there must be a continuation and further development of the “fullness of time” that belongs the ineffable mystery of the Incarnation of the Word.
May St. Joseph obtain for the Church and for the world, as well as for each of us, the blessing of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Given at Rome, in St. Peter’s, on August 15 – the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – in the year 1989, the eleventh of my Pontificate.
JOHN PAUL II