St Joseph


You might think that the earthly father of Our Lord would get a little more attention but the general attitude toward him is shown by the Nativity icon above — Joseph is old, bewildered and remote from the action.

Joseph appears first in the gospels as the betrothed of Mary. When he learns she is pregnant he is dissuaded from abandoning her by an angelic visit that tells him the child has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. He takes Mary, late in her pregnancy, to Bethlehem to be enumerated and there she gives birth to Jesus. Warned in a vision to flee Herod he takes his wife and child to Egypt and then back to Nazareth. The last glimpse we have of him in the canonical scriptures is on a visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve and eluded his anxious parents to stay and talk with learned men in the Temple.

Legend and apocryphal scripture treat Joseph in much more detail. There he is always depicted as an older man, a widower with sons, who won Mary as a bride after supernatural intervention. In Nativity art he appears in depictions of his encounters with the angels, the Journey to Bethlehem, the manger scene and the Flight Into Egypt. In these settings he is often portrayed somewhat apart from Jesus — as a sign that he is not the child’s true father — and often looking bemused or thoughtful at the amazing turn of events.

Joseph is patron of the universal Church, Austria, Belgium, Canada, fathers, carpenters, house hunters and social justice. In the West his feast is on March 19 and in the Eastern churches it is the first Sunday after Christmas. As Joseph the Worker he is also celebrated on May 1. Because the Holy Family were in need of shelter both in Bethlehem and on the Flight to Egypt some homeowners today wishing to sell their house bury a statue of St Joseph upside down in the yard. A detailed discussion of this superstition with helpful tips for placement of the image may be found here:

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